The Apple-IBM venture that refuses to fade away
By Don Tennant
Guessing game: Who did the internationalization work, including full Unicode
2.0 support, for Release 1.1 of the Java Development Kit? Go ahead, guess.
Not even close.
You are so cold.
You're getting warmer.
No, you're way off again.
Give up? It was Taligent. No, I'm serious. It was Taligent. Can you imagine?
The last time I can remember Taligent even being mentioned was over a year
ago, in an interview with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. I had asked Gates what
trend or development over the past 20 years had really caught him by surprise.
His deadpan response: "Kaleida and Taligent had less impact than we
Just to refresh your memory, Kaleida Labs and Taligent Inc. were joint
ventures born in 1991 to IBM and Apple, after the strange bedfellows
consummated their famed development marriage. Kaleida, which after years of
delays finally delivered the ScriptX object-oriented multimedia scripting
language, was put out of its misery in late 1995. Taligent managed to stay
alive on the strength of its CommonPoint object development environment, but
became an IBM subsidiary -- also in late 1995 -- when Apple and co-investor
Hewlett-Packard bailed out.
I, for one, had not given Taligent a great deal of thought during these many
months since Gates' wisecrack. I suppose I just figured it had kind of faded
away. Then in January, on a plane from San Francisco to Orlando, Fla., where I
was to attend Lotus Development's Lotusphere users' and partners' conference,
I found myself sitting next to a woman who works for Taligent.
The woman was Deborah Magid, the head of Taligent's Human Interface Team. It
turns out that Taligent, in addition to handling the JDK 1.1
internationalization support for Sun Microsystems' JavaSoft subsidiary, has
been very quietly working on its first end-user product: a new client for
Lotus' Domino server. And Magid was headed to Lotusphere to show it off.
The product is called Places for Project Teams, an application designed to
provide a structured layout for project information management by allowing a
project team to access and share information stored in a Notes database. The
idea is for team members to be able to track the project's progress using a
timeline metaphor, and to communicate with each other in a conference-like
What's entertaining about all of this is that not even IBM seems to have been
aware of what's happening at Taligent.
At a press conference during the first day of Lotusphere, Lotus President
Jeff Papows and Executive Vice President Mike Zisman were joined by their boss
-- IBM Senior Vice President and Group Executive John M. Thompson, who runs
IBM's software business -- to field reporters' questions.
I took the opportunity to ask the threesome about this new Domino client from
Taligent, and about the prospects for IBM to collaborate on the development
of other non-Notes Domino clients.
Thompson offered this cryptic response: "What we've done with Taligent is we
have taken a lot of the technology and put it in the class libraries that
become available across other technologies that end up being the end-user
product. So think of Taligent as having some of its embedded object classes
and technologies available, as opposed to a separate client. ... All of those
classes are just technologies that are available, as opposed to an end-user
That was strange. That's certainly not what Magid told me on the plane. So I
protested, explaining to the threesome that a lady from Taligent with whom I
had spoken earlier specifically said it was a separate client, and that it was
definitely an end-user product.
"You may well be right," Papows chimed in, then stated the obvious: "But to
be real candid about it, I'm not sure, from the sound of it, that any of us
are familiar with it."
"I mean, this is a recent conversation?" Thompson asked, referring to my chat
with the Taligent representative.
"On the plane on the way here," I replied.
"I better check into it," he said.
The whole thing struck me as rather curious. Obviously, these senior
executives cannot be expected to be up to speed on every development that
comes down the pike. On the other hand, there were a lot of other
knowledgeable Lotus executives in the room, and not a single one appeared to
have a clue about what I was saying.
And for what it's worth, this particular development certainly seemed to me
to be one that would warrant the big guys' attention. After all, as far as I
was able to determine, the Taligent offering appeared to be the first
non-Notes client developed for Domino. And Zisman himself stressed that Lotus
all along had been very eager to see this type of work being done.
"We've been attempting to be very clear, I think now for the third
Lotusphere, that it is our goal to encourage access to Notes and Domino
servers from as many clients and types of clients as we possibly can," Zisman
said. "So we would absolutely encourage that type of activity, whether it's
Taligent as part of IBM, or someone else."
According to Magid, moreover, she had given a demo of the product to Steve
Mills, the IBM executive to whom Taligent CEO Debbie Coutant reports. Mills,
general manager of IBM's Software Solutions Division, reports to John M.
Thompson. Apparently Steve never bothered to mention it to John M.
So why -- aside from a lack of communication in the executive suite -- were
all these folks at Lotusphere so clueless about what Taligent is up to?
As much as anything else, it's probably a Silicon Valley thing.
While IBM and Lotus are both situated on the East Coast, Taligent is still
off by itself in Cupertino, in the heart of California's Silicon Valley -- a
vestige of Apple's Cupertino roots. The Taligent folks -- true egghead
developer types -- are probably more at home with the eggheads on the other
side of the street than they are with those on the other side of the country.
On the other side of their street, in a building leased from Apple that
Taligent also used to occupy back when it had more than twice as many
employees as the 140 or so it has now, is where JavaSoft lives. Given that
they often run into each other at the nearby Indian buffet, or at the local
Dunkin' Donuts, or over at the Shell station, it's not too surprising that the
people at JavaSoft have a better idea of what the people at Taligent are up
to than IBM or Lotus does. And given that Taligent is a longtime member of the
Unicode Consortium (which was formed in 1991 by Apple, IBM, Hewlett-Packard,
Digital Equipment and Microsoft), it's not too surprising that Taligent's
developers were tapped by JavaSoft to do the internationalization work for the
When you consider Taligent's Java expertise -- not to mention its handiwork
with Notes -- it appears certain that the outfit's profile will be raised
substantially in the months ahead. My guess is that a year from now, no one
will be wondering what ever happened to Taligent.
Don Tennant is editor of ComputerWorld Hong Kong, an IDG affiliate.