Analyst: IBM's embrace of Linux a little tight

IBM Corp.'s strategy to beef up Linux for the enterprise could increase the tension between the computer giant and the open-source community, according to an analyst.

A pack of Big Blue executives descended upon this week's IBM Solutions Technical Developer Conference in San Francisco to tout IBM's Linux strategy. Even the company's own flavor of Unix, AIX, was not sacred as senior executives declared that Linux could replace AIX when the open-source operating system is robust enough to handle enterprise demands.

"We are happy and comfortable with the idea that Linux can become the successor not just for AIX but for all Unix operating systems," said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of the IBM Software Group.

"IBM is focused on enabling high-end functionality in Linux for the enterprise, but the Linux community is not necessarily focused on that," said Stacey Quandt, analyst at Giga Information Group. "There is tension between IBM's goals and the origins of the Linux community, which is focused on the Internet and appliances."

She gave the example of IBM's high-profile backing of the Linux Standard Base (LSB), a programmatic interface that lets vendors and in-house developers avoid writing multiple versions of applications for various iterations of the Linux platform. "Red Hat doesn't want LSB to be successful - why would it want to make it easier for developers to write applications that can run across Red Hat, SuSE and TurboLinux? But it would be good for hardware suppliers, such as IBM," she said.

Quandt's comments follows similar remarks made by an analyst earlier this year who believes IBM is hijacking Linux for its own goals. Gartner analyst George Weiss told reporters, "IBM is steaming ahead with strong new revenue opportunities. It could appear that one vendor is seizing major opportunities and riding roughshod over the community." The comment was made after IBM said it would pump $1 billion into Linux developments this year.

Quandt believes IBM is keen to add high-end functionality into and on top of the Linux kernel so that it can use it as a weapon against key competitors. "IBM wants to drive Linux towards the high end and take out Sun Solaris, but the Linux community doesn't care about that," she said.

Comments made by Mills to reporters at the developers' conference appeared to confirm the notion. "No one makes money on Unix. The moneymaking opportunity is above the operating system. Linux is yet another opportunity," he said. Examples include services and applications that support the operating system, such as middleware software and technical support, he added.

Scott Handby, director of IBM's Linux solutions marketing, denied there is tension between the vendor and the Linux community and said that the vendor is committed to "making Linux better."

"We looked at AIX and Solaris and we said, 'What makes a world-class Unix system and what should go into Linux?'" he said. Among the high-end functions IBM is keen to add to Linux include improved documentation, printer support, internationalization, and enterprise file systems.

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