IBM and Linux

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How IBM contributes to Linux

"IBM's contributions to the Linux “community” are shaken by an IBM document as follows: Participation in communities involves not only contributing code developed at IBM, but also augmenting, testing, and deploying code developed by others to ensure that it meets community and user expectations. IBM engineers also contribute to other aspects of open source development required to deliver enterpriselevel functionality. They develop documentation for open source projects and the IBM Information Center, an online repository for Linux and open source-oriented information. Engineers from the LTC actively contribute best practices to IBM developerWorks. Additionally, IBM engineers also have been involved in developing Linux test suites and methodology, including the Linux Test Project, which IBM maintains. The goal of the Linux Test Project is to deliver test suites to the open source community that validate the reliability, robustness, and stability of Linux. In addition to IBM-sponsored / hosted efforts, it also contributes to parallel community efforts such as developing autotest as part of Furthermore, IBM collaborates with the academic community on Linux and Open Source development for higher platforms by contributing System z and System p platforms, simultaneously providing learning opportunities to ensure continuity of skills and University-hosted access to these platforms for the broader Open Source development community.(IBM: 2008:2) (

See also: Linux - Governance


Mathieu O'Neill:

(citations are from the book Wikinomics)

"IBM, a pioneer in computer business, has been long characterized by the sales of non-free products. Actually, the software of IBM has only worked in IBM computers for decades. However, in the late '90s, and faced to the growing dependence on Microsoft products, the company made a risky change. Noting that in the servers market, near 50% of operative systems was open source software, IBM decided to start studying it. Slowly, the firm became involved in its production. This free software for servers was called -and still calls- Apache, and in March 1998, IBM signed an agreement with Brian Behlendorf, the visible face of networks of programmers who updated, corrected and spread Apache (Tapscott and Williams, 2005:127). Despite initial misgivings, three months later IBM announced the adoption of Apache in all IBM products. This success led the company to a bigger bet: move into the Linux developer network with medium and long term aims.

And here begins to take shape the organizational modality we´re interested in. A team, which developed and “released” the Linux code, was created by IBM. The insertion of a capitalist firm - and not one precisely beloved by programmers of Linux-, in forums, and other repositories deserved a careful plan to gain the confidence of the so-called Linux “community”.

In 1999, IBM organized a developing group of Linux. Its director, Dan Frye, says the hardest thing at first was to devise the proper way to join the community. Linux is made up of over 100 software umbrella projects and each consists of a variable number of subprojects. (...) IBM had to decide in which Linux communities should be involved. It found, as happens to all those who enter free software communities, that the best way to gain acceptance is to handle less attractive tasks. IBM helped to improve the reliability of Linux by testing code, error handling, drafting documents and opening its code and toolsxx. (Taspcott and Williams, 2005:128) Beyond the stories, perhaps a little sweetened, about how IBM effusively has embraced the free software philosophy, how it has changed its business organization to not violate the code of the Linux developer community and beyond other forms of epic publicity (which can be found in Tapscott and Williams, 2005, or IBM, 2008), some features of the Mixed Collaborative Production are visible.

From the perspective of the prosumers, IBM's involvement certainly meant an improvement of the efficiency of the outputs. The company invested 100 million dollars annually (Tapscott and Williams, 2005), which is a figure more than considerable, for developments which were valuable for the Linux networks. Moreover, the use of IBM of the code which had been developed by the prosumers did not represent any decrease in terms of the amount available. Indeed, the spread of Linux through its use by a leader company meant increasing labor market opportunities as consultants or service providers for many of the Linux developers. However, this involved some tensions with the philosophical aspect of Non-Capitalist Collaborative Production. In any case, a decisive aspect for this second form of collaborative production to emerge was that the IBM got integrated without significantly affecting the previous organization of the productive process.

Turning to the perspective of the company, let´s inquire the results of this integration. The main reason for including here both IBM and Linux cases is that these results can be clearly expressed: IBM did certainly invest 100 million dollars a year on Linux, but got 1000 million from developers (Tapscott and Williams, 2005 : 130). The origin of the 900 million difference cannot be discussed here (see Author ….). However, it is enough to note the benefit obtained by the company through associating with the so called Linux ¨community¨; benefit which is also enough to explain its partnership with the free software without having to invoke any kind of business philosophy. Specifically, in 2008, IBM had more than 600 software developers entirely dedicated to more than 100 open source projects." (

See also our entry on: Collaborative Production, with its fourfold typology.


From a 2010 submission to the CSPP journal, entitled "Collaborative Production, by Mathieu O'Neil: [1]