Big Blue is increasing its commitment to the Unix variant in high-end systems, laptops and desktop PCs.
Among the changes: the availability of SuSE Linux on select RS/6000 servers and Caldera OpenLinux on A20 and T20 ThinkPads; WebSphere support for Linux; the introduction of a software bundle for small businesses relying on Linux; and funding for Linux education and certification.
Today's announcement ups the ante for big-iron server companies backing Linux, with IBM substantially widening its support in both Linux servers and services. The move also pits IBM against Compaq Computer, which has an early market lead selling the Unix variant.
Gartner analyst George Weiss said IBM's
But Weiss warned that Linux has yet to prove itself "in large enterprise deployments" and added that fledging "software developer enthusiasm, service and support on a global basis, disaster recovery, and other service-level guarantees" are significant weaknesses that must be overcome before the operating system makes additional headway in corporate installations.
Initially, SuSE Linux will be available on just a few RS/6000 models, with wider support planned for later in the year. The B50 rack-mountable server, which IBM targets at service providers; F-50 deckside server; and 43P model 150 entry servers and workstations are among the first RS/6000s supporting Linux.
IBM said it would later offer Linux on its AS/400 systems but would not give specific information on availability.
Big Blue already offers Linux on Netfinity servers and has been testing it on the S/390.
"You will absolutely see Linux available on our entire server line," said Buell Duncan, general manager of IBM's global business partners group. The stumbling block is "the ability for the applications to port and migrate across our server family."
Besides the server news, IBM announced that WebSphere version 3.02 now supports Linux applications. WebSphere, IBM?s main business-to-business e-commerce software package, could benefit from supporting Linux applications, many of which are geared toward the Internet and are available free.
Big Blue also introduced Small Business Pack for Linux, with DB2 Universal Database 7.1, WebSphere 3.02 and Lotus Domino Application Server 5.03, for a promotional price of $499. According to International Data Corp., 48 percent of Linux installations go into small businesses with 100 employees or less.
To bolster Linux services and support, Big Blue today committed several million dollars to support and training programs for 45,000 software developers and 45,000 IBM dealers.
Duncan said that in the past year, IBM has invested $10 million in e-business training.
Unlike competing commercial operating systems, such as Microsoft?s Windows 2000 or Solaris from Sun Microsystems, Linux is an open-source effort, with many programmers continually contributing to its development. Programmer Linus Torvalds first developed the Unix derivative in 1991.
In the past few years, several software companies, such as Red Hat and VA Linux, have hit it big offering commercial versions of Linux and associated services. But not all is well in the Linux community. Canadian software maker Corel, which has all but bet the company?s future on Linux, last week laid off 320 employees as part of restructuring. Corel seeks to trim $40 million in annual spending.
Linux?s biggest success has been on servers, where Compaq commands the lion's share of the market. In the fourth quarter, the Houston-based PC maker had 25 percent Linux server market share, compared with 10 percent for IBM and 7 percent each for Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computer, according to IDC.
IBM's bolstering of not just server but software and services support for Linux could be the boost it needs to widen its lead over Dell and HP and close the gap with Compaq.
The Linux battle rages on other fronts. While Microsoft fights with the government over the future of Windows, some of its biggest competitors are positioning Linux for the future, with HP, Red Hat, SGI and Sun working on projects to bring Linux to Intel?s Itanium processor. By contrast, Microsoft?s efforts to quickly bring a 64-bit version of Windows 2000 to market may lag behind Linux.
Linux is slowly gaining ground on the desktop, with Dell and others offering the operating system on some commercial PCs. But Linux availability on portables has lagged, mainly because of driver deficiencies and other compatibility problems.
Big Blue last year broke ground on certifying Linux for portables--Red Hat 6.0 on the ThinkPad 600E--but fell short of offering it preinstalled. Today?s commitment goes much further, with Linux available directly from IBM and on its newest ThinkPad models.
IBM is not the only major computer manufacturer offering Linux on portables. Dell in February started offering Red Hat Linux 6.1 preinstalled on Latitude CPx and Inspiron 7500 notebooks.
IBM today committed to preloading Caldera OpenLinux eDesktop 2.4 on the ThinkPad A20m and T20 models. In the third quarter, IBM promised to certify select ThinkPad models for Red Hat, SuSE and TurboLinux versions of Linux.