Dual Purpose

Dual Purpose

Open source is a movement as much as a software—does that help or hinder it?

WEISS: There's a philosophy and a methodology that believes in the strength of community and spreading the collaborative effort, at least in terms of the number of people who might be available worldwide to look at the code and siphon out any problems, as opposed to total dependency on one vendor's organization and whether they're going to be able to uncover all the problems that a user might have.

On the other hand, there's a lot of software out there that has a great deal of intellectual content, has a lot of creative aspects to it. One would have to question whether the open source community has the creativity, the interest, the excitement or even the knowledge of where to target its efforts. So you would have to ask: Does the open source community know what the market needs and requires? When you get into the more creative aspects of delivering ROI to specific application environments and for IT organizations looking for the software developers to be able to come forth with their needs in mind, I would probably have less confidence in an open source model.

ROBBINS: In a knowledge-based economy, any approach that tends to aggregate value rather than deal with value in a cylindrical or hierarchical fashion will model the way the world is going. Over the course of time, we're moving to a decentralized, intellectual property-based economy. And any applications constructed to mirror that approach, at whatever level they operate, whether it's matrix organizations or operating systems that are decentralized, you're going to see adoption, because it's mirroring an economic trend.

How do you separate the philosophical issues surrounding open source from the hard business decisions?

CAREY: Merrill Lynch is an early adopter of Linux, and we're going to be fairly aggressive with it. I think we do it not so much because of a belief that open source is the right way. I don't believe there's any right way. We're moderates. We believe it's a good way to do some things, just like the proprietary model is a good way to do some things.

Merrill is obviously a huge user of Microsoft technology. We like the fact that Linux and Microsoft run on similar hardware. That helps us because it gives us choice, and when we have choices, we can make better business decisions. So it's not a religion, it's about business.

Will the IT shop of the future be a mixture of open source and proprietary?

CAREY: It will be at Merrill Lynch.

YATKO: It will be at CSFB.

ROBBINS: If that's true at Merrill Lynch and CSFB, it bodes well for higher adoption rates in smaller and mid-size companies, because your boards of directors won't see you as taking a risk, the way five years ago they would have. Five years ago, open source shareware was considered a radical, almost revolutionary approach to IT, and you had to do it in the background, you had to do it in private. And once it was all done, you might ask for forgiveness. Now you're seeing adoption. I have a number of clients who would feel relieved to know that Merrill Lynch and CSFB have done some due diligence here.

MATUSOW: You take an organization that is, let's say, half the size of Merrill Lynch. Do they have the capacity to do what you guys do with even Windows or with any other platform? The capability that you are making use of for an organization of your size, with the engineering capacity you have, is a luxury that I would say the vast majority of other customers do not have.

CAREY: I wouldn't call it a luxury; I would call it a necessity.

MATUSOW: A necessity is fine, but it's still a capacity that very few organizations have.

EUNICE: Every place I go has some requirement to do that kind of qualification and testing, even in a smaller or medium enterprise. It would be wonderful from a user point of view if you could order it up from a genie. That doesn't happen. The people who run IT at any company are the ones responsible for seeing that it is available, that it works right. And the onus is always on them.

MATUSOW: But there's a difference between configuration concerns for each customer, and each and every customer does have those concerns, and the process of doing their own build of an operating system.

EUNICE: I haven't seen in the Linux community everyone doing their own build.

YATKO: From CSFB's perspective, we're very similar to what Merrill is doing. We have a global build for every operating system we have. It gets scrutinized on every installation, every patch that gets installed. Linux is just another strategic operating system that fits into that model.

WEISS: Can I ask you, though, since Linux is really a set of operating systems and releases, I'm just wondering how you will be treating the various releases and versions, and whether you would standardize on one distribution's operating system, and whether you are repeating some past examples of lock-in?

CAREY: We are not going to standardize on any one distribution. In fact, we've said very aggressively LSB (Linux Standard Base) compliance is where we're going to be pushing people toward. And once we have LSB compliance, I think that's the baseline for us to pick and choose, and we may have three different distributions—one for the mainframe, one for the mid-range server and one for the desktop. And then we modify those to make them most effective in those three ranges.

This article was originally published on 06-14-2002
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