Enterprise Unix Roundup: EU vs. Microsoft vs. IBM

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Jan 16, 2008


Brian Proffitt
Rather than nursing its wounds from the recent anti-trust ruling in Europe, Microsoft is using the same law against IBM in a proxy move that could shake up the mainframe market on the Continent.

Over on IT Jungle, I just read an interesting story about how Microsoft is (by proxy) cleverly using the same law that was just smacked over its head for Windows market dominance against IBM's mainframe base in Europe.

The story, by Hesh Wiener, is a fascinating look into the world of litigation-as-business-strategy, and details the complaint filed by Platform Solutions (PSI) against IBM for violating Article 82 of the European Commission (EC) Treaty. The complaint was filed, according to a Dec. 18 Reuters story, way back on Oct. 19.

"The complaint alleges that IBM has violated Article 82 of the EC Treaty by refusing to supply interface information relating to mainframe computers and refusing to license third parties," spokesman Jonathan Todd said in a statement.

As both the Reuters and IT Jungle articles detail, all of this came about after IBM sued PSI in 2006 for violating IBM patents with software PSI used on its mainframes. PSI has since countersued, citing unfair competition. Given that IBM didn't make any legal moves against PSI until it started getting some of its mainframes into IBM customer sites in 2005, one has to wonder if PSI may have a point. All of that, of course, is still pending a court decision.

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According to the PSI Web site, its System64 mainframes are Itanium-based and:

System64 is fully compatible with IBM z/OS, OS/390, z/Linux and associated ISV and customer applications. Major system components of the PSI solution include 2 32-socket dual-core Itanium 2 servers capable of supporting z/OS, OS/390, z/Linux, HP-UX, Red Hat and SUSE Linux, OpenVMS and Windows Server 2003.

The Itanium machines, according to the Wiener article, are actually "a firmware-based mainframe system that runs on Itanium servers from NEC and Hewlett-Packard." What's more interesting is that several companies just gave PSI $37 million in Series C funding — including Intel and Microsoft, two companies that would love to see more Itanium machines out on the market.

The ultimate irony of Microsoft throwing in with PSI to crowd out IBM's alleged over-dominance of the European market is that Article 82 is the basis of the recent EC anti-trust decision to force Microsoft to start coughing up technical information to competitors that want to develop or work with Windows. Microsoft lost its appeal on Sept. 17, 2007, about one month before PSI made its complaint and two months before the latest round of funding for PSI.

Coincidental timing? Maybe. Or maybe even while it was being spanked, Microsoft realized that the EC was serious about enforcing this anti-trust Article, and it saw this ongoing litigation between PSI and IBM as a way of kicking open the door into the European mainframe market. Perhaps it's one of the reasons why Microsoft seemingly capitulated to the EC demand to start forking over technical documentation to projects like Samba, an open source project that allows communication between Windows and Linux or Unix systems.

When Microsoft actually did hand over that documentation on Dec. 20, you could have knocked a lot of IT observers over with a feather. Many people, myself included, were expecting the company to drag its feet on this issue for a long time.

Whatever the timing, clearly Microsoft and Intel both see this as a way of boosting a company that's friendly to their products in a market on which Big Blue has a solid lock. Hence, the investment into PSI in November.

It's a story that may not bode well for IBM's mainframe business in Europe, and should PSI's Article 82 complaint succeed, it will certainly alter the face of Unix in Europe.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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