IBM's Ross Mauri

Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM's System p group, takes a shot at OpenSolaris in a Q&A interview with Cnet yesterday -- Newsmaker: Firing up IBM's Unix business. Jump to the very last question on page two for this little gem:

Do you ever consider open-sourcing AIX the way Sun is open-sourcing Solaris?
Mauri: No, we're not. I think that OpenSolaris is a little bit of a game Sun is playing to try to get good PR. But I don't think it's in the spirit of true open source.

We have been very happy to get directly involved and contribute to Linux and Apache and the Eclipse Foundation. We're not going to open-source AIX. It's best run on the current model, where we have the expertise. We enhance it. We work closely with our customers to listen to their requirements. But in the end, it's best that we control that source code.

Any substantiation for any of those references to OpenSolaris, Ross? I love the "in the spirit of true open source" bit, though. It's code for those afraid of being direct. Whatever.

This response fascinates me, though. Rhetorically, Ross has himself all boxed in here, which can easily happen when you're distracted by attacking others. Remember, competitive attacks are more difficult to pull off than most people realize. I've only met a few people who could deliver them effectively, too.

Stephen Shankland (the reporter) didn't ask Ross if Sun was playing PR games with OpenSolaris, and he didn't ask if OpenSolaris was "true" or not. The emphasis of the question was on AIX, not OpenSolaris. He asked if IBM had considered opening AIX like Sun had opened Solaris. Pretty clean question. Ok, you could argue that the question may presuppose that IBM should open AIX like Sun opened Solaris, but it's pretty subtle and easily ignored. But even leaving out OpenSolaris, it's a perfectly logical question to ask given IBM's investment in Linux and AIX.

Anyway, instead of answering the question by focusing on AIX development and IBM's customers and engineers, Ross uses the opportunity to first attack OpenSolaris by saying it's a "PR" move and a "game" and not "true" open source. Huge mistake. Now he has to go back to AIX and answer the substance of the question. But to be credible, everything he says should be consistent with the reasoning behind what he said while attacking OpenSolaris. This is where he drowns. In an effort to substantiate himself, Ross provides examples of communities that his company contributes to, which by itself is fine. However, juxtaposed against the untrue OpenSolaris,  we are led to believe that Linux, Apache, and Eclipse are the "true" open source. Perhaps. But people usually compare OpenSolaris with Linux, and I think that's what Ross intended here but decided to toss in Apache and Eclipse for good measure. Who knows. The trouble is that he actually undermines his own statement about OpenSolaris since all three communities he cites are licensed differently, and two of them don't fit with what Ross appears to mean by "true" open source. And if that's not what he means and Apache and Eclipse are also "true" open source, then OpenSolaris should also be described as "true" by that definition as well. I mean, is Mozilla "true" open source in Ross's opinion? I don't know. Maybe not.

The result is that Ross demonstrates his own lack of knowledge about OpenSolaris -- PR is actually not that involved, it's an engineering community from top to bottom, it's open source as specified by OSI (they don 't offer a "true" category as of yet), and we don't play games with the company's core technology. Sorry, Ross. You don't know what you are talking about, and this is a PR disaster for you. But delicious nonetheless.

Now, Ross is probably a smart guy. He probably runs a pretty large organization at IBM, and you can't do that without being smart. So, I can respect him for that. But even smart guys can sound foolish when they lack competitive rhetorical skills and get distracted by attacking others. None of this would have happened had Ross simply focused on IBM and AIX and ignored OpenSolaris. However, I do think he has to work on his AIX/Linux answer, though. Although IBM has consistently stated that its strategy with AIX is to keep development closed (which is a perfectly fine business decision), I think the reason Ross offers undermines his statements supporting the benefits of open source development. I mean, open source is supposedly good for Linux, Apache, and Eclipse, but it's simultaneously bad for AIX because the AIX code needs "control" by the "expertise" at IBM? I don't get that. And OpenSolaris? Well, that's so low it's a "game" not even worthy of being "true" so it's dismissed with contempt.

But maybe I'm reading too much into it.

To be fair to Ross, a portion of OpenSolaris is distributed as binaries, which is something you can't say about Eclipse, Linux or Apache to the best of my knowledge? Maybe this is what he means by "true" open source?

Personally I'm completely behind what Sun is doing, and understand the reasons for the CDDL (file based) license. But you'd get fantastic PR by adopting the GPL v3 when it's released - I'm not sure if that's an option?

Posted by Kevin Hutchinson on August 05, 2006 at 01:48 PM JST #

Well, to be honest IBM is a firm supporter or open source, and they "get it" on so many levels.

What he did wrong is that the interviewer asked him: "Do you ever consider open-sourcing AIX the way Sun is open-sourcing Solaris?" and didn't realize that he said "is open-sourcing", as in, is in the process of open-sourcing, as in, is in the middle of an effort to open-source...

So obviously not finished, but ongoing...

