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IBM in the software era: Big Blue man gives HP a seminar

From atop vast pile of cash

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Hardware company with a problem

O'Rourke recalls of the late 1990s IBM was a "hardware company with a software problem" while there was company infighting. At his first company conference following the Tivoli deal O'Rourke reckons he wasn't allowed to show off his company's software product because it was running on a Toshiba laptop instead of the standard issue IBM machine.

Joining IBM again in 2006, O'Rourke says felt "much better" as it had made the change from a big monolithic company into a software and services company. He served as vice president of Rational between 2006 and 2010, and was actually charged with executing Mills' Agile mandate and coming up with metrics to measure the results.

Rational isn't just something IBM uses internally, it sells Rational too and IBM has come up against the challenges of Agile and open source.

Ten-years ago this month IBM helped create Eclipse, the Java and C++ open-source IDE effort. A decade on, IBM remains the Eclipse Foundation's single biggest contributor, with 40 salaried committers at Rational. IBM is also arguably one of the largest beneficiaries of Eclipse, with Rational based on it. Eclipse, though, is also a major competitor to paid-for tools just like Rational thanks to the fact it's an open-source project and the code is free and open to anybody who wants to use it.

IBM's man calls the challenge posed by Eclipse "our whole proposition for our IDE." That proposition apparently involves two things. Taking Eclipse "from and individual to a team product tool" through the addition for 64 plug-ins over IBM's RAD software and also added value in team collaboration and metrics though things like Telelogic, bought by IBM in 2007.

"Eclipse as a technology has some fantastic capabilities but they are basic because they are geared to being generic for everybody," O'Rourke says. "Eclipse gives you lot - a lot of developers use basic Eclipse in small teams and companies, but if you want to build mission critical systems in an airline, like bank or missile guidance system, you need Rational." Telelogic's customers were in these very sectors.

He adds while Rational can't beat open-source Eclipse on price, IBM can step in as organizations "get more accountable for their software."

While IBM remains committed to Eclipse it sounds like the giant is attempting to move on into new areas with Jazz, announced in 2008.

Jazz hands

Like Eclipse, Jazz is a platform, only it's been built to be collaborative from the ground up with things already built into its DNA such as server-based code and defect tracking. Eclipse started as an version of the IDE concept for personal productivity. O'Rourke claimed 60 per cent of the Rational unit's business comes from Jazz. Eclipse was a product of its age, when tools companies claimed they could make the individual developer more productive in sitting in their PC cockpit.

"The story of Jazz was we took the people who invented Eclipse and asked how would you make this work for a team," O'Rourke said.

IBM's transition into a successful software company hasn't come simply from inheriting other companies' franchises. The giant's had to change its culture and become more nimble internally in response to some of the very trends - Agile and open source - that it's helped encourage and people generally applaud.

As part of the agonizing over its future, HP's been adding to its growing collection of software company scalps: Autonomy was the latest.

O'Rourke, the IBM insider, turned outsider, turned insider again, has some simple advice for HP when it comes to making it big in software. "HP has to learn something as IBM did. They have to decide what business they want to be in...their problem will be overcoming the internal issues." ®

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