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IBM's Open-Source Lovefest

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2004; 10:11 AM

"Big Blue" may also earn the nickname "Big Linux Supporter" as IBM continues to embrace open-source efforts to hike its market share and challenge competitors, including Microsoft.

The company "plans to announce today that it will contribute some of its speech-recognition software to two open-source software groups," the New York Times reported. "The move is a tactical step ... to accelerate the development of speech applications and to outmaneuver rivals, especially Microsoft, in a market that is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years with increased use in customer-service call centers, cars and elsewhere. To do this, IBM is again using the strategy of placing some of its proprietary software in open-source projects, making it available for other programmers to improve."

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More Past Issues

More from the Times: "IBM is donating code that it estimates cost the company $10 million to develop. One collection of speech software for handling basic words for dates, time and locations, like cities and states, will go to the Apache Software Foundation. The company is also contributing speech-editing tools to a second open-source group, the Eclipse Foundation. IBM has contributed code to open-source programmers in the past. In August, for example, the company contributed Cloudscape, a database written in the Java programming language, to the Apache Foundation. And IBM is a leading corporate sponsor of open-source projects like the Apache Web server and the Linux operating system."

Microsoft is trying to thumb its nose at IBM's efforts in the speech recognition arena. "This is a case of IBM following Microsoft," said James Mastan, director of marketing for Microsoft Speech Technologies. "IBM has not executed in bringing this technology to a broad market as Microsoft has."
The New York Times: Speech Code From IBM to Become Open Source (Registration required)

In its latest issue, Newsweek chronicles IBM's growing role in championing open-source software. Open-source fans "watched with some trepidation as a capitalist giant, IBM, began pouring money into Linux, capped by a $1 billion investment in 2001. Yet in the past year, the corporation known as Big Blue has seen its reputation in the global open-source community shift from suspect sugar daddy to knight in shining armor," the magazine reported. "IBM is now the giant standing between Linux and what the open-source community sees as a Microsoft front company bent on destroying their free paradise. The drama is playing out in a U.S. federal court, where IBM is fighting a Utah company named SCO (formerly Santa Cruz Operations). Once a quiet member of the Linux community, SCO is a software provider for small to medium-size businesses, with $79 million in revenue last year." Recall that SCO has caused tempers to flare in the open-source community with its demand that Linux users cough up money to use the operating system, which it claims to have an intellectual-property tie to. "SCO's case is built on its copyright to UNIX," Newsweek explained. Requesting money for the software "was sacrilege to the free Linux community and a direct threat to IBM, which makes money on Linux not by selling software but by providing support services and hardware. IBM claimed more than $2 billion in Linux-related revenue in 2003. Though it would have been cheaper to settle, IBM fought back and is now pushing for summary judgment. SCO's case looks as if it's close to collapse," the magazine said.

"However it ends, the battle is shaping up as a huge marketing coup for IBM -- no easy feat in the cynical open-source community. ... That's despite the fact that IBM remains an open-source rival on other fronts. Supporters of open-source e-mail and database programs fight IBM proprietary products tooth and nail. But Linux lovers shrug that off."
Newsweek: An Unlikely Champion

IBM's support of open source efforts has gone international too. EWeek reported last week that IBM and Brazil's government "signed a cooperation agreement to establish a knowledge and technology center, known as CDTC, which will promote and develop open-source and Linux solutions in Brazil. This is the next step in a plan that IBM announced last December. In it, IBM and the Brazilian government agreed to expand the use of Linux in Brazil." Brazil has been among the countries that are bullish on open-source software as a cheaper alternative to Microsoft and other proprietary software systems.
EWeek: IBM, Brazil Partner to Promote Open Source

LinuxInsider from the ECT News Network wrote about the potential for Linux to have widespread success (let's not forget that Microsoft powers more than 90 percent of the world's computers). "With the recent education efforts on Software Freedom Day and aggressive moves by IBM and Novell it seems that open-source advocates have much to cheer about. Although open-source operating systems have not yet become the standard in corporate and consumer environments, and face plenty of competition, several recent initiatives have shown that it is becoming more prevalent worldwide and has the potential to grow even more. Linux, in particular, is seeing increased popularity all over the map, from Korea to Germany to Brazil," the article said. Here's one Linux cheerleader: "'Open source is ready to move beyond the world of geeks,' said Dwayne Bailey, founder and director of the Zuza Software Foundation, which is translating OpenOffice into several South African languages. He added, 'There are so many companies and individuals that want to see open source succeed all over the world, and it's exciting to be part of that.'"
LinuxInsider: Can Open Source Take Over the World?

Meanwhile, IBM today also announced a new entry-level, Linux-based computer -- called the IBM eServer OpenPower 720 -- that the company says "provides a Linux-based alternative to higher priced [Hewlett Packard] and Sun entry-level UNIX(R) and Linux systems, helping clients to attain greater business productivity and lower costs." Brian Connors, a vice president at IBM, said in a statement: "As Linux matures to support mission critical applications, IBM's new family of OpenPower systems takes Linux to the next level with servers tuned for Linux." The Wall Street Journal noted it was IBM's "first Linux-only computer as a low-end competitor to cheap Unix computers made by Sun and HP."
The Wall Street Journal: Linux Backers to Support Standard (Subscription required)

Organizing Open Source

In other open-source news, Linux supporters are trying to get more organized to mount a better challenge to the software giant in Redmond, Wash. "Major Linux backers have agreed to support a single version of the freely exchanged computer-operating software, in a move to strengthen its competitiveness against Microsoft," the Wall Street Journal reported today, in the same article referenced above. "The Free Standards Group, a nonprofit trade organization based in San Francisco, is expected to announce today that providers of Linux versions from around the world agreed to back Linux Standard Base 2.0. Those who have also agreed include International Business Machines Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc., Intel Corp. and other companies that sell Linux-based computers, software and services."

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