Enterprise Unix Roundup: IBM's Power Moves

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Feb 6, 2008

Brian Proffitt
A classic Hollywood movie scene is the panoramic shot of a lone horseback rider, out on the grassy rolling plain. The horse stops, fidgeting. At first, all the horseman can hear is the sound of the gentle breeze under a stark blue sky. Then, a sub-aural rumble fills the air. Growing louder, the horseman stands up in the saddle and squints in the direction of the sound. We, in the audience, look, too — and leap out of our skins when dozens of bad guys come roaring over the nearest hillock, right at our hero. Lots of news in the world of the PowerPC platform this week: a native Linux on Power release, a virtual offering from IBM, and some fightin' words from the Linux community regarding OS X.

Variations of this image have appeared in many films, and it was the first thing to spring to mind when I read the Sydney Morning Herald interview with Linus Torvalds on Tuesday morning. In the article, Torvalds was asked to give his opinion on Windows Vista and Mac OS X. And oh boy, did he:

'I don't think they're equally flawed — I think Leopard is a much better system,' he said. '(But) OS X in some ways is actually worse than Windows to program for. Their file system is complete and utter crap, which is scary.'

That was when I had the image of Linus on his horse, out on the plain, listening to the oncoming herd of Macophiles, now out for his blood.

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In his defense, Torvalds did not pass judgment on OS X as a whole — he specifically had problems with the OS X file system. Actually, historically Torvalds uses Apple machines, so his comments, while harsh, didn't stem from any religious attack of Linux vs. OS X.

In one of those coincidences that seems to mean something but really doesn't, another bit of PowerPC news came out of the Linux community Tuesday: the release of Yellow Dog Linux 6.

For those unfamiliar with Yellow Dog, it is a version of Linux specifically compiled to work on a PowerPC platform, whether it resides on an Apple PowerPC, an IBM System p, or even a Sony Playstation 3. Yellow Dog is based on the CentOS distribution with some Fedora desktop stuff thrown in. CentOS is a clone of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) distribution, so for all intents and purposes, Yellow Dog is RHEL for the PowerPC platform. It's the Linux that uber-geeks used to slap on their Mac boxes, before Macs started shipping with Intel chips.

That didn't kill off Yellow Dog, or its parent company, Terra Soft Solutions. Cut off from the "consumer" Mac market, they shifted their marketing emphasis to Yellow Dog on high-end machines: especially those System p boxes. It's been a good fit. Terra Soft puts much effort into porting Linux software to the PowerPC. I used to run Yellow Dog on my personal iBook, and I once wrote that it was a better Red Hat than Red Hat because Yellow Dog's drivers ran on my Mac laptop far better than Red Hat did on my Intel-based laptop.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

Today, a native alternative to AIX on the System p must be attractive to potential customers. An announcement last week from IBM confirms that. On Jan. 29, Big Blue released a new virtualization system for System p and other PowerPC-based IBM machines. Known as the PowerVM platform, the purpose of this virtual framework is to allow customers to run Linux software on their PowerPC IBM servers. IBM is also giving users another operating system choice for the platform. Going forward, the i5/OS operating system will support the Power6 processor

That's a lot of attention being paid to the Power platform at IBM. I doubt the launch for the PowerVM platform was solely a deliberate attempt to cut out the one version of Linux that can run natively on System p, but I also would not be surprised if IBM wasn't shedding any tears about not losing any potential AIX customers to Yellow Dog. Yes, IBM is letting Linux in on its System p boxes, but on its terms and, more importantly, its service plans.

Could this new program be IBM's attempt to consolidate its grip on the System p hardware/software ecosystem? Or, is it a move to staunch the bleeding of customers no longer as interested in hanging on to Unix on non-commodity boxes as they are in Linux on Intel machines?

Either way, it is something Power-ful to think about.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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