IBM dishes out Power tools for Linux

Penguin incentives

Programmers and software developers are, like the rest of us, creatures of habit and limited by the comfort zones of our own areas of expertise. IBM may want Linux enthusiasts, snobs, and zealots to give Linux on Power a whirl, but just saying that they should doesn't really accomplish much...

Earlier this year, IBM's top brass in the server and chip businesses polished up the image of the 32-bit and 64-bit Power line of processors and said that they were going to try to foster the development of a Power ecosystem that would compete more effectively against the vast X86 ecosystem that dominates the corporate IT environment. One of the centrepieces of this so-called "Power Everywhere" strategy is to promote Linux on Power chips and Power chips for Linux.

While this is all well and good, programmers and software developers need more motivation than just being told to try Linux on Power. Linux nerds like free tools, and that is why IBM has created a new place within its developerworks online community for programmers who are interesting in working on Power-Linux to get tools and advice on how to get started.

An uphill battle

IBM faces a long uphill battle in getting the legions of Linux coders who are familiar with cheap X86 iron to give Power more than a passing thought or outright ridicule. Big Blue is not exactly someone that Linux gurus look up to.

It's a pity that when IBM launched the PowerPC architecture in 1991 that the company and its partners, Apple and Motorola, didn't hook up with Linus Torvalds, who had just started an operating system called Linux. IBM's and Motorola's Power chips were and continue to be more elegant than any X86 on the market, and open source Linux may have taken root before the Internet bubble, not as a means to get off Unix in the aftermath of the bubble bursting.

It would have been a funny repeat of history. Back in 1981, IBM was launching a PC based on the Intel 8088 processor and it needed an operating system. So, after poking around in the market, IBM decided on a small company called Microsoft, which was then based in Arizona, and a young, smart nerd named Bill Gates was set on the nearly inevitable path of a monopoly along with the founders of Intel, mostly because IBM did not understand the market it gave its seal of approval to and thus legitimised.

Easier access to Power info

The Power-Linux combo is, nevertheless, a compelling alternative for companies that want to deploy Linux but who have other business needs, such as supporting legacy Unix or OS/400 applications. The portal that IBM is launching for Power-Linux is a start, because if you are not already familiar with IBM or alternative Power machines, then finding such information about tools, middleware, and systems is not all that easy.

The site is for the most part concerned with promoting IBM's own iSeries and pSeries Power-based machines, both of which support Red Hat's Enterprise Linux and Novell Inc's SuSE Linux. But IBM is also putting up resources concerning non-IBM Power machines, such as the Apple xServe G5 machines, which use the PowerPC 970 processors created by IBM.

In addition to developer's guides to the Power architecture and trial versions of tools and middleware, the site also includes an evaluation kit (free of charge) that will allow users to create their own custom Power processor, which they could then have IBM's chip foundries make for them.

Just a first step

While this is all well and good, what IBM really needs to do is get a basic, inexpensive Power machine into the hands of tens of thousands of Linux nerds who are not going to be able to muster the resources to acquire an iSeries or pSeries server.

What IBM really needs to do is get a Mini-ITX motherboard together that supports the 64-bit PowerPC 970 or even the 32-bit PowerPC 440 processor, jam it into a fanless case, and make it available as a configured system for $500 or less. Documentation and trial software is only going to get the

Power architecture so many supporters, particularly when 32-bit Linux on Pentium iron is so inexpensive. What IBM has done is a good first step, but it is only just that: a first step.

Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor

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