Time for IBM to become an open source hero

No one else does a better job of giving the lie to the idea that open source is a money loser than IBM. IBM has become the Stan Musial of open source.

Over at his other job, our David Gewirtz suggests that, with the absorption of Sun into Oracle, open source badly needs an open source patron and that IBM should apply.

I previously suggested Dell for this role, saying it would be in their business interest to commit to this course. The problem with IBM is somewhat different. (Picture from Wikipedia.)

IBM has learned over the last two decades that it can succeed while avoiding the trips and dramas, the strum and drang, which pass the news cycles in the computer press. Sometimes no news is indeed good news, especially in computing, because it's not about you but the customer.

But David has a point. All of open source benefited from having important projects in safe hands. With those projects no longer in safe hands a pall has settled, threatening to become a malaise.

IBM is in a unique position to fight that. It has invested heavily in Java and Linux. It passed its Symphony suite over to OpenOffice.org years ago, and now sells support while offering it for download there.

IBM has also benefited from open source through Eclipse and other projects. No other company has earned as much money from open source as IBM. No one else does a better job of giving the lie to the idea that open source is a money loser than IBM.

IBM has become the Stan Musial of open source. (That's The Man himself, on Wikipedia, during 2008's Stan Musial Day in St. Louis.)

It's an open source Hall of Famer, with an excellent reputation, but few people outside its home base know the story, just as Musial is little known outside his hometown and certain retirement homes. (His SI cover this summer was, believe it or not, his first as a solo, although he was the magazine's Sportsman of the Year for 1957.)

Now, if I can extricate myself from my own childhood we'll go on.

Despite the nonsense of our Supreme Court (they also think tomatoes are vegetables) companies are not people. They can be immortal, renewing themselves with every generation, adapting constantly, changing with the times.

IBM has proven this. The Watsons are dead. Lou Gerstner is long gone. Elvis has left the building. Yet IBM goes on, its market cap still bigger than Google's or Oracle's. If open source needs a hero to step up, IBM is best positioned for the job.

One might even argue that IBM owes this to open source. Having benefited from open source for over a decade, unifying its product lines under Linux, sharing development costs with rivals, and making a ton of money, IBM really should give back.

This is something open source teaches all of us. You benefit more from open source when you give than when you just take. In fact the more you give the more you benefit.

I'm not asking IBM to do something against its interests here. Quite the contrary. It is very much in IBM's own interest that it step up and lead the open source movement. That's something IBM representatives have been telling their customers and business partners for some time, that you give in order to get.