IBM’s Linux Chief says we should focus on everything but winning

Sutor said they need to focus on usability, stability, security, reliability, performance, with some cool thrown in, as well…  I think making it a complete drop-in replacement is a dead-end strategy.

Sutor’s speech on desktop Linux has inspired me.  Accordingly, I’d like to present the…

Bob Sutor Guide to Running a Marathon

  • Overall fitness is important on race day. You’ll need to focus on your endurance, your heart, your leg muscles, your feet, your abs, your waist, and some arms thrown in too.
  • Running form is important on race day. You’ll need to focus on your breathing, your leg motion, your arm movements, the length of your strides, and some pacing practice thrown in too.
  • The training routine is important on race day. You’ll need to focus on finding other runners to practice with, self discipline, getting a top personal trainer, and some knowledge of the track thrown in too.
  • Don’t try and win the race.  That’s a dead-end strategy.

You’ll note that Bob left out “compatibility” from his list of things to focus on.  A strange omission, coming from the company that witnessed IBM Compatible computers dominate the PC industry without actually being sold by IBM.  Compatibility then meant being able to run Microsoft with the same hardware and software.  It still does today.

We’re pretty good at hardware.  My girlfriend got confused by the manual that came with her latest printer: it gave 12 steps for Windows, another 12 for Mac, and then an additional 6 for both.  There were no Ubuntu instructions.  Turns out all she had to do was plug it in, the first thing she would have tried if there wasn’t a scary manual making her think printer setup required some sort of shaman dance.  This is a good problem to have, although having to tell your girlfriend to stop shaking her hips at the printer is perhaps an even better problem to have.


Hardware works, but we haven’t won yet.  We could make every single graphics card, printer, digital camera, and music player work out of the box flawlessly and we’d still miss the market completely. We wouldn’t actually be compatible.  What we have is a software problem. That’s why I work on Wine.

IBM management has never really believed in Wine as a technology, even though their own engineers find it useful. Jeremy White has even said that IBM Managers weren’t very helpful.

For my part, I’m going to ignore IBM’s failed attempt at leadership and focus on what actually matters: making things work for users. Only if we become compatible can we be at least as good. Then people give us a try, and notice we’re actually better. That’s when we win.


Arnaud QuetteSeptember 22nd, 2009 at 12:54 am

have you heard about Linux Unified Kernel?

I came across that recently, but not yet had time to evaluate it…

BenSeptember 22nd, 2009 at 5:47 am

Great point, I thought you’d also appreciate the XKCD comic that this immediately reminded me of:

anonSeptember 22nd, 2009 at 6:42 am

Here’s my $.02.

There are lots of open source apps that are trying to be free versions of commercials apps. Open Office is a good example: it shares much of its look and feel with previous versions of Microsoft Office. But it’s still a pretty crappy app. In my experience, it crashes, it’s missing major pieces of functionality, and it has lots of subtle bugs that regularly bite users.

But it’s a drop-in replacement. It looks the same as MS office. It kinda feels the same as MS office. And it regularly fails most use cases.

Instead of producing clone-ware, the Sun/Oracle/Star-Office peeps should have spent time making a usable, stable, secure, reliable, performant app, with some novel features thrown in.

(Yes, I’m posting from an IBM IP addy. I’m an IBM employee, but I’m not posting in that capacity. I don’t know who Sutor is, and I have nothing to do with IBM’s OS strategy. I’ve been using some flavour of linux for much longer than I’ve worked for Big Blue.)

Jared SpurbeckSeptember 22nd, 2009 at 9:24 am

I agree with this anon fellow. The Mac is hardly a drop-in replacement for a Windows PC; you have to learn new ways of doing everything, and you have to buy all-new software. And yet Mac OS X’s growth rate as a platform is meteoric. It’s just plain a better platform than Windows, for reasons that continue to mystify both Free Software and Windows enthusiasts. But “once you go Mac, you never go back.”

I’m not sure any amount of work on Wine could make Linux a drop-in replacement for Windows, to people who’ve grown dependent on specific Windows apps. There will always be something that needs more work, so for people who are that dependent it will always be an inferior solution. Sort of like how OpenOffice is just “a Free / Open-Source Microsoft Office.” They’re even more boring and even less usable, and I can’t think of any features they’ve got over MS.

Personally, I use Linux Mint because it’s better in every way than Windows. Every way, that is, except compatibility … and that’s where Wine comes in, helping to take the sting out of the transition. You’ve let me play my old games and install obscure Windows games that my friends wanted to play, and apps that I need that only run in Windows. And for that I thank you.

Wine has helped ease my transition to a superior platform. Sorry that IBM’s ignoring you people … I’m grateful to you and I wish you luck.

AustinSeptember 22nd, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Winning is not a strategy. It is an objective.

jimcooncatSeptember 23rd, 2009 at 2:01 am

Windows won out in the workplace a long time ago. People bought computers with Windows to be compatible with their work. Linux won’t thrive until it gets used in the workplace, and from where I sit, there are two major applications that hold us back from switching: Quickbooks and MS Access.

The Wine folks have done a lot of excellent work, but these two applications are not simple to run under it. Quickbooks has so many hooks to other programs, I can understand why it works so poorly. And there are still a few bugs in MS Access where doing the wrong thing can crash — popping up help or entering some characters in the VBA editor kills it for me.

When you’re talking about business apps that hold the lifeblood of your business, it’s downright scary to have it become dodgy because you’re working on a different operating system. And at the point you find that out, you’re probably still a noob. Ubuntu goes in the trashcan.

It’s a shame, because IBM has the ability to develop native alternatives to these two programs. In fact, many of the building blocks have already been developed (mdbtools, SQL-Ledger). But there are lots of pieces missing from the equation, especially help with a transition.

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