February 17, 2019

Test Plan Charlie Unplugged: An Interview with David Boyes - page 3

Meet David Boyes

  • March 21, 2001
  • By Scott Courtney

You worked for, or with, IBM for a while. What led you to leave IBM?

I worked for IBM, mostly as a consultant. IBM fascinates me, just because of the sheer volume of good technology that comes out of that organization. Very few people give IBM credit for their contribution to the industry over the last 30 years. For example, the Winchester disk drive was an IBM invention. They consistently produce vastly intelligent solutions that they are consistently unable to market successfully. In that way they are kind of like Xerox. That last step, making it work in that ecosystem environment that I described, is where they consistently fail.

There are actually two ports of Linux to S/390 hardware. One is IBM's officially supported version, and the other is the Bigfoot port done primarily by Linas Vepstas. What are your feelings about the Bigfoot port and its relationship with IBM's port?

I was peripherally involved in the Bigfoot port, in making the case to IBM. IBM came to us before they decided to release Linux, and asked us, 'Why would we want to do this?' We responded that, basically, you are going to do this with us or we are going to do this without you. Bigfoot has some better ideas. For example it was designed to run on any 370 architecture machine. It would support more hardware. It was designed to work specifically under VM, and would take advantage of things that are only available there. One of the things the Bigfoot port did is that the stack grew in a different direction, which made some things more efficient. There were a lot of things in Bigfoot that were wise choices at the time.

Politically, it was done in a more typical Linux development environment. It was public, people were hacking on stuff, more like the typical Intel kernel. The IBM port was done more as a very quiet, very skunkworks, project: Don't get the IBM badge holders in trouble. They were working mostly on their own time without management approval. We did a lot of things in Bigfoot that would have made the IBM port easier to do.

If I had to pick one thing that was an unwise choice on IBM's part, it was the use of the relative instruction set so that it would only run on G2 or higher. They could have used our Bigfoot work, but that would have been a very difficult sell inside IBM. IBM is a hardware company, they want to sell hardware. But if I'd done it, I would have done it differently.

Did Linas Vepstas get a raw deal from IBM when they passed over his port and wrote their own?

I think Linas overreacted to a number of things. There is definitely a culture in the Linux community that says, 'I've done something, that gives me some value in the community.' This is something that was very personal to him, and IBM came along with their port and sidelined him in the community. I don't think anybody at IBM actively tried to give him a raw deal. It was a matter of timing and specifically of IBM internal politics. Beyond that, I don't know. I don't think he got a raw deal. The Boeblingen lab people have been forced to be much more cooperative, and some of them have been uncomfortable with it. They want to do things their way.

Over time they have become much more cooperative. It's been a learning process from both sides of the community. They've had to learn to work with the development community, and we've learned to work with some of their internal constraints that we can't see.

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