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When Linux grows up, IBM glad to boot AIX

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SAN FRANCISCO - IBM continued its vocal support of the Linux operating system Tuesday, saying the company will gladly drop its own version of Unix from servers and replace it with Linux if the software matures so that it can handle the most demanding tasks.

IBM executives speaking here at the company's Solutions developer conference outlined reasons for the company's Linux support, pointing to features in the operating system that could push it past Unix for back-end computing. While they admit that Linux still has a way to go before it can compete with the functions available on many flavors of Unix, IBM officials said that Linux could prove more cost-effective and be a more user-friendly way to manage servers.

"We are happy and comfortable with the idea that Linux can become the successor, not just for AIX, but for all Unix operating systems," said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of the IBM Software Group, during a news conference.

To help drive the maturation of Linux, IBM released a free Software Evaluation Kit for Linux to developers. The kit comes with a variety of IBM software designed for the Linux and Windows operating systems that developers can preview and then build around.

The kit includes applications such as the IBM WebSphere Application Server, the DB2 Universal Database Enterprise Edition Version 7.2 for Linux, Lotus Domino Server Release 5.0.7a for Linux and a variety of other Java and Extensible Markup Language tools.

IBM also announced that a beta version of its WebSphere Studio Workbench software for Linux is ready for download at its Web site. The product helps software vendors integrate self-made Linux tools with existing Linux-centered tools from IBM, according to a statement.

Such development aids could help spur action around Linux and push the operating system from being used primarily on smaller servers to high-end systems now running Unix.

"Linux can be adapted to just about anything out there," said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of technology and strategy in IBM's Server Group, during a speech.

IBM looks to put Linux on everything from its mainframe-class servers to embedded systems controlling functions on space-age refrigerators. The compact, stable nature of the operating system gives it unparalleled flexibility, IBM said.

In particular, IBM chose to embrace Linux as a way to help administrators with key server management tasks. For instance, if users want to consolidate their hardware infrastructure, they can create Linux partitions on mainframe servers, allowing them to access various applications all from one place. Users who want to expand server setups into clustered environments can use Linux's scalability.

Linux's open-source roots have helped it stay centered around standard industry protocols and make it flexible for communicating with other operating systems and applications, IBM executives said. This openness has pushed IBM to place Linux at the center of its effort to build out global technology infrastructures.

"All types of servers can run on a common Unix operating system," Mills said. "What is not clear is if (the OS) will be Linux. It needs to continue to mature and become a more sophisticated system."

While IBM officials concede that Linux might not emerge as the operating system of the future, the company is ready to back it now with millions of dollars and as many developers as it can find. If these bets pay off, IBM will likely send AIX packing.

The IDG News Service is a Network World affiliate.

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