% fortune -ae paul murphy

Pravda, Sutor, and IBM Linux

On May 7th, 1960, Khrushchev used the Soviet Union's primary party news organ, named "Pravda" or "truth" in celebration of Lenin's ideals on the situational use of language, to announce that an American U-2 had been shot down by Soviet missile crews over Sverdlovsk and the pilot, Francis Powers, rescued to face trial for espionage.

In reality a U-2 pilot had no chance of survival if his aircraft hit something as a threatening as a wooden match stick suspended under a child's balloon while in high altitude flight - so his survival proved that he suffered engine failure (the block one J57 was notorious for high altitude flameouts) and attempted first a dive restart and then a crash landing.

The Soviets nevertheless got a huge propaganda boost as an eager western press seized on the Pravda releases and later direct statements by the Soviet Premier to inform the gullible about the wonders of Soviet technology, training, and deep commitment to the common man and world peace.

So why mention this? because I just read Bob Sutor's August 6/2008 presentation at Linuxworld and kept being reminded of Khrushchev's ability to fool those who desperately wanted to be fooled.

Sutor is an IBM vice president for Open Source and you'd expect and forgive a certain amount of chest thumping as belonging with the job - and, indeed the presentation has some good stuff in it, and is worth reading for it. In particular his advice:

To the degree that Linux on the traditional desktop succeeds, it will need to approach the Apple Mac in usability and attract more graphic designers for design.

rings true to me because I think that what Apple's move to Intel (a move pushed along by IBM's claimed inability to provide all the PPC processors Apple needed) really accomplished was to let Apple eat Linux's desktop market share.

On the other hand he has a "Peace, Love, and Linux" section that could have been written by Dan Rather, circa 1960 - including, believe it or not, almost perfect paraphrases from Lincoln Steffens like [IBM supports Linux] "because we admire it, we believe in it, we need it, and it's good for our customers."

And all of this, of course, in search of truth - or, at least, carefully word smithed applause lines designed to build support against the enemy.

On page 11, for example, he iterates the IBM claim that they have "over 600 full-time developers working on Linux and open source" - a claim that seems to focus on Linux but carefully includes open source applications - and right beside that on the same overhead there's a bit from a Linux Foundation report which I consider entirely deceitful because it carefully excludes everything outside Linux kernel code accepted over a narrow period -apparently in the interests of fully excluding Sun from the list of the thirty-one biggest contributors to Linux and open source.

Other parts of the presentation accentuate that people's democratic republic of IBM feeling. Consider, for example, his second "prediction":

Prediction 2:

Linux will not be replaced

This brings the elephant in the whole presentation clearly into focus: it's "we" against an OS, and a company, whose names cannot be mentioned in the polite company of fellow travelers.

The Soviet Union is now history - and when manipulators like Bob Sutor whip up anti-Sun feeling to score points for IBM at LinuxWorld, they're exposing Linux to that same fate. It's absurd, it's dishonest, and it's counter-productive: you can't be pro-Linux and anti-Unix at the same time because Linux is Unix - and if IBM or anybody else needs a bad guy to leverage its open source sales on, it should be the ignorance and complaisance Microsoft grips to hold the hearts and minds of its marketing community - not Sun, Not Apple, not the BSDs, and not Solaris.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.