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CFO: Linux software may be free, but does that mean you don't have to pay for it?

Sep 06, 2001, 03:02 (18 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tim Reason)

[ Thanks to Don Hinshaw for this link. ]

"High tech is not an arena rich in historical irony, but it has its moments. One came last year, when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told analysts that Linux, the (potentially) free software that continues to attract the interest of business customers, has "the characteristics of Communism that people love so very, very much about it." At roughly the same time, IBM, a company generally not known for its Marxist worldview, threw its considerable weight behind Linux, dedicating $1 billion to the software's development and pledging to invest more than $300 million in Linux services during the next three years. And defense witnesses in Microsoft's recent antitrust trial continually cited Linux as evidence of a robust, competitive marketplace--hardly a Communist ideal. (For the record, wasn't it Microsoft's distribution of free copies of Internet Explorer that sparked cries of market abuse in the first place?)

No less ironic is that IBM, the company credited with inventing and using FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) as a means of fending off the threat of new technology, may help dissolve the FUD that Microsoft and other firms have thrown around Linux, the operating system software that can be downloaded for free from various Internet sites. Linux may not carry the high price tag of other operating systems, but IBM's embrace is purely pragmatic. As Linux gains wider acceptance, it creates a growing market for hardware and services. IBM, therefore, not only trumpets the availability of its own Linux-ready hardware, but also makes frequent mention of the growing number of software applications that can run on Linux machines. In June, the company counted 2,300 such applications--an increase of 30 percent from just three months earlier. "A mature operating system would have 10,000 applications," admits Daniel D. Frye, director of IBM's Linux Technology Center, in Beaverton, Oregon, but those that are available, he notes, "are the big ones--like SAP and Lotus Notes."

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