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Entry 236, on 2005-10-14 at 14:05:52 (Rating 2, Computers)

There's an old joke which I have always liked: What's the difference between IBM and Jurassic Park? One is a theme park filled with old dinosaurs, the other's a movie. IBM have a reputation for being a huge, slow moving, conservative organisation, with little to contribute to the modern world, but how true is this? The answer is that, in many ways, its not true at all.

A Slashdot article recently appeared noting the 60th birthday of IBM Research. This section of IBM has made a huge contribution to computing, and to science in general. Amongst their contributions are: Fortran (one of the original programming languages, still used today), magnetic storage (something we all take for granted), relation databases (the standard model for storing large amounts of information everywhere), RISC (the modern approach to processor design), superconductivity (an important discovery that will be used more in the future), and DES (the original standard for data encryption). In the last 12 years, IBM has been awarded over 29000 patents - more than anyone else in the entire world.

And don't forget they started the PC revolution when they created the original IBM PC in 1981. Its because of them we have PCs today. Well, everyone makes mistakes! And yes, I know many companies, including Apple, made personal computers before that, but IBM made them into a serious business and professional tool, and not just a geeky toy.

So whatever you think of IBM, you have to admire their innovation in the most basic fundamental technologies. They haven't always been successful translating this into successful products, but compared with true basic research, creating a good product isn't that important. In the larger scheme of things fundamental research is what really matters, even if it often doesn't contribute much to a company's profits.

One complaint I do have is their failure to keep the PowerPC processor a viable option for Apple. Now we are forced into transitioning Mac computers to the Intel processor line. This is fine, it doesn't really matter what processor a Mac uses, but the basic PowerPC design is so much better, and the expense, and possible compatibility issues with the transition are substantial, so I would have liked IBM to have done a better job there.


Comment 1 (131) by Anonymous on 2005-10-19 at 14:13:55:

Ha ha. I like the joke! I didn't know IBM had done so many cool things. Nice blog!


Comment 2 (142) by Anonymous on 2005-11-17 at 03:14:56:

Now you'll never know whether it was because of IBM or Apple, will you? My guess is that it was Apple getting jealous, but I think they were planning it for a while.


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