January 23, 2003 11:30 AM PST

IBM: 'Linux is here to stay'

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NEW YORK--It's a message that's becoming harder and harder to avoid when listening to IBM: Linux has arrived as a mainstream operating system.

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Steve Mills, the head of IBM's software group, continued the pro-Linux drumbeat Thursday in a keynote speech at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here. Big Blue has 4,600 customers buying Linux servers, software or services, he said.

"Linux is here to stay. It's deeply embedded in the infrastructure. Its rate of growth and implementation in the infrastructure is frankly unstoppable," Mills said.

Linux, an open-source relative of the Unix operating system, is gradually gaining the higher-end characteristics of more seasoned Unix versions such as Sun Microsystems' Solaris, IBM's AIX and Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX, Mills said. "The road to get there is well understood," he said.

IBM, the heaviest presence in the computing industry, has a vast customer base using older technology, but the company isn't averse to change. Twenty years ago, the company started selling personal computers, adding business legitimacy to the market and helping it to explode.

Big Blue on Tuesday said it garnered more than $1.5 billion in Linux revenue in 2002 and that its Linux work was profitable overall. The company invested $1 billion in its Linux efforts in 2001, and Mills said the figure has only gone up since then.

"Those investments continue. They've been increasing," Mills said.

The company has more than 1,100 Linux servers internally, either its xSeries Intel-based servers or partitions on its zSeries mainframes, Mills said. Many of those systems are replacing Windows or OS/2 servers, he said.


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IBM funds more than 250 engineers working on 70 projects for the Linux kernel, the heart of the operating system. About 5,000 IBM employees are involved in Linux work. And Big Blue helps fund other companies to create Linux versions of their software.

IBM's support of Linux is in part a response to its customers, who prefer open standards and widely available technology to proprietary systems, Mills said. That approach hasn't always been popular at IBM, which has kept control over technology such as Token Ring networking and the MicroChannel Architecture for plugging components into computers.

But IBM learned quickly when customers voted against Big Blue with their pocketbooks. "In the 1980s and early 1990s, it was apparent the customer was driving the market, not the vendors. It was a rude awakening," Mills said.

Another one of those proprietary technologies is Unix, which has forked into several incompatible versions. Linux is a new hope for Unix fans; it offers programs that work on different versions, administration and programming skills that transfer easily, Mills said.

"Linux is a fulfillment of a promise that existed around Unix," he said.

 

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