January 9, 2004

IBM on leaked memo: Nothing to see here. Move along...

Author: Joe Barr

It looked like a great story opportunity to me. There it was, right at the bottom of the leaked IBM internal memo reported on by Mike Magee in The Inquirer on Wednesday which seemed to call for an internal migration of desktops at IBM to Linux: the name and location of an IBMer leading something called an "Open Desktop Project Office." I immediately fired off an email to my IBM PR contact asking for an interview with the project leader. But sometimes the story is that there is no story -- or at least no answer.

Then I began making a list of questions to ask IBM when the PR rep returned my call. The list went something like this:

1. What distribution will you use?
2. What applications must be present on the desktop?
3. What are your alternative choices when no Linux version of a required app exists?
4. What distribution will you choose?
5. What desktop environment will you use?
6. What remote management tools will you use?
7. What open office will you use?
8. What training will be involved?
9. Will you start preloading Linux on desktop machines?

I kept glancing at the clock all the next day, checking my email every 10 minutes or so for the response from IBM, so I could plan on when to do the rest of the story. The email never came.

This morning I contacted IBM again, explaining that I was patiently waiting for a reply but had received nothing. That's when I learned that IBM would not be making the gentleman available for an interview. Not with me and not with anyone else, near term at least.

Googling for news on the furtive memo today, I see that other voices are reporting some spin from IBM on the whole situation. Not spin up, however, spin down, as reported this morning in the San Jose Mercury News, among other places. The message from IBM is consistent and clear: "Move along, please, there is no story here."

That reverse spin, that suddenly focused beam of invisibility which has been aimed at the story in lieu of light, speaks loudly of the fear of the force that controls the industry. IBM backed down from an angry Microsoft in the mid-'90s, agreeing to "knife the baby" and move its infant OS/2 desktop directly from the newborn to hospice care.

If the story really is "no big deal," as IBM would have us believe, why not make an exec or two available to talk about it? It may not be world-shaking news, but it is interesting enough to those in the Linux community that they would like to learn a little more about it.

I'm much more inclined to believe -- and in the silence from IBM all we can do is speculate -- that there is much more to the story than IBM is willing to admit. My hunch is that either IBM is afraid of Microsoft's reaction in to the news, or worse, they don't want to face the questions from irate customers as to why they want to use Linux internally but refuse to preload it on their own computers.

Roblimo wrote recently about the reluctance of government entities to speak openly about their plans for and pilots of open source solutions. Maybe that's just as true in Armonk as it is at city hall.


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