The Test Drive program lets programmers use the version of Linux from either SuSE or Turbolinux running on an iSeries system, IBM will announce Tuesday. Red Hat, the most popular version of Linux, will be supported in January.
The strategy mirrors one adopted by Intel, which funded efforts to let programmers access servers that were using its scarce, then-prototype Itanium chip. And VA Software houses a "compile farm" where programmers can try out Mac OS X, FreeBSD and Solaris 8, as well as Linux on Power PC, Alpha and UltraSparc chips.
Servers in the iSeries line, formerly called the AS/400 line, can run several "virtual" Linux servers in separate partitions that share the hardware used by the native iSeries operating system, OS/400. An iSeries machine can house as many as 31 Linux partitions.
IBM hopes to benefit from its embrace of the Linux operating system--a clone of Unix that competes with its progenitor as well as with Windows. IBM believes Linux will become a standard part of the computing infrastructure.
Unlike Windows and most versions of Unix, Linux and higher-level server software aren't locked to one or two chip designs, but rather can run on a multitude of computer types. So Linux software works nearly the same across IBM's four major server lines.
In addition, Linux is popular with up-and-coming programmers in college today, and Big Blue hopes to capture some of their attention and respect.