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Commentary: IBM's open-source stance

The company's aggressive open-source strategy, Forrester says, puts Hewlett-Packard and Sun on the defensive, but Microsoft will be the biggest loser.

Commentary: IBM's open-source stance
By Forrester Research
Special to CNET
January 21, 3:15PM PT

By Ted Schadler, Group Director

IBM has embraced open-source software to unify its diverse product line and give customers a choice and control over costs. The company's aggressive open-source strategy puts Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems on the defensive, but Microsoft will be the biggest loser.

IBM began investing in Java in 1995 and Linux in 1999. In the years since, the company has engineered a companywide strategy for open standards and open-source software that benefits both the company and its customers. To get the details, Forrester spoke with IBM executives Scott Handy, director of Linux marketing; Karen Smith, vice president of Linux strategy and market development; and Dan Frye, director of the Linux Technology Center. They described three open-source goals:

• To make Linux enterprise-ready. IBM's commitment to Linux spans hardware, software and services. There are 250 IBM developers in the company's Linux Technology Center who are part of the Linux community, with the goal of making Linux enterprise-ready. And more than 65 products in every IBM software business, such as WebSphere, DB2, Tivoli and Lotus, now run on Linux. IBM claims 4,600 Linux customers in service engagements and across every server platform and software product line.

• To drive standards adoption. IBM's Open Source Steering Committee has approved dozens of open-source projects and hundreds of interactions. This commitment has helped drive the Apache Tomcat Web server to 67 percent market share and make the Java SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) parser part of BEA Systems' and Oracle's application servers. The committee's guidelines emphasize standards adoption and customer benefit.

• To crack entrenched markets. Microsoft dominates the market for developer tools, while Java vendors battle for slices of the remainder. In late 2001, IBM chose a new strategy in its battle for Java developers: release 3 million lines of VisualAge code to The early signals point to long-term success: 3 million downloads; 200 contributing vendors, including board members Oracle, HP and Sybase; and 15 products shipping on the Eclipse code base.

A member of the community
Open-source development has been creating high-quality software for 25 years through the power of many contributors, each of whom must earn the respect of the community. How does IBM make money from open-source software and open standards without violating the trust of the open-source community? By carefully crafting and executing an open source development strategy based on three tenets:

• Contribute code and expertise. IBM is not a commercial entity outside the open-source community; instead, it is an integral member of the open-source community. IBM open-source developers are known by the name in front of the ?@? sign, not the after it; they earn their roles in the community.

• Relinquish control. As a member of the community, IBM can't foist its commercial goals on the open-source process. Instead, it must compete like everybody else on the quality of its ideas and contributions. How does IBM stomach this democratic process? With leadership from the top. IBM execs must understand that the benefits of open source--quality, security and rapid maturity for well-understood software--outweigh concerns about the process.

• Compete on implementation and service. IBM implements the Web services standards in its software: For example, WebSphere implements the SOAP parser, and WebSphere Studio implements the Eclipse tool workbench. IBM leaves Linux commercialization to Red Hat and UnitedLinux. But it supports Linux, on any server platform, through IBM Global Services.

Maintaining forward momentum
IBM has demonstrated early mastery of the forces of open source and open standards. To build on that effort, the company should continue its focus on building software industry consensus for open standards and do the following: • Make organic IT standards the next standards arena. IBM's on-demand strategy is based on what Forrester calls "organic IT"--centralized control over commodity infrastructure assets. Organic IT

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management standards belong in the public domain so that every manufacturer can contribute and users can take advantage of every vendor's storage, server, network and software infrastructure. IBM should help extend the reach of the Open Grid Standards Architecture work beyond its current academic thrust into the commercial realm.

• Embrace Oracle's and BEA's ideas and energy. IBM has a history of acting in concert with Microsoft, but it has yet to pick up on the consensus-building contributions of Oracle and BEA. Oracle, for example, has recently joined and submitted a Java tools API (application programming interface) to the Java Community Process. IBM must recognize that these vendors are a critical part of the standards process.

• Be paranoid about maintaining the trust of the community. IBM has earned the trust of the open source community. As vendors like HP and Sun step up their involvement, the risk that hypercompetitive IBMers will overstep the community boundaries increases. IBM can't let that happen. It must maintain the trust by keeping its agenda in its proper, democratic place.

Responding to IBM
IBM's open-source and open-standards strategy has grown from software industry oddity to industry-defining in three years. Forrester believes that with IBM's stalwart commitment and increasing user demand, open source will take over ever-larger slices of the software stack. In this environment:

• ISVs should port to Linux. The biggest barrier to Linux adoption today is a lack of business applications. Forrester believes that independent software vendors should not delay: The price performance and stability of Linux on Intel are too compelling for CIOs and business managers to ignore. Smart ISVs will add Linux as a reference platform, signaling their commitment.

• Hardware vendors should rally around Linux. It's not just the software vendors that can benefit from Linux; smart appliance vendors have been building their gear around the Linux kernel for years. Given its low cost, stability and modularity, gear vendors from Apple to Z-force should be banking future product development on the Linux platform to minimize cost and shorten time to market.

• Microsoft should stop denying the importance of open source. Microsoft continues to view open source as an enemy to be slain rather than a disruptive force to be mastered. To be successful, Redmond doesn't have to abandon its unique, single-vendor advantages: simplification, completeness and price performance. But it must articulate an open-source strategy that customers can understand and stomach. A simple way to get started? Make it easy for users to deploy Apache Web servers in their new .Net environments.

© 2003, Forrester Research, Inc. All rights reserved. Information is based on best available resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change.