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Playing Hardball

Have you ever seen an article entitled "Why I hate the Cleveland Indians"? Of course not. Who would care? Someone did take the time, however, to write an entire book about why he hates the New York Yankees - not George Steinbrenner, or even a particular Yankee team, but the very idea of the Yankees. The Yankees, like IBM, are important enough to hate.

IBM, in fact, has the reputation of being the Yankee imperialist dogs of the high-tech marketplace. They allow other companies to take the risk of introducing new products. IBM sits back and waits to see if there really is a market for that product. If there turns out to be a lucrative one, IBM enters and takes it over. After considerable philosophical and ethical contemplation on this controversial issue, I have reached the conclusion: "So what?"

Consumers have not been hurt by the entry of IBM into the pc-world series, although fans of the Apple Dodgers and Kaypro Orioles will often argue otherwise - and sometimes with a great deal of sympathy and support from the media. Apple, after all, is the American success story. Like the Dodgers, Apple is a spunky company from The Golden State - not a powerhouse from New York. They make a spunky little machine. After IBM's Personal Computer replaced Apple's II -i-as the choice for connoisseurs, Apple had enough spunk to come back fighting. True, their reply to IBM took the form of: "For only twice as much as you are charging, we little guys can come up with a piece of hardware that is closer to state of the art in some respects, even if the spreadsheet and word processor tend a bit toward mediocrity." Still, when you're getting that much spunk you ought to be willing to pay, and to make a few sacrifices. I hate spunk.

What I like is competence. IBM took a thoughtful, reflective approach toward its line of personal computers. They introduced a competitive product into a crowded field. Why would anyone have expected IBM to act small? They are big. They acted big and backed up their presumption with substance. People responded and in two years IBM has claimed a quarter of the personal computer marketplace. This success has led to much weeping and gnashing of teeth among those who never seem to think that consumers are doing what they should be.

People are buying what appears best to them and for a person who has a blend of personal and professional uses for a computer, IBM is a natural choice. Almost every important software company is writing or rewriting programs for the IBM PC. No one else had been able to accomplish this before IBM entered the market. In the face of this reality, arguments about whether IBM should or should not be the industry standard become superfluous.

One of the benefits to consumers of this emerging standard is the ease with which a wide variety of software can be purchased. Before the PC, the top programs could appear in any form - written for the Apple or for some CP/M system. VisiCalc, for example, was available only in Apple DOS format for the first year of its existence. That fact alone probably sold one or two hundred thousand machines for Apple. The new generation of spreadsheets and the vastly improved data management programs and word processors that are here because the PC is here to run them argue strongly that IBM is as good a candidate for an industry standard as can be found in the market today. With IBM in the race everybody has to stay on their toes. That is good for us as consumers.

In the wake of the Black Sox scandal, baseball was dying before Babe Ruth single-handedly revived it with more power at the plate than anyone had imagined. That's Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees, not the Brooklyn Dodgers, spunky though they were. Pee Wees do not fill stadiums. Babes do. The Yankees have always known that and they still draw big crowds wherever they appear. There is always the chance they will play really great baseball and the very fact that they are on the field adds class to the game. The blue caps don't look too bad either.