Some handy hints from Big Blue’s Linux chief

Scott Handy talks Elizabeth Montalbano of Computerworld US about the company's open source strategy

Can you tell us how the internal Linux rollout at IBM is going?

We first started talking about it maybe four years ago. What we learned was that it was going to be a problem for our support group, our helpdesk, to have a different set of software on the Linux side than they did on the Windows side.

So it was very important to figure out that we needed to standardise on a single programming model for the two environments and Eclipse came out to be the most robust cross platform environment that we came up with.

By rewriting Notes and SameTime I think we’ve achieved with the Open Client [desktop management software] exactly what we needed.

So we really had to slow down. We were more focused on getting to a common software stack for Windows and Linux than we were on increasing the number of Linux users. And now the big drive within IBM is to get everybody on Open Client.

There’s less concern about which OS you’re on and in fact we’re not going to cap it, we’re going to see what happens with our users. We don’t have a target but I expect Linux usage will go up. IBM Research seems to prefer Linux, the China Development Lab prefers Linux, [and] we have whole geographies that seem to have at least a slightly greater inclination for Linux than other areas — like Brazil, like India.

IBM has said it will be even-handed in supporting both Red Hat and Novell equally. What’s your status on supporting other distributions?

Overall, our Linux distribution strategy is to support two or more Linux distributions. In the very beginning, in ‘99, we had four, we had TurboLinux and Caldera and Suse and Red Hat. And over time the customer-buying and the business has consolidated — certainly on the server. Over 90% of the servers now ship with Red Hat or Novell Suse.

The idea of having a vendor-neutral or dual supplier for customers is very attractive. The “two or more” means that if some other vendor gets significant share in the marketplace, Linux really is open, so we could support an additional one.

We’d have additional costs; that would be because we have a pretty big Linux portfolio at this point. We have over 500 software products across DB2, WebSphere, Lotus, Tivoli and Rational in our software group that support Linux, [and] that we would have to test.

[But] our Linux strategy allows us to support an additional distribution, so if somebody gets a big share — which is basically saying our customers start buying and demanding another Linux distribution — we would do so. And we have done so in certain geographies. We support Asianix in Asia.

What is IBM’s position on the deal between Novell and Microsoft? Do you think it’s a good thing? Do you think Novell has lost some credibility?

Our perspective on the Microsoft-Novell deal ... especially in their partnership around virtualisation, that I think could be good for customers. This is a competitive business and Novell’s doing this to get competitive advantage. Let it play and see where it’s going to go. Our support for Novell is steadfast and firm and we continue to drive aggressively in the market with them but we also partner aggressively with Red Hat, so really not a lot changed in our overall strategy.

Microsoft has called into question IBM’s commitment to open-document standards.

The IBM strategy is behind anything really that gets industry traction and ODF has a tremendous amount of industry traction. We have a lot of customers and a lot of governments who are behind this [ODF], and of course vendors. We’ve done our part; we’ve announced that Lotus Notes, and the editors that we ship with that, are ODF compliant.

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