Linux Interviews

Robert LeBlanc, VP, IBM, Software Strategy, Software Solutions Division

By Prakash Advani

December 20, 2000

Robert LeBlanc was part of the original team that evaluated Linux, the open source movement and decided that this was where IBM should be. IBM's recently announced billion dollar fund is proof that IBM is serious about Linux. Here, Mr. Robert LeBlanc talks about a variety of issues including the reasons for choosing Linux, the status of Monterey and the release of AIX code into the open source community.

How and why did IBM decide to support Linux when they already have their own OS?

The shift started about two years ago. An internal effort was started and I was also part of this team of 6-7 people. We wanted to know what this thing was and whether we needed yet another OS. We also looked at open source. Open source had far more benefits in terms of process. There was a lot of vigor in the process, lot of value in the process. It was a self-policing environment. If you did good work, you got noticed and got to do more good work. If you didn't pull your weight then you were shunned by the community. We also liked Linux. It was built right from the ground up. A small kernel which was very important as was the ability to add modules. Linux could scale upwards and downwards. The open source model was very good. We saw that Linux as an OS had very strong technical underpinnings. Another point to note was that customers were wanting a more open environment. We had just been through the Internet evolution and we saw the power of the Internet a lot before our competitors did. We were also members of the Apache project. The world did not need another web server, but the world needed a very good web server that could grow and expand. The world did not need another OS, but what the world did need was a common OS that was open source and scalable. We made the decision 18 months ago. We're way ahead of HP and Sun. So it's customer demand and we're giving them what they want.

Will IBM not support the other Unixes like the BSD?s?

Right now we have no plans for that. One is just a variation of the other. The decision had a lot to do with market momentum which was behind Linux at that point. FreeBSD is a good OS but so is Linux. The world does not need two open source operating systems. We've been through the Unix evolution and we have seen what fragmentation does. Customers really don't care which OS they use. They ask IBM for help here. So we made a conscious decision to go with only one OS.

IBM has also made contributions to Project Monterey, which is kind of competition to Linux.

Project Monterey was actually started before Linux did. When we started the push to Monterey, the notion was to have one common OS for several architectures. The notion actually came through with Linux which was open source and supported all hardware. We continued with Monterey as an extension of AIX to support high-end hardware. AIX 5 has the best of Monterey. Linux cannot fill that need today, but over time we believe it will. To help out we're making contributions to the open source movement like the journal filesystem. We can't tell our customer to wait for Linux to grow up. They need solutions today.

So if Linux grows up, will you abandon Monterey?

You're speculating that if all were equal, I'd rather be on one OS than the other. There are always customers that have written software for AIX API's and might want to use the capabilities of Monterey. We're trying to make they co-exist. We're trying to allow customers to write to Linux API's that run on top of a Monterey based OS.

What about the other way round? AIX apps running on Linux?

Yeah. If Linux had all of the capability of AIX, where we could put the AIX code at runtime on top of Linux, then we would.

Are you doing anything?

Right now the Linux kernel does not support all the capabilities of AIX. We've been working on AIX for 20 years. Linux is still young. We're helping Linux kernel up to that level. We understand where the kernel is is. We have a lot of people working now as part of the kernel team. At the end of the day, the customer makes the choice, whether we write for AIX or for Linux.

Will AIX be open source?

We're willing to open source any part of AIX that the Linux community considers valuable. We have open-sourced the journal filesystem, print driver for the Omniprint. AIX is 1.5 million lines of code. If we dump that on the open source community then are people going to understand it? You're better off taking bits and pieces and the expertise that we bring along with it. We have made a conscious decision to keep contributing. There are some things that the Linux community can do better. Linus is worried that there is too much code in the kernel and it's taking longer and longer to get a new release out. So, we could open source AIX but it is just not practical.

2000 FreeOS Technologies