New IBM Ad features Linux in a new light



– by Joe Barr
IBM’s new Linux ad, which made its debut over the weekend at the finals of the U.S. Open, provides a new metric with which to measure Linux growth and maturity. The ad was made available online prior to the debut, and has proven to be very popular in the Linux community.

If you’ve forgotten the first series of IBM Linux ads, they featured a basketball team called Infrastructure which featured players with names like Linux, PC, Mainframe, and Firewall. Their opponents were players called Crash, Downtime, and Spam. I speculated about hidden messages in that first series of ads. But a couple of primary messages that ad delivered required no speculation: Linux was not only ready to compete, it was already a part of IBM’s solutions.

Both ads were produced by Ogilvy, but this year’s version looks more like continuation of Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001” than a series of ESPN highlights. Linux has morphed from being a starting player on the IBM team to being the franchise player. It is portrayed in the new ad as a young boy, a prodigy absorbing knowledge from a variety of masters, and making it available to everyone.

Sylvia Nasar, author of “A Beautiful Mind” advises young Linux that “One little thing can solve an incredibly complex problem.” Muhammad Ali instructs him to “Speak your mind. Don’t back down.” John Wooden, the greatest basketball coach of all time, tells him “A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself in the group, for the good of the group, that’s teamwork.”

It’s a slick way to instruct the viewing audience on various aspects of Linux and the free/open source development memes. Alan Cox, currently on sabbatical from Red Hat and Linux kernel development to further his education, said of the ad “It’s rather cool.” Cox added that it is “perhaps more telling” that IBM made the ad available on its website in MPEG format as well as in Real and QT formats. Andrew Morton, the current number-two in the Linux hacker hierachy, found the ad “perhaps a little pretentious, but it’s nice to see that IBM is keeping the faith.

Joe Barr has been writing about technology for 10 years, and about Linux for five. His work has appeared in IBM Personal Systems Journal, LinuxGazette, LinuxWorld, Newsforge, phrack, SecurityFocus, and He is the founder of The Dweebspeak Primer, the official newsletter of the Linux Liberation Army.