By Stephen Baker

July 2022

I read Richard Sharpe’s blog, Open, with great interest as it took me back to some very interesting times, in the early 1980s.

The quest for Openess (non-IBM) had been kindled when I worked for the agricultural machinery company, Massey-Ferguson Perkins. Until I joined Massey, the companies I’d worked for were all ICT/ICL so, whilst progress was interesting, it was a real eye-opener when I joined Massey in 1980 and got involved with IBM. I guess we all have reminiscences of times past but it was something that was said by Geoff Shingles in the blog that stirred some memories. In his comment, Geoff made reference to how some users of IBM perceived their relationship “…….people had felt grasped warmly by the throat by some of the larger manufacturers, IBM, maybe NCR and others, they were, they were restricted by them.”

It set me thinking about how we, in Massey, perceived IBM and the kinds of sayings we had for them. Some of them, of course, are not printable but here’s a small selection which we used and, I would imagine, many others used as well:

Big Blue ……. to be honest, I never got to the bottom of why IBM were called Big Blue. Within Massey, we always thought it was a reference to the colour of the panels on their hardware. We also had a second theory that it was because all IBM staff seemed to dress the same, blue suits, tie, white/light blue shirt and accessorised socks etc. (It was very similar when, in later years, I can across Arthur Androids from Arthur Andersen)

You never got sacked for buying IBM …… it always seemed to us functionaries that you could always bank on IBM to back you up if you were trying to sell new ideas to your senior managers, if it meant lots of business for IBM.

You will get sacked for not buying IBM …… well, this wasn’t an automatic outcome of not buying IBM, but, having seen a real example of such a move and been personally subjected to an attempt, I can say that it was true in some instances.

When IBM have you by the xxxxx both your heart and mind are sure to follow …… this sentiment echoes Geoff Shingles observation. My boss, at Massey, who was politically very dynamic, would use this to illustrate to higher management what can happen if you get too close to IBM. At the time Massey moved away from IBM FEPs to ITT Comten 3800s, his illustrations got more colourful, as IBM tried to block us.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs …… in the 1980s there were eight major American computer companies. IBM were the biggest and most dominant. You can probably guess who Snow White was.