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"Nobody ever got fired for picking... Linux?"

by Kevin Bedell
May. 5, 2003

I recently interviewed Scott Handy, IBM's Worldwide Director for Linux Solutions, for an upcoming article I'm working on. According to Scott, Linux is literally exploding across the corporate landscape. Here are a few of the highlights from the interview:

Linux is 'safe' now

When IBM purchased Lotus Notes in 1995, Notes had about 3 million installed seats. Notes now has well over 100 million installed seats worldwide. A good deal of that growth was due to the fact that Notes now has "IBM" stamped on it. Corporate customers knew it wouldn't be going away and that Notes now had deep pockets behind its development. According to Scott, that's a good analogy for what they're seeing with Linux. He says, IBM is "seeing a similar mainstream acceptance of Linux. But I think IBM adds more than just credibility. It certainly adds credibility but also adds solutions around Linux."

Customers are seeing IBM's commmitment to Linux and are adopting it in droves. According to Scott, his customers believe that IBM brings 'credibility' to Linux that it didn't have before.

Linux is now on the CIO's radar

According to Scott, "Almost all senior managers either have a Linux plan or are being asked for one because of the fact that it's so well known that Linux is being adopted by major corporations around the world".

Of course, many CIO's have had Linux installed in their organizations for years. The problem was, until recently most of them didn't know about it! According to Scott, Linux first took off because the alpha geeks in the company, "could install Linux without a purchase order and without approval".

In the door because it's cheap, growing because it's good.

Getting Linux in the door because it's cheap is one thing. But you don't replace production systems with Linux just because it's cheap. It has to be good as well. In fact, it really had to be better than the alternatives in order to overcome the fear that many managers had about using open source. According to Scott, once IBM's customers tried Linux, "they were extremely happy with the reliability and performance" and pretty soon they wanted to "get those same reliability and total cost of ownership benefits for their business applications."

The GPL is like "Glue Provided to Linux"

According to Scott, the GPL (Gnu General Public License) will ensure that Linux doesn't splinter into different (and incompatible) factions.

You might remembed in the 80's that the Unix operating system splintered into a bunch of different vendor-specific versions. Because of this, Unix never really got its act together. None of its different versions ever became dominant. I asked Scott if he felt that this might happen to Linux. I wondered if he thought we would see different distributions going their own way and then becoming incompatible with each other. His answer was interesting.

According to Scott, "The unique thing about Linux is the GPL license which forces all derivatives of Linux to have their source code published. That's *very* unlike Unix. Because of that the industry is all sharing the same Linux kernel and for ten years running has kept to a single code base."

All this is pretty amazing when you think about where Linux was just a few years ago. But things change. Linux is now moving from the back of the server room up to the front. And if IBM's deep pockets have anything to say about it - that's where it will be staying for a long time.

Kevin Bedell is a software professional with over 15 years of experience doing development, architecture and team lead work, is Editor in Chief of LinuxWorld Magazine, and is working on a book for O'Reilly on Apache Axis.

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