Will IBM's Linux budget partially eclipse Sun?

Nearly a billion dollars. That's the amount that IBM CEO Lou Gerstner says IBM will spend on Linux.

          Nearly a billion dollars. That's the amount that IBM CEO Lou Gerstner says IBM will spend on Linux. Gerstner made his announcement in a speech at the mid-December eBusiness Conference Expo in New York City, during which he mentioned the L-word a dozen times -- underscoring the importance that Big Blue is placing on Linux in its overall strategy.

          Vaughan, the senior news editor at ITworld.com, and I had the opportunity recently to discuss the plans for that money with Daniel Frye, director of IBM's Linux Technology Center. For those of you who might have been wondering: no, the billion dollars does not include funds for purchasing or creating a Linux distribution of IBM's own. Frye says the company has no interest in having a distribution.

          We did learn that the money represents the budget allocations earmarked for Linux for all IBM divisions next year. It includes things like training, programmer salaries, research, marketing, support of open source projects, and funding. The funding is for things like the Open Source Development Lab announced in August by IBM, HP, Intel, and NEC, which will give Linux developers the opportunity to test their code on top-end equipment.

          Since Gerstner emphasised the importance of open infrastructure (he went so far as to say, "I believe Sun -- and for that matter, EMC and Microsoft -- are running the last big proprietary plays we'll see in this industry for a long time to come"), I asked Frye whether IBM is looking at other free software or open source platforms -- the BSDs, for example -- as well as Linux. The answer is no. "Linux is where we are going to put our play. That's where the marketing is driving us," he said.

          Does this mean that Windows will fade from IBM's product line? Definitely not. I asked Frye for a comparison of revenues from Linux-based products and services and those of Windows 2000. Frye declined to discuss any specific figures but said, "The Windows business at IBM is obviously much, much larger than Linux business. Windows is a major part of our portfolio and will continue to be forever."

          Frye did say, however, that IBM does not see a "homogeneous operating system world." Rather, the IBM strategy is "about providing choice to customers." IBM's Linux budget for 2001 indicates not only that the new year will bring IBM customers more choice than ever before, but also that those choices will appear more quickly across the entire range of IBM products and services.

          Can IBM's money buy Linux love? The company is certainly putting its best moves on the Linux community. Will it become a dominant force in the community? Has it already?

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