According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Computers_Limited

International Computers Limited (ICL) was a British computer hardware, computer software and computer services company that operated from 1968 until 2002.

Okay, straightforward and unsurprising enough so far.

As of 1971, the United Kingdom was unusual in Europe for IBM not having more than 50% of the computer market,

This is mildly surprising, and I'm curious about why.

although an observer stated that the company constrained the size of its British subsidiary to keep ICL alive.

Now this is where it gets really surprising. Why would IBM do that?

Deliberately keeping a competitor alive to fend off antitrust scrutiny is not necessarily unheard of. (It has been conjectured that this was one reason Microsoft invested in Apple in the nineties.) However, while IBM did indeed have antitrust trouble, that was with the US government. So if that was the reason, wouldn't it want to keep a US rather than UK competitor?

Was there some aspect of UK politics at the time, that led IBM to expect some backlash if it became a monopoly in that country? Or was there some other reason for the claimed behavior?

  • 3
    A quick eyeballing of Campbell-Kelly's ICL: a business and technical history did not reveal anything in support of that.
    – dave
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 13:30
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    Did you leave out the '[citation needed]', marking this claim, on purpose?
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 13:48
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    @Raffzahn No, that wasn't there earlier when I copied the text. Perhaps someone added it after following the link from this question? It is certainly a valid point.
    – rwallace
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 13:51
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    The UK government at that time had a single-tender policy with respect to ICL, which likely included the universities, but that in itself would not constrain private buyers. The 1900 series was a lower-cost alternative to S/360, at least until the point in 1971 at which IBM lowered prices, which caused a crisis for ICL. (Source: Campbell-Kelly)
    – dave
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 14:04
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    @rwallace The Englisch IT industry had a real great start and strong standing way into the 1980. This is as well true for other European countries. Just think of Olivetti, Bull, Nixdorf, Siemens or Philips. In part of course due a likeliness to buy local, not to mention that buyers for larger machines/installations were only a few and government institutions a large part thereof (which led in Germany to the funny situation that tax offices in Bavaria used Siemens mainframe, while in BaWü it was IBM and up north Nixdorf was strong. Much like default police cars in different German regions.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 15:04

2 Answers 2


The whole claim seems a bit dubious. I did spend a few hours now, not only searching the net, but as well peeking into all secondary literature I have regarding ICL (or parts thereof) and IBM, but couldn't find any remark even remotely supporting the claim.

Over all it seems like an easy to make, hard to prove statement, especially as all, as mentioned, is not well specified. For example the central claim of an IBM market share of more than 50% in continental Europe in 1971 is repeated in a Wiki article about IBM (last paragraph of the section), but there as well not supported by any reference or classification.

I believe it would need a very fine differentiation about what market it is about and what benchmark is used. In 1971 IBM was still not settled as the mainframe company in Europe, where it faced, at that time, still quite strong competition. Even less in IT beside mainframes and connected devices. It was the time when companies like Nixdorf or Olivetti had their biggest growth and market share.

I would classify the clam as without substance, if at all, based on a very specific area supported only by anecdotal reference - of which neither is presented.

  • 6
    I suspect that the story came out of IBM-speak for "we wish to avoid being locked out of the UK market by punitive tariffs", which the UK was very good at imposing until its brief half-hearted stint at EU membership put paid to that tactic.
    – scruss
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 21:39
  • @scruss Maybe, or one of many other reasons. We will never know without more and especially reliable information.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 22:02

The ICL tech was superior by quite a margin as it was developed much later as an operating systems with VME and extensively used fibre when IBM was stuck on copper etc. I worked on it both as an Engineer and in sales from 1989-2000.

The purchase by Fujitsu killed it off as they had their own mainframe bet made on Amdahl to handle the US market and their Japanese kit to cover Asia. They failed to see the best bet was ICL technology

  • 1
    This doesn't seem to answer the question, though.
    – dave
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 2:24
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 7:19
  • It could perhaps be reworded as a counter to the premise of the question. (Q) Why did IBM want to keep ICL alive? (A) IBM would not have wanted to preserve a competitor with technology that was superior to IBM's.
    – dave
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 15:10

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