IBM's software chief scans landscape

Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM's Software Group, spoke with Computerworld about the software strategies of IBM and its top competitors. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How do you view the future of Unix at IBM?

There are strong indications that the market is moving down the path to shift toward Linux. These things tend to be long-term trends. The existing Unixes are not just going to disappear from the planet. People started predicting the demise of NetWare 10-plus years ago. There's still lots of NetWare out there.

The more important issue is that Linux is following a fairly predictable path toward reaching maturity. As you look at the progression of Linux, at each level, this has become a more scalable product

Today, people are typically running two-ways and four-ways, but eight-way is certainly possible. If we look out to the end of the year, we're going to see a more significant number of people beginning to look at running seriously on eight-way and even pushing toward 16-way.

As we come around for another rev of Linux a couple of years out, Linux will be in the 16-, 24-way types of SMP systems.

Q: Where is IBM's R&D money being invested for operating systems?

Most of it goes to the mainframe still, for obvious reasons. Most of the world's business runs every day on the mainframe, and that's a life-and-death environment.

Q: What do you think about Hewlett-Packard's strategy to focus exclusively on Intel architecture?

Remember, HP was reaching a point -- this is going back to Lew Platt's tenure -- where they were having to think about what the long-term costs were going to be to design and fabricate high-performance microprocessors, which is not an inexpensive business to be in. Lots of science, lots of heavy investment to create the fabrication capability.

[Platt's] conclusion was that HP's best bet was to essentially become an Intel-based processor company.

Q: What do you see in Sun Microsystems' future?

They're getting squeezed at every end of the spectrum: from below by Wintel, Linux on Intel kinds of approaches. Solaris frankly has been the strongest anchor point for the franchise, and Solaris is under siege from Linux. And the Solaris audience has flexible, portable skills. Anything I can do on any one of the Unixes, I can do on the other Unixes and on Linux. So they're having a hard time maintaining loyalty.

Q: Is Microsoft's high-end Datacenter Server becoming a more credible competitor?

Microsoft is a credible competitor. Perception is reality, and people perceive that Microsoft is a company that's serious about being in the enterprise. So they believe they need to look at Microsoft.

It's very different than selling at the departmental level, though. The enterprise-level people generally do much more physical comparison of products. So it's a very different competitive environment than Microsoft is used to.

Our position is: Wheel it in. Bring in your people and your code, and let's have a duel. This is our expertise. They're playing our game. This is American football, not soccer. It's played with pads, and usually at the end of the game, somebody's bleeding.

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