Just like old times – IBM faces antitrust probe

The US Justice Department is investigating claims that IBM is up to its old anti-competitive tricks in the mainframe industry.

Forty years ago, IBM was the target of a lengthy Justice Department lawsuit, alleging an illegal monopoly in mainframes.  At the time, IBM could claim around 70 percent of the US mainframe market. The case was eventually thrown out in 1982.

Now the Computer and Communications Industry Association is asking the Feds to look into claims that Big Blue is again forcing customers to buy IBM hardware by refusing to allow rival manufacturers to use its z/OS operating system.

A lawsuit from plug-compatible mainframe maker Platform Solutions, claiming that IBM was engaged in illegal restraint of trade by refusing to allow it to run z/OS on its hardware, was resolved last year by the simple expedient of IBM buying the company and shutting it down.

Back in the 1950s, IBM was ordered to make its technology available to its competitors, resulting in a burgeoning mainframe clone market in the sixties and seventies that, sadly, I can remember all too well, having worked in it.

But that ruling lapsed at the end of the last century and IBM is now playing hard ball again.

Another antitrust complaint from mainframe maker T3T – part-owned by Microsoft – was thrown out last week by a federal court, the judge ruling that IBM’s refusal to play nicely didn’t constitute a breach of antitrust law.

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