IBM Exec Sees Open-source Boom in 2006

Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of standards and open-source, expects a number of industries to embrace open-source software in 2006 -- and he expects IBM to play a role in many of those efforts. In an interview with Computerworld last week, Sutor also weighed in on the state of Linux and on Massachusetts' plans to use the XML-based OpenDocument file format.

Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of standards and open-source
Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of standards and open-source
What industries do you expect will embrace open-source this year? There will be a continuation in health care and education. I think financial services will have a big year. They're always looking for efficiencies and greater economies of scale. Retail is another area, as we see a lot of standardization work going on there.

We're also starting to see more open-source projects that are specific to a particular industry. The Sakai project in education is a good example. It is basically an ERP system for universities. Instead of managing customers, it manages students and courses and allows information-sharing between colleges and universities.

Why hasn't Linux, with its strengths as a thin-client system, had better success in the retail point-of-sale business? I think as retailers get more creative and start building these "stores of the future," they are going to look for Linux. The price is right, the ability to code on them is right. I wouldn't ask, "How do we get more Linux in retail?" It's, "How do we get it thoroughly open-source and standards-based so there's a level playing field?" That way you can see where open-source makes sense and where proprietary products make sense.

On the Linux server side, we've done some interesting things in stores. There's an RFID project with German retailer Metro AG and SAP AG. Linux servers monitor what's happening on the shelves, like when items are taken off and brought to the register.

What's your prognosis for Linux on the client, especially now that virtualization technologies look to give it a boost? Open Source Development Labs late last year had a meeting to really start to figure out how to converge some of the technologies on the client. Progress is being made, and OSDL has really taken a leadership position on this.

Do you still hold out hope that we'll someday see an open-source Java? I think the way things are going on Apache, we're getting there little by little. We said what we said two years ago because we wanted to get the issues out there and have Sun respond. In different ways, they have responded.

Are you disappointed that Massachusetts may not fully implement OpenDocument? You've read some headlines that are incorrect. The state is firmly committed to moving forward with its OpenDocument plans on Jan. 1, 2007. Microsoft made some moves at the end of last year. The state said basically, "We'll look at them as they come along." As the situation changes, if Microsoft commits to doing everything that they need to -- and I would argue that they have not done everything that they need to do -- then the state will look at what they do like anything else.

But isn't Microsoft starting to make inroads against OpenDocument? The reference model that was put in place [by the ECMA standards group] last September, and is still in effect, is only OpenDoc. Microsoft has given their formats to ECMA and basically told ECMA, "Here they are. Don't change them, but please call them 'community and open,' even though we're the only ones allowed to do anything with them." All Massachusetts has said is, "Yes, you've done something; we'll look at it next time it comes around to see if it meets our requirements. If it doesn't meet our requirements, well, then it's still out." Don't fall into the trap that something that may happen in the future means that OpenDoc is out. There's a lot of work to be done in terms of Microsoft formats, ECMA formats, before they become a standard.

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