Get yer Apple blade servers, right here?

IBM's playing tough, but if Apple gets to keep Mark Papermaster, don't expect Steve Jobs to suddenly go ga-ga for enterprise computing.

For at least a few minutes in the daily spin cycle, the news about Mark Papermaster and Tony Fadell topped the interest in the fate of those two other guys attracting lots of attention today.

Since Apple's preferred mode of communicating with the rest of humanity is via the issuance of press releases, we're only left to speculate about the cosmic import of what is, on the surface, a big event in the company's recent history. The company confirmed that Mark Papermaster, who had been a vice president at IBM, who will join Apple as senior vice president of devices, responsible for the company's iPod and iPhone hardware-engineering teams.

IBM now says it plans to sue to prevent Papermaster's defection. At first blush, it reminded me of the dustup over Kai-Fu Lee's move from Microsoft to Google a couple of years ago. Lee, a star computer scientist who built up Microsoft's research operations in China, was hired by Google to do something similar for his new employer. Microsoft sued and delayed his departure. Ultimately, a settlement was struck, but Microsoft made the point it wanted to prevent further poaching.

But the Lee analogy doesn't really work. If he gets to punch in at Apple, Papermaster would be managing iPod and iPhone development. At IBM, he was involved with blade server development and the Power chip. (Unless I missed something and Big Blue was secretly working on smartphones and MP3 players, there's not much to connect the two examples.)

Would Papermaster's arrival signal a more concerted push by Apple into the enterprise business? Apple doing blade servers? Nah. Eliot Van Buskirk at Wired News offers a more credible scenario, suggesting that the move may be the prelude to a "major shift" in Apple's music strategy:

Times have changed since 2001--or even 2006, when Fadell took charge of the iPod division. Apple has settled on general iPod designs (classic or touchscreen), flash memory has stabilized as the portable music format of choice and, perhaps most importantly, connected devices such as the iPhone are accessing music less on their own hard drives and more on Web-based music services.

As my colleague Tom Krazit notes, the Papermaster hire probably has more to do with Apple incorporating more computing smarts into its devices. (Check out the accompanying video.)

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Meanwhile, over at ZDNet, Larry Dignan points out that the shuffle clouds the succession picture at Apple:

Jobs isn't going anywhere at the moment, but recent press conferences may indicate that he's at least pondering a succession plan. Jobs has been yielding the spotlight to other top execs like Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook. While the Jobs successor is a topic of conversation among techies, it's unclear whether anything is imminent (it probably isn't). Nevertheless, Faddell was noted as a possible successor.

More likely, this is going to be about the money. If IBM can make Jobs sweat, that's going to be at least some small consolation for losing a coveted executive.

 

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