Linux Is Looking Good to IBM

SAN FRANCISCO — Linux will be central to the IT industry’s future and the current legal issues around IBM and the open source community will be resolved and forgotten, IBM’s Irving Wadawsky-Berger told the audience of his well-attended keynote speech at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo.

And to highlight Big Blue’s commitment to the open source OS the general manager of e-business on demand previewed an omninous new TV ad, which will air starting in early September.

Wadawsky-Berger said four forces would fulfill the promise of a digital economy: the Internet, continuing advances in technology, open standards-based integration and the emerging power of communities.

Wadawsky-Berger said that almost all IBM products now run on Linux, and the company has thousands of customers, partners and applications for its Linux division. “Linux will present one of the most powerful forces for change in our industry,” the executive told a keynote crowd.

His speech comes at a time when IBM has its hands full trying to support and reassure its UNIX customers, defend against patent infringement attacks from SCO and bolster its image as a strong player in the open source community. But using customer testimonials, Wadawsky-Berger tried to show that the controversial sparked by SCO Group’s attempt to extract royalty fees from the open source software will someday be resolved and forgotten.

In his presentation, Wadawsky-Berger showcased the use of Linux by a wide variety of companies. IBM is working with Maersk International on Linux-based controllers for oil fields that will control the rate of drilling and alert engineers to problems. Blade servers running Linux are used by computer animators and movie studios including Weta Digital and Warner Bros., while Virgin Money is handling its financial services business using Linux blades.

“When we first came out with our blade server,” Wadawsky-Berger said, “we estimated maybe Linux would run in a third, with the rest on the, er, other operating system.” Instead, he said, over 60 percent of IBM blades go out with Linux.

Open standards-based integration has enabled Charles Schwab to embrace the concept of grid computing and allowed the financial services giant to make unused capacity in its Linux servers available to customers. Wealth management clients can now use some of the same applications Schwab brokers use, at little extra cost.

Meanwhile, Shell Oil uses Linux clusters for seismic exploration, and is extending that use by linking clusters into a grid with distributed applications.

Wadawsky-Berger said Linux is starting to move into the client side, with governments around the world embracing the OS. “Governments realize that IT is becoming a major infrastructure for the country. With something that’s so critical, it’s not surprising that governments like the idea of open source software,” he said.

But IBM’s commitment to the open source movement has gotten the Armonk, NY-based company in hot water before at previous LinuxWorldExpo shows. Two years ago, IBM was vilified after it spray painted graffiti in the shape of peace symbols, hearts and penguins as part of IBM’s “Peace, Love, Linux” campaign — a gaff that Sun Microsystems was quick to exploit.

This time around, Wadawsky-Berger previewed a less humorous, more omnious spot that underscores the importance of the community behind Linux. Developed by its long-time agency Ogilvy & Mather Inc., the newest spot shows a wide-eyed blond kid — perhaps an eight-year-old Linus Torvalds — absorbing wisdom from his elders, folks from all walks of life including a pilot, a plumber, a poetry and a physicist.

The educators are a mixture of well known celebrities and actors posing as professionals from various fields including Harvard University professor and author Henry Luis Gates, legendary UCLA Bruins basketball coach John Wooden, author Sylvia Nasar, actor and director Penny Marshall and boxing great Muhammad Ali.

“Sharing data is the first step to community,” he’s told.

Then the voiceover intones: “What he learns, we all learn. What he knows, we all benefit from. His name is Linux.”

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