Big Blue Embraces Penguins

Just last Thursday, in the wake of Salon's announcement that it would provide technology news for Red Hat's Web site, the clearly not-jealous Wired News site ran an article suggesting that Linux announcements are a stock price fixer. "Recipe for wealth, circa January 2000: Write press release, mention 'Linux' prominently throughout. Wait for stock price to soar."

Certainly no one at IBM could have read Joanna Glasner's piece. The company decided to pass along to the press this weekend an internal letter to senior managers that the next step in Big Blue's efforts to revitalize its lagging computer hardware business would be to embrace Linux (again). The Wall Street Journal's William Bulkeley pointed out that IBM announced last year that it would support Linux, the Unix-based operating system that is gaining momentum at the expense of Microsoft's Windows NT and competing Unix platforms. But the announcement scheduled for this Monday is positioned as something much bigger, a "bold play," according to Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who will head up the Linux initiative.

Reuters' Eric Auchard, in an article posted on the San Jose Mercury News site Sunday night, called it "the biggest embrace of the alternative operating system by a major computer maker to date." Auchard's report drew on an IDC analyst's comments to detail what the move would mean: rolling out Linux-enabling IBM's Netfinity PC servers and mainframe-class computers, and making its AIX version of Unix work more easily with Linux.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal focused mostly on the politics within IBM. Wladawsky-Berger, who last got a good deal of ink when he was appointed general manager of IBM's Internet division, continues on in a sort of evolution of that role, now working to integrate the open source software that was developed over the Internet. For the developer of IBM's e-business marketing platform, the Linux program was interpreted as a reward for his success in making IBM an important Internet player. (Did you know it was one?) According to the Journal's Bulkeley, "IBM said that job has been completed and the separate Internet division that he headed is being broken up." Congratulations on your success; we're destroying your division and promoting you.

Wladawsky-Berger's comments suggested that something about the whole open-source business still leaves Big Blue less than completely comfortable. While both he and his new boss, server group head Samuel Palmisano, called the operating system a powerful force and a symbol of a shift to open standards, Wladawsky-Berger also called it a "another disruptive technology."

"Linux isn't so much an operating system," he told the Times' Lohr, "as it is a culture." Is IBM already rejecting this cultural transplant?

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