For the past few years, as the computer industry has headed more toward standardized, "open" systems, IBM and Digital Equipment Corp. have had a hard time convincing customers that they were really behind the concept. After all, open systems based on American Telephone & Telegraph Co.'s Unix operating system didn't give them as much of a hold over customers as their proprietary designs did--and open systems were less profitable. Now, the No. 1 and No. 2 computer makers finally may have proven that they can cut it in the open-systems market.
The two have been selected to supply General Motors Corp. with hardware and Unix programs for a massive international vehicle-design and engineering program called C4. The companies are also expected to link the C4 systems with GM's office and manufacturing computers. GM officials say that the two rivals will work independently, but by adhering to standards, their machines and others will be able to collaborate. While details, including price, of the four-year contract must still be ironed out, the deal is a dramatic turnaround for IBM and DEC: They beat out highly visible open-systems champions Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc.