When a politician wants to send a signal to a rival they can do it by "privately" meeting with an opponent in a way they're certain will become public.
Thus Microsoft's flirtation with Red Hat is really aimed at sending a message to IBM. The message: you can't have it both ways.
Open source gives IBM a measure of control in the operating systems arena with neither cost nor risk. IBM no longer has an operating system. Instead it has customers install Red Hat Linux.
By talking in a New York restaurant with the head of Red Hat, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer let IBM know this arrangement can't continue. If Microsoft does buy Red Hat it makes IBM dependent on a Microsoft operating system. IBM can't have that.
The obvious response then is to switch distros, but beyond the inconvenience factor who has one that IBM would feel safe giving its customers? Or IBM could buy Red Hat, and CEO Matt Szulik (left, from our friends at News.Com) has a bidding war that gets Red Hat out of its current problems and turns him into a hero.
So what should IBM do? Well, it needs to look at all its options, with the comfort of its customers uppermost in its mind. I've already mentioned two options. It could switch distro providers or buy Red Hat. Here are two more. It could create an IBM Linux distro or buy another distro provider, such as Novell, whose SUSE Linux may be a good option for IBM's customers.
All these possibilities entail risk. Would another distro provider be able to serve the needs of IBM customers as well as Red Hat does? How much might Red Hat cost, especially with Microsoft at the poker table? How would open source advocates respond to IBM's overt presence in the open source world? Is Novell really a good fit for IBM?
Until IBM makes a decision, and executes on it, then uncertainty will live in the heart of every IBM customer with Linux in their enterprise.
Which I think was Ballmer's idea all along.
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