Skip to main content
Icons of Progress
 

Linux

The Era of Open Innovation
 

In the late 1990s, the IBM software team began considering the Linux ® operating system for its potential to offer an entirely new way of creating mission-critical enterprise software. Linux is an open-source operating system, developed not by a company but by thousands of programmers collaborating around the world, who contribute their time and effort for free. The software is available at no cost to millions of people who use it in billions of devices and systems. Linux has proven to the world that open-source software can become as robust as software developed in traditional ways.

In 2000, Linux received an important boost when IBM announced it would embrace Linux as strategic to its systems strategy. A year later, IBM invested US$1 billion to back the Linux movement, embracing it as an operating system for IBM servers and software. IBM’s actions grabbed the attention of CEOs and CIOs around the globe, and helped Linux become accepted by the business world.

In 1991, University of Helsinki graduate student Linus Torvalds, released on the Internet, his hobby project: an early-stage operating system he called “Linux” with a stable and operational kernel. Torvalds released the source code for Linux so that fellow programmers could see the inner workings of the kernel and provide feedback. He thought that maybe a dozen or so people would be interested. Just two years later, in 1993, hundreds of programmers, many of them at IBM, were working on Linux development in their free time, and entire companies, such as SuSE and Red Hat were marketing and servicing Linux-based software.

By the late 1990s, Linux was almost good enough to run high-volume servers—and it was free. Sam Palmisano, at the time an IBM senior vice president, came back from a global tour of Internet companies and reported that he kept hearing all about Linux from young programmers. As IBM’s head of internet strategy, Irving Wladawksy-Berger similarly kept hearing about Linux. IBM commissioned an internal study, which turned into a plan to use Linux to deliver innovation in new ways and create a new force of openness, quality, performance and security. Wladawsky-Berger and Palmisano supported this plan and helped convince then-CEO Lou Gerstner to make a big bet on the forces of open innovation. Adopting Linux as an IBM open operating system looked like a gigantic, risky, counter-culture bet. But “Linux perfectly fit what we needed,” Wladawsky-Berger said later. Over time, it became obvious that it wasn’t a counter-culture bet at all, but a leadership step towards the mainstream culture of the future.

In January 2000, IBM announced that it was adopting Linux and would support it with IBM servers, software and services. More than that, IBM would leap in and become a major supporter of Linux, contributing broad resources to the community to help make Linux better—more specifically, good enough for enterprise-level business—and provide Linux credibility within the IT industry and with customers. The total investment: US$1 billion.

By inserting IBM developers directly into Linux communities, IBM engaged Linux development in natural ways, as a team of individuals, rather as than a lumbering and monolithic corporate contributor. IBM learned that involvement required influence in place of control and embraced the broadness of the Linux community—benefitting greatly from the wisdom of the crowds.

In 2011, Linux is a fundamental component of IBM business—embedded deeply in hardware, software, services and internal development. It is present in every IBM business, geography and workload, and its use only continues to increase. IBM’s success today, and in the future, is inextricably linked to the healthy growth and expansion of Linux development.

Seemingly, Linux is everywhere. From popular technologies, such as mobile phones and video game consoles, to high-tech applications such as mainframes and supercomputers, Linux is providing a flexible, stable, highly secure and cost-effective operating system around the globe. As businesses, governments and society at large continue to use Linux at an expanding rate, IBM will be there to deliver supporting technology and services and to help drive Linux advancement for tomorrow’s technological needs.