Saturday Aug 05, 2006

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.


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