I guess Ross Mauri does not follow that closely the ongoings of the efforts of the open-sourcing of Solaris.

Now, as far as him fighting, I can see that. AIX is the kind of technology people say "What's that?" just like they used to say about Linux in 1993 and Python, well, last year. But IBM is on the edge, because AIX is suffering the problem of "nobody learns it anymore" because Linux, and soon OpenSolaris, is too compelling an offering where programmers are concerned, and especially since linux runs on IBM's mainframes.

I'll answer the question the way I think he would have answered it privately:

"We don't want to open AIX because we want to control the hardware and software environment."

IBM is in the position now of looking at mainframes being a lucrative yet shrinking business. They think they can muscle themselves out of that shrinking market in the long run, and they need AIX to be theirs to do that. The reality, unfortunately, is that the google model of the supercomputer is better than IBM's.

At my company, we have the IBM mainframes, (as400, zseries, etc) and we also have the sun servers with solaris (recently upgraded to 9). Then, we also have the windows servers, and the novell servers, and the "under-the-desks" team servers that frankly run whatever-the-admin-preferred (in my case debian), and some macs. There. I said it.

Now, we're lazy, and cheap. We absolutely will take the path of least resistance. Just like water flowing downhill, we will find the cheapest way to go down. It won't be pretty, it won't be elegant, and it will certainly not come from one vendor, but it will be the cheapest we can come up with. And 90% of it will involve open-source software (OSS). A lot of that software will be Free Open-Source Software (FOSS), such as python, ruby, perl, php, and others. Almost all new development not using the above tools will be Java. There will be almost no .Net. and there will be a sprinkle of classic ASP.

So now you can see why IBM feels like attacking.

So Jim, when people attack you, embrace it. That means you're doing something right, and it scares the living daylights out of them. Otherwise, they would not give you the time of day.

Mix, pour, and enjoy.

Posted by Christopher Mahan on August 05, 2006 at 08:06 PM JST #

I admire the great effort Sun has been making towards OpenSolaris. Roadmap at provides what components are going be open-sourced eventually along with a timeline. IMHO I believe that OpenSolaris always be licensed in CDDL as it protects OpenSolaris source code and is very much business friendly. Third party vendors wanting to support closed source proprietary drivers that work on a matured driver interface can do so without having any license incompatibility (which is a problem with GPL). This fosters innovation, is best for open-source community and extremely business friendly. - Aravind.

Posted by Aravind on August 05, 2006 at 08:51 PM JST #

Hey, Kevin ... personally I think he's talking about the license, but who knows. He'll have to get a bit more direct. than he is right now. :) Re GPL 3 ... I don't know. We already have some stuff under GPL (OpenSPARC, OpenOffice, Looking Glass, and maybe some other stuff), and I know there is some interest at Sun about GPL 3 generally (from Simon Phipps and Jonathan Schwartz). But for OpenSolaris? I have no clue. There are no discussions within our OpenSolaris engineering team about it right now. That's all I know, to be honest.

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on August 06, 2006 at 06:16 AM JST #

Christopher ... I get that he's attacking because he's threatened on some level (though probably a very low level). So, that does make me happy. :) I also think IBM is a great supporter of the specific open source and open standards projects they contribute to, which is good for some developers and deployers in the community within some markets. But I question their support of the concept of "open" generally. They seem somewhat selective to me. I realize that the open source community loves IBM, and I realize my views are in the minority and are not welcome. Oh, well. I have a lot of experience working on open projects at Sun that they have attacked, so I base my views on my personal experience.

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on August 06, 2006 at 07:08 AM JST #

Aravind ... what I like about OpenSolaris is that it offers opportunities for both individuals \*and\* businesses. It's the best of both worlds. I wouldn't want to work on a project that didn't offer benefits to both groups as part of it's core strategy. Sure, I work at Sun so they pay me to do this (but I also like it :)), but I want to engage businesses just as much as I want to engage individual developers. What's nice about OpenSolaris, though, is that it's \*not\* controlled by companies or executives or politicians or committees. It's run by a community of engineers.

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on August 06, 2006 at 07:18 AM JST #

I think that Solaris and the OpenSolaris project is what the computing environment needs. I just sent a neat little message to IBM with the subject reading "A message to Ross Mauri". I am from the education/research (and development) community that uses a lot of computer-aided engineering tools such as FEA and CFD and with that; he just "shot himself in the foot." I started learning and using Solaris x86 initially about 6 years ago, despite others telling me that I should start off with something a little "easier" like Linux. Now, seeing where Sun has gone, I am very pleased and proud to report that the system that I had built 6 years ago is still running. I also mentioned that I will be looking forward to the day when I implement a 128-node compute center entirely powered by Sun hardware. And the reasoning behind that is because I can't get the kind of support and information and documentation about AIX like I can with Solaris. Bye, bye AIX. Hello Sun.

Posted by Ewen Chan on September 06, 2006 at 05:49 PM JST #

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