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IBM mainframe open to Linux

Monday, May 22, 2000

Follows local firms eOn, Synchronics

By Mark Watson
The Commercial Appeal

IBM has officially announced the availability of Linux software and services for its mainframe computer, the S/390, which the company said is the first mainframe computer to be opened to Linux.

In this way, Big Blue follows small local companies such as eOn Communications and Synchronics.

Started at the University of Helsinki, Finland, Linux is an inexpensive form of the Unix operating system software. Considered better and more reliable than several commercial varieties of Unix, Linux has been “shareware” for most of its life. This means it can be downloaded over the Internet for free, but you must pay a registration fee to obtain service or documentation.

John Patrick, IBM vice president for Internet technology, said in a telephone interview that several IBM mainframe computer owners have been running a prototype form of Linux on their computers since January. But last week’s announcement formalizes that availability and describes commercial distribution channels, through SuSE and TurboLinux in partnership with IBM Global Services. Linux for the IBM S/390 also includes software that allows the use of other operating systems’ applications with Linux-based systems.

“We welcome IBM to join us,” said David Lee, chairman and chief executive officer of Memphis’s eOn Communications, which makes Linux-based communications servers. “Quite a few years ago, we chose Linux as a highly reliable platform. Even now, we are the only communications server maker that uses it.”

Patrick gave the following example of a problem IBM’s embrace of Linux may resolve:

“If you go to a hotel Web site, you can reserve a room. . . . You can go to another Web site and find out how many frequent-flyer points you have or find various special rates . . . But if you try to find a Web site where you can find rooms and pay for them with frequent-flyer points, you can’t – at least I haven’t found one.”

The reason is that old-style computer operating systems have not been opened up to “middleware” that helps those systems work with other applications based on newer operating systems, Patrick said.

Memphis-based Synchronics makes a Linux-based inventory control product, CounterPoint, and a Windows NT-based E-commerce product, CounterPoint Online.

Synchronics spokesman Lori Bond said her company does not expect the IBM announcement to affect her company directly, but the expanded use of Linux should ensure this platform remains usable long term because it will become the basis for more useful applications.

Patrick predicted IBM’s endorsement of Linux will be “very good” for all Linux users and developers.

“This is probably the most significant information technology vendor commitment of any kind to Linux,” he said. “It’s not going to replace anything overnight. . . . We’re embracing it and helping it become as robust as possible as fast as possible.”