Okay, I do not speak for IBM in any way (read full disclaimer here). But after reading the following from Matt Asay’s post today, I couldn’t resist.

“IBM uses Apache/BSD to burn boats…everyone else’s. :-) The company builds its software business on proprietary software and its services and hardware businesses on open source software (as well as its proprietary software.) This is classic Martin Fink-type thinking, i.e., open source your complements which also happen to be your competitors’ core competencies. The problem is, they’ll likely do the same. Or, more pertinently, an open source competitor will come along that doesn’t have the same need to keep sacred any proprietary software. How do you compete with someone that can drive all software value to $0.00?”

Let’s dig into Matt’s statement:

MA: “IBM uses Apache/BSD to burn boats…everyone else’s. :-)”
How many open source projects does IBM contribute developers, hardware and/or fund to? Let’s take the example of Apache HTTP Server. Long ago, (the royal) we decided that web serving was a commodity and it didn’t make sense to build our own web server to use inside of WebSphere Application Server. Fancy thing was that BEA and Oracle made the same decision. Does IBM get more than it gives to the Apache HTTP project? Yep, that’s what you’d expect from an open community project. But we have a team that is works on the Apache HTTP project day in and day out. What about Apache Geronimo? Yep, it’s the base for WAS Community Edition and yes we have a sizable number of IBMers who work on Geronimo as their day jobs. What about Linux (let’s throw in a GPL project), again, yes, IBMers work inside the Linux community as their day job. Eclipse, check. OSGi, check. OASIS, check. I could go on….

MA: “The company builds its software business on proprietary software and its services and hardware businesses on open source software (as well as its proprietary software.)”
Umm, so yes, IGS will work with OSS based on client needs. But heck, they’ll work with IBM products, Microsoft product, Oracle products or any software the client seeks. Next, does Linux help drive hardware sales? Sure, but remember we spend resources inside the Linux community, so we’re not taking without giving. While IBM may drive $1B (or whatever it was in 2006) from Linux-based software, hardware and services, it is a small portion of our total $90+ billion in revenue. I’d suggest you want to rephrase the statement to read “(as well as open source software)” in brackets.

MA: “Or, more pertinently, an open source competitor will come along that doesn’t have the same need to keep sacred any proprietary software. How do you compete with someone that can drive all software value to $0.00?”
Umm, we’re competing and winning quite well. Thanks for asking :-)

Anywho, aside from this paragraph on IBM that I take exception with, Matt’s post is well worth the read. He hits the nail on the head when he summarizes with:

“Net net: burning the boats is the right thing to do, but which boats to burn…?”

Indeed…Which boats, when and how does lighting the fire help customers? That customer angle is very important and likely the reason that we’ll see OSS and traditional software (happily) coexisting. (Much more on this in a later post)