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Interview: IBM's new Linux chief eyes mass market

In one of the most significant Linux endorsements to date, IBM announced plans early this week to create a new unit within its enterprise hardware business group that will pull together all of the company's Unix and Linux development activities.

The group will be led by Irving Wladawsky-Berger, the principal inventor of IBM's "e-business" strategy and an up-and-comer within the company. Wladawsky-Berger will now oversee IBM's next-generation Internet activities and advanced enterprise systems architectures, as well as Unix/Linux development.

Wladawsky-Berger spoke with Search400.com editor Paul Gillin shortly after the announcement.

Search400.com: IBM does a lot of Windows NT business. Does this Linux commitment represent any lessening of the importance of NT?
Wladawsky-Berger: We continue to offer Windows NT and Windows 2000 on Netfinity servers. We'll give customers a choice. What's most important is that all the platforms interoperate and integrate with each other.

Search400.com: AS/400 users often question IBM's commitment to that platform. Could this Linux endorsement be another cause to worry?
Wladawsky-Berger: I don't think AS/400 customers have anything to worry about. The AS/400 is extremely appealing to people who need a robust platform for business applications that are easy to use. It's a completely different segment from the open systems area, where Linux plays.

Search400.com:There has been a gold rush to Linux lately. How is IBM's approach different from everybody else's?
Wladawsky-Berger: Our view is that Linux is a big part of the evolution of the Internet and e-business. One of the major things we see is the need for standards for interoperability and integration of disparate platforms. Linux adds to other internet standards like TCP, XML, Java and the like, to make all platforms integrate better.

And more and more kids are coming out of school working with Linux, writing software that will be able to run on almost every platform. Everybody is going to be implementing Linux.

Finally, we are committing to open source. Linux needs more functionality and IBM can contribute to that through the public domain. We're announcing an organization (within IBM) that is committed to coordinating Linx developments across IBM and working with the industry to make Linux much better.

Search400.com: In which areas does IBM have the most to contribute?
Wladawsky-Berger: We can help Linux work on symmetrical multiprocessing systems, clustered systems, scalable systems and high-availability systems. We can contribute to systems management and security. We can help Linux work well with Java, XML and more development tools.

Search400.com: But you have to give all this research away. What's in it for IBM?
Wladawsky-Berger: If we help build more applications and drive e-business more aggressively, then we sell more hardware, middleware, software and services. The rising tide lifts all boats.

Search400.com: What will become of AIX, IBM's own version of Unix?
Wladawsky-Berger: In the near term we will continue to enhance AIX and add Linux compatibility layers to make it possible to import Linux applications onto AIX. We'll continue to enhance AIX as long as it's absolutely needed. What happens five years from now is so difficult to predict.

While we are focused on Linux for new applications, AIX will be extremely important for a long time. We're adding Linux compatibility interfaces to allow developers to write applications to Linux that will run, as needed, on AIX.

We're also driving AIX into new areas where industrial strength is needed. It'll be AIX at the high end and Linux at the high-volume end. How it evolves over time is anybody's guess.

Search400.com: How about IBM's own applications and systems software?
Wladawsky-Berger: We have already ported most of our middleware to Linux and will probably import more. All of our critical elements run on Linux, including DB2, Websphere, Domino, VisualAge and others, as well as just about our whole suite of middleware.


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