IBM To Build Linux Centers in Asia

Continuing a commitment to promote the Linux operating system, IBM (NYSE: IBM) said Tuesday it will spend $200 million (US$) to build seven new Linux development centers in Asia.

The move is the latest step in Big Blue’s ongoing strategy of expanding the role of Linux, the free, open-source alternative to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows operating system.

“With the establishment of these centers, and other investments we are making, IBM will aggressively promote Linux applications that will run on our Linux-enabled servers,” said Kakutaro Kitashiro of IBM Asia Pacific.

Similar to European Expansion

IBM, the world’s second-largest software maker, said the seven centers will be built over the next four years in Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, Bangalore and Sydney.

The role of the new centers, IBM officials said, will be to work in conjunction with local developers on Linux applications software.

Earlier this year, IBM announced a nearly identical European thrust, saying it planned to build seven Linux development centers in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Poland and Hungary.

Investors Cool on Linux

IBM’s support is seen as crucial to the rise of Linux, which has flagged recently due to the financial struggles of some Linux companies. Shares in VA Linux, Caldera Systems and Red Hat have dropped drastically in value in recent months.

Linux, based on the UNIX operating system, has evolved through a vast network of developers, only some of whom actually work at Linux companies. Led by famed developer Linus Torvalds, Linux quickly gained a foothold among more established leaders as the basic software running on servers, though its acceptance on the desktop has been more difficult to attain.

The software is popular because it can be easily studied and modified. Linux courses can be found online, offered by sites such as SGI Education Services (NYSE: SGI), which preps students to take the Linux Professional Institute certification exams.

Still, critics charge that the operating system is too complicated for the average user and will never match the ease-of-use factor enjoyed by users of Windows. In addition, Linux companies are struggling to find ways to make a profit from the software.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates has said potential investors in Linux have been scared off by the open-source nature of the software, and that Linux will never be a serious competitor.

Backing from Dell

IBM’s advantage in its relationship to Linux is largely one of perception, analysts say. The company wants to be seen as a leader in developing new applications for next-generation computer operating systems.

So, as investor enthusiasm for Linux has cooled, the pressure has increased on IBM and other leaders in the industry to demonstrate the extent of their commitment to Linux. In April, IBM announced it would begin selling its Intel-based servers preloaded with three different versions of Linux.

Linux also has the backing of Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), the world’s largest direct seller of personal computers. Dell began pre-installing Linux software on some of its new computers in June and also has a joint software development program with Red Hat.

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