OTTAWA — The “”explosive growth”” in Linux operating systems and open-source software will prompt high-tech companies to pour even more resources into this technology, making it even more of a viable alternative to its closed-source competitors, IBM executives predicted Wednesday.

“”This is

absolutely an industry-wide initiative,”” Chris Pratt said of the high-tech sector’s adoption of Linux and open-source concepts. The manager of e-server strategic initiatives for IBM Canada Ltd. was one of several speakers to address an Ottawa audience Wednesday for “”Linux and the Public Sector.””

Pratt said IBM, along with other IT heavyweights, will continue to take key steps toward maturing the Linux operating system. Such steps include the joint announcement IBM made with SuSE Linux last month. Dubbed “”the next critical step in the maturation”” of the system, the pair announced the first ever security certification of Linux.

The mutual goal to advance the capabilities of Linux has created some “”strange bedfellows,”” added Jim Elliot, Linux advocate for IBM, pointing to initiatives such as the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL): a global consortium of leading technology companies dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux. The OSDL has united the likes of IBM, Alcatel, Cisco Systems, and Sun Microsystems in a common cause, observed Elliot.

Consequently, Linux will continue to mature rapidly, said Richard Fichera, a research fellow at Forrester Research who presented a business case for Linux and open-source software.

Fichera said the code for open-source software is always going to be of high quality because tens of thousands of peers in the open-source community readily review it. As well, the flexibility of Linux is appealing because it better matches business cycles with the fixed costs of IT. The system also caters to the needs of the public sector as well as the private sector, Fichera said.

Fichera predicts the debate between using Linux versus closed-source operating systems will intensify over the coming years.

Meanwhile, Pratt addressed a wider debate: Whether it is profitable for companies such as IBM to heavily endorse an operating system and software that can be downloaded for free.

“”We don’t feel threatened by this,”” he said. Evidence of this can be seen by IBM’s 90-second commercial that promotes Linux, he added. Suited for high-profile sporting events, the ad features well-known celebrities and academics. “”We don’t feel the need to defend our proprietary operating systems against the open source. Our hardware runs both, so people can choose.””

IBM can still run hardware underneath and middleware on top of the operating system, added Pratt. “”Hardware hasn’t quite reached the free (stage). All the components of the middleware might not be free. We will also make money on the consulting of how to use it, and on the other side of people paying to support it.””

Granted, users can go to the Linux Kernel Archives at www.kernel.org to download their own “”kernel fixers”” to fix the kernels themselves, he added.

“”You can do that if it’s an economically acceptable model for your business. Unless you’re a unique organization, you’re going to have people constraints, and you’ll be looking for resources to maintain it. The reality is, most commercial organizations would rather pay specialists to do it,”” said Pratt.

Pratt added that IBM is “”very mindful of the credos and principals”” within the open-source community.

“”We’re an $80-billion company, but we participate in that community as an individual. IBM is a highly respected member of that community, and a large number of our contributions are accepted.””

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