Gerstner warns of Net backlash

IBM's Louis Gerstner, Jr., predicts a backlash against all things Internet if computer companies don't cooperate with each other.

2 min read
NEW YORK--Constant bickering over the network computer vs. the PC, the never-ending browser wars, and slugfests between Net access providers may soon spark a backlash among users against all things Internet, said Louis Gerstner, Jr., chairman and chief executive of IBM (IBM) in a keynote speech at Fall Internet World 96 here today.

"A lot of what's gone on in the last 12 months is just plain confusing and exasperating to our customers. I wouldn't be surprised to see an Internet backlash soon...a "Net weariness," all those end users wondering if this is a waste of time," Gerstner said in his speech at Manhattan's Jacob Javits Convention Center.

Gerstner warned that the computer industry would do well to listen more closely to what customers want and to resist the temptation to jump from one "big thing" to another. "'Mainframes are dead. PCs are king.' It just didn't happen. We're shipping more mainframe computing power today than ever in the history of our company or the industry. Why? Because that's what customers want."

Having posited this theory, Gerstner then declared Big Blue's intention to lead the computer industry toward open Internet standards and threw IBM's substantial industry clout firmly behind Sun Microsystems in its quest to establish Java standards.

"One measure of leadership in our industry is whether a company is working on open standards," according to Gerstner. He added that IBM's future is staked on an open network that will let people using different brands of computers, operating systems, and software to communicate with each other over the Net.

He praised Sun's Java programming language as another example of this effort and said he was pleased with the company's new "pure Java" campaign, launched earlier this week. "It's a very positive step," he said.

"Everyone in our industry is excited about Java. Java went from being a hot beverage to one of the hottest technologies igniting this industry, offering platform-independent Web applications."

But Gerstner cautioned against industry infighting over Java.

"Let's not do to Java what our industry did to Unix," Gerstner warned, alluding to industry squabbles that led the Unix market to splinter into several incompatible versions.

In his defense of an open Java standard, Gerstner took several jabs at Sun rival and former IBM business associate Microsoft. He blasted the software giant for not moving quickly enough to open its proprietary software. "A world populated by closed or semiclosed architectures takes away choice."

The IBM chief added that unless the industry can agree quickly on open standards, it risks slowing the adoption of network computers, the stripped-down computing devices that industry analysts expect to finally bring computing devices and the Net into the majority of American homes.

IBM itself has about 1,000 developers working to build Java components in labs around the globe, Gerstner said. "It just rolls and rolls, 24 hours a day," he said of the company's Java development efforts.