Linux madness grips Texas

More than 300 IBM employees from around the globe are set to convene this week in Austin, Texas. But they won't find the usual IBM fare on their plates

Instead, the topics du jour at IBM's third Linux summit will be all things open source.

Big Blue has become one of the most vocal and visible backers of Linux and open source, especially in the past year. The company ported all of its portfolio applications to Linux and has developed a version of Linux that runs on its S/390 mainframes. It also has opened three open-source porting centres on three continents.

All told, IBM has a team of about 200 open source developers at work in its hardware, software, services, and research divisions. Company officials claim that IBM currently employs more developers dedicated to open source than any corporation anywhere. On Nov. 28 and 29, that core group, plus another 100 IBM developers and executives, will drill down on subjects such as Windows 2000-Linux compatibility and just-in-time Java compilers.

They also will receive updates on some of IBM's in-process open-source projects, such as its port of Linux to the AS/400 server family, its ongoing PowerPC Linux work, and its efforts to build out Linux's clustering capabilities.

Top IBM officials, including Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of technology and strategy for IBM's server group, will provide pep talks. And Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer at Red Hat, also will address the troops. "We see the [open source] market place and opportunities to be far bigger than we anticipated," said Wladawsky-Berger, in an interview with ZDNet News.

He emphasised that IBM is trying to give back to the open source community. However, that doesn't mean Big Blue is backing open source out of the goodness of its heart. IBM sees at least three ways it can make money from Linux and open source, Wladawsky-Berger said.

The more open source software takes off, the more hardware -- chips, storage subsystems, and servers -- IBM can sell around it, he said. Similarly, the more open source applications that are sold, the more IBM Linux-ported middleware it can peddle, he said. And, to make sure everything works together, IBM Global Services can sell consulting, outsourcing, and other services to Linux/open source customers, Wladawsky-Berger added.

IBM also plans to continue to open source code it has developed, Wladawsky-Berger said.

"The things that we open source tend to be things that are critical to integrating diverse systems," he said, offering up as examples compilers, XML interfaces, and high-performance Linux add-ons. "The more something is a horizontal layer, the more we'd tend to open source it," he said.

"We want to not just take from the open source community, but also to contribute to it," Wladawsky-Berger said.

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