All OSes Are Created Equal

IBM, which took the pulpit to sell itself as an OS-agnostic company when it endorsed Java, is now going one giant step further. With its soon-to-be-announced "client-stack" embedded OS strategy and developerWorks portal, it will attempt to win support for its "all operating systems are equal" religion.

IBM, which took the pulpit to sell itself as an OS-agnostic company when it endorsed Java, is now going one giant step further. With its soon-to-be-announced "client-stack" embedded OS strategy and developerWorks portal, it will attempt to win support for its "all operating systems are equal" religion.

Gone are the proprietary schemes like System Application Architecture and other efforts to sell solutions based on any OS-as long as it comes from IBM. Now, the company is giving as much development, marketing and support time to NT, Linux, Solaris and third-party real-time operating systems as it dedicates to OS/390 and OS/400.

Need proof? IBM is shipping 500 IBM developers from all divisions of the company to Austin, Texas, next week for an internal Linux Technology Summit- complete with keynote speeches from Linux luminaries like Linux International executive director Jon "MadDog" Hall.

All this attention for an operating system IBM doesn't sell, and has no intentions of selling? IBM's higher-ups first decided to form Linux subcommittees a year ago, but renegade IBM programmers already had begun porting IBM middleware to the platform long before that. Since that time, besides committing to DB2 and Domino Linux releases, IBM has become incredibly visible in the Linux space, doing everything from delivering Linux support via Global Services, to participating in open-source standards initiatives.

When it comes to IBM's own software products and services, the "heterogeneous is good" edict is starting to come through equally. IBM's "client stack," the latest offering from its Pervasive Computing division, for example, will take the form of a Java-based shell that can run on top of a wide range of real-time OSes, as well as embedded Linux.

Sources close to the company say IBM will pitch its stack as an embedded OS enabler suited to platforms like telephone handsets and cell phones. And on the back end, IBM is readying client-support software that ultimately will ship as part of its middleware, ranging from Lotus Domino to Tivoli, to enable embedded devices to take advantage of services like messaging and remote management on the server.

It's not just on the device side of its business that IBM has become a true believer in platform heterogeneity. IBM is readying a developer portal-along with a major advertising campaign-to offer hot technology, developer resources, and "unbiased information" about building e-business infrastructures, all free of charge.

Called developerWorks, the portal is set to launch Sept. 28 in San Francisco and is part of a larger move inside IBM to consolidate services and programs in an effort to become more efficient and more attractive to new partners. IBM will emphasize Java, XML and Linux with developerWorks, with additional information on security, Unicode and Web architecture, but is not pushing any particular platform.

"We have lots of different platforms, and lots of customers with heterogeneous multiple platforms, and it's how we tie those together using open standards and cross-platform Java and XML issues around a heterogeneous security and Web architecture," says Dirk Nicol, development manager for developerWorks. "Even if a developer visits and gets information about open standards and leaves and never becomes an IBM partner, we've accomplished something."

Does that sound like the IBM once sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for alleged monopoly practices? IBM officials say customer demand, not politics, is responsible for the shift.

"The phenomenon of the Internet has made the world safe for multiple OSes," says IBM Software Group GM Steve Mills. "Customers feel comfortable buying systems running more than one OS because of advances in the Internet, open standards and cross-platform middleware."

That's a major departure from the OS consolidation scenarios analysts were predicting just a few years ago, with NT and one or two flavors of Unix rubbing out the rest of the competition. And it's heresy, when compared with the cross-platform messages espoused by companies like Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. To Microsoft, apps that run on Windows and NT-which, in its Windows 2000 iteration, will run only on Intel-based systems-are considered "cross-platform." In Sun's case, while Java may be a cross-platform computing environment, it is still controlled by Sun alone.

Mills doesn't believe CIOs want to support "an infinite number of operating systems." But there's no OS consolidation plans in IBM's future, he says.

And with the coming explosion of pervasive devices, watch for IBM to go even further with its cross-platform plans.

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