SAN FRANCISCO (08/25/2000) - I had less than a day to spend at this year's LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in San Jose, Calif., so I decided to focus on the announcements made by a couple of computing-industry behemoths. Dell Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. would have their time in the spotlight on the keynote podium, so I left those particular biggies to their own devices and checked up on IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.
I was momentarily mystified by the sparse turnout at IBM's invitation-only lunch-cum-press-briefing on Tuesday. After all, it almost seems IBM is making most of the Linux noise lately. And surely other members of the media contingent at the show had attended catered IBM events before and knew the food would be top-notch. So where was everybody? It turned out that my nose for something other than news was my downfall -- the GNOME press-briefing-cum-lunch (where the momentous introduction of the GNOME Foundation took place) was happening simultaneously in another room that overflowed with bodies. Oh well, more potato salad for me!
In case you don't watch television commercials, IBM really, really wants to sell "ebusiness solutions." (I recently learned that Sun's PR people won't countenance use of the term "ebusiness" because it's too redolent of Big Blue.) The biggest IBM announcement on Tuesday united Blue with Red in the name of ebusiness. IBM and Red Hat have made a worldwide software agreement to collaborate at both the engineering and marketing levels to integrate and bundle a number of IBM's ebiz products -- WebSphere, Lotus Domino, DB2 Universal Database, Tivoli Framework, and IBM's Small Business Pack for Linux -- with Red Hat Linux software. The software will be preconfigured, pretested, and pretuned to put IBM's tools for Web serving, data serving, application serving, and systems management in one place for Linux customers. Both companies will sell the bundled products directly.
Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann, who sported a dashing scarlet chapeau, was obviously hyped about the agreement. "To some extent [Red Hat has] been responsible for creating demand which is very difficult to fill," Tiemann said.
"It's one thing to be able to deliver Linux on a single machine. It's another thing to deliver Linux and the applications for the enterprise.
"We're excited to be working with IBM because the comprehensive solutions from IBM represent a way that people can build a scalable solution on a platform like Linux and take advantage of the innovation that comes from the open source community."
Tiemann also sees gold in the potential for further technical collaboration among Red Hat's engineers, other open source developers, and their IBM counterparts.
Moving on to hardware news, IBM announced enhanced Linux capabilities, due by the end of this year, for two flavors of its NetVista thin client. One version, the N2200, will be an appliance-like unit that is preconfigured and prepackaged for quick installation and setup. The other model will include a full Linux distribution, based on TurboLinux 6.1, that will provide customization capabilities. The latter machine will be able to either boot over the network to a server or establish a customized flash boot image on the local device, a potentially attractive feature for customers with multiple remote locations.
I met later with Paul Boulay, marketing program director for IBM's network computer division. Boulay explained that the NetVista developments are an extension of IBM's announcement at the NYC LinuxWorld show in February, when the company responded to "tremendous demand" for open source benefits on the thin-client level by providing some do-it-yourself products. "At that time we were in no position to even know what a packaged product would look like," Boulay said.
Some very large deployments resulted, including the largest known corporate desktop installation of Linux in the world (for the Good Samaritan Society).
Meanwhile, many of IBM's larger customers lobbied for a packaged offering; this spurred IBM to start creating a product. These customers, said Boulay (who acknowledged that such a remark isn't exactly politically correct at a Linux trade show), actually "could care less about Linux." However, they very much care about having a platform that will support the browsers, plug-ins, and drivers they need.
Other hardware-related announcements from IBM included a commitment to integrate X-architecture into Netfinity servers running Linux. The concept of X-architecture (unrelated to the X Window System) is the deployment of high-end IBM server technologies -- those developed for the S/390, RS/6000, and AS/400 platforms -- in the Intel-based Netfinity line. Netfinity servers preloaded with Linux have been available for about a year now; X-architecture will, IBM says, make them more powerful, scalable, manageable, and reliable. Officially, IBM will "work with leading Linux distributors to make X-architecture support for Linux a reality." No time frame was announced for availability.
In the tangible goods department, IBM announced it is now shipping new ThinkPad notebook computers preconfigured with Caldera OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4. KDE is Caldera's default desktop and IBM had just backed the new GNOME Foundation, so the IBM folks were quick to point out that a Helix Code GNOME CD comes bundled with the 'Pads.
I asked Boulay if most of IBM's Linux initiatives have stemmed primarily from customer demand. He said "100 percent" for his piece of the business, the thin-client arena; this holds true for the server-related announcements at the show.
Sheila Harnett, a technical lead at IBM's Linux Technology Center, has a different perspective. Her group targets IBM technology for open source, sets up projects with the open source community, and provides support and guidance as a project evolves.
"The technology contributions themselves may be a little bit in advance of what the customers are asking for today because we're anticipating where they're going to want it to be," said Harnett. "There are many aspects of Linux today that make it very capable as a solution in many different environments:
Internet serving, file and print serving, clusters. [IBM's] customers acknowledge that and they want to be able to deploy it. [IBM's] open source contributions are targeted more toward really trying to add the high-end enterprise-platform capabilities to Linux so they'll be there for the higher-end applications as the customers discover that."
Sun Microsystems has a somewhat different approach to profiting from Linux.
Sun's notion is that what's good for Linux is good for the Unix market, and therefore good for the sale of Sun servers and workstations that run the Solaris operating system. Herb Hinstorff, whose title alone -- Manager, Linux Program Office, Solaris Software -- seems to encapsulate this philosophy, elaborated on this point at LinuxWorld.
Hinstorff made it clear that Sun will never sell Linux systems. But by working from several angles to bridge the differences between Linux and Solaris, Sun hopes to engineer a "common user experience" for developers and end users on both OSs. This would allow the increasing numbers of Linux developers and users to achieve "instant productivity" when and if they opt for Sun's more robust products. Sun's lxrun freeware, for example, allows Solaris-on-Intel users to run Linux applications. Sun also provides tools that let developers single-source code for applications to be compiled for both Solaris and Linux.
And the current availability of Java 2 Standard Edition and Java 2 Enterprise Edition for Linux, as well as Java Community Edition's IDE, Forte for Java, add more beef to the strategy.
Sun's participation as a charter member of the GNOME Foundation and its pledge to make GNOME 2.0 the default desktop for future versions of Solaris (see Resources) dovetail perfectly with its previous efforts. "This again goes to a common user interface across Solaris and Linux and common tool sets across both," said Hinstorff. In fact, it all fits so well that I asked Hinstorff if Sun was the driving force behind the foundation's formation. He professed ignorance of the "inside story," but did say that "certainly the energy that Sun came into this with OpenOffice and with our excitement about Bonobo, GTK, and the whole GNOME effort, added a lot to it."