Enterprise Unix Roundup: Making Good on a Promise

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Jun 18, 2008


Brian Proffitt
One of the unsung heroes of the Unix realm is — I kid you not — IBM. When IBM started shipping machines with Linux, people thought AIX was a goner. Or Linux soon would be marginalized. Eight years later, neither has happened, and one very positive outcome has resulted.

Stop laughing, I'm serious.

I completely realize that IBM is a (if not the) giant of Unix and Linux on just about any platform it makes, and to assign the label "unsung" probably sounds a bit ridiculous. But, at least in one area, I don't think it is given nearly as much credit as it deserves.

Specifically, I am referring to developerWorks (dW), the truly massive online documentation site that contains highly detailed tutorials and help documents on just about anything Unix-related that comes to mind.

That a company has a documentation site that covers the ins and outs of its own product (AIX, in this case) is nothing new. And if dW were just that, it would not bear mentioning. But dW goes far beyond just AIX. Linux, general open source, SOA, Java, and XML are just a few of the broad-reaching topics the site covers.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

And these aren't your mamby-pamby 1,000-word quicky tutorials either. They are well-written, technical works that tell you exactly how and why things work the way they do.

Why get so excited about good documentation? Because it's a rare occurrence in the Unix community to have someone putting in the effort to provide such clear guidance for customers. I looked at HP's and Sun's equivalent sites, and found them okay but definitely lacking in the kind of scope dW has.

For me, dW represents almost everything else about IBM: Big Blue gets the notion that customer service is a very high priority. Sure, everyone says it, but sometimes the actual execution falls short of where it could be.

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I know many AIX customers were skeptical their platform would be abandoned when IBM took up the Linux cause in 2000. The Penguin's call is alluring after all. Conversely, the Linux community didn't really believe IBM would sell Linux over AIX. Big Blue, they figured, would take what it wanted from Linux, stick it into AIX and go back to being a pure Unix play.

(Oh the irony of that conspiracy theory after SCO sued IBM for allegedly doing the exact opposite.)

dW is proof, to me, that IBM has lived up to its promise of giving equal attention to AIX and Linux. To be honest, I was one of those who did not think it would see the promise through. Here we are, eight years later, and I am happy to admit that I was wrong.

It's good to know that the choice between Unix and Linux does not have to be a binary one for a vendor. There are compromises and balances that can be achieved for Unix vendors that can still get the revenue coming in without losing their legacy products.

So, even though IBM hardly deserves yet another accolade, here's a pat on the back to developerWorks: a good example of how technology should be delivered to customers and the community at large.

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

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