That's right, folks, the future is here! Linux ads have hit the tube.

IBM is fronting the bill for Linux's TV debut — the company is advertising Linux as being the key to an "open" future. The ad was directed by Joe Pytka ("created" by Ogilvy & Mather), and debuted in the US on September 7, 2003, during an NFL game and the US Open men's finals. The 90-second spot was trimmed to 60 for rotation.

The ad stars a stonefaced young blond boy, sitting in a nondescript chair in a Matrixesque white expanse, facing another chair in which is seated, over the course of the ad, 13 other people, each elucidating some important topic to the Kid (as well as a soccer player, who juggles a ball). These aren't your average after-school math tutors, either: the guests include Penny Marshall (actor; director), Muhammad Ali (boxer), Sylvia Nasar (author, "A Beautiful Mind"), Henry Lewis Gates (professor, Harvard; African-American community leader) and John Wooden (former coach, the Bruins). The nuggets of wisdom spoken to the Kid:

  • "This is a G chord."
  • "Homo habilis was the first to use tools."
  • "A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player. Losing yourself for the group for the good of the group — that's teamwork."
  • "We've always watched the stars. If you look at the sky, you can see the beginning of time."
  • "Collecting data is only the first step toward wisdom — but sharing data is the first step toward community."
  • "Poetry. There's not much glory in poetry. Only achievement."
  • "One little thing can solve an incredibly complex problem."
  • "Everything's about timing, Kid."
  • "This is business — faster, better, cheaper. Constant improvement."
  • "So, you wanna fly, huh? Wind speed, thrust; it's physics."
  • "Res publica non dominetur."
  • "Plumbing — it's all about the tools."
  • "Speak your mind. Don't back down."

"Does he have a name?"
"His name is Linux."

As the ad ends, "LINUX" blurs into view, and is then replaced by "THE FUTURE IS OPEN", and finally "IBM" with the URL ibm.com/open underneath it. I saw a shortened version of the ad several times on TV, and watched the full-length version online. The sixty-second version is available in a variety of formats at http://www-5.ibm.com/e-business/uk/linux/; I have the ninety-second version on my server at http://68.54.119.43/e2/ibm_linux.mpg (or if that's down, http://rxns-rbn-sea02.rbn.com/ibmpdc/pdc/open/qtdemand/aug03/prodigy90_med.mpg).

"If Linux were a person, he would be growing, fast. Taught by the best. Gaining wisdom beyond his years. And sharing. He would be in business, education, government and homes. He would be a nine-year-old boy changing the world." (1)

By now you may be asking yourself, "Why is IBM advertising Linux? Doesn't IBM sell Windows PCs?" Despite my best efforts not to care, I have to admit I was a little curious, having recently started using Linux and liking it a lot. Linux on TV? Weird!

Seems that the Big Idea is that IBM is selling itself as the hardware with which one runs Linux desktops systems, manages networks, or maintains servers. Not a bad idea, really, and I bet it's doing wonders for Linux's popularity. Of course, this also raises some questions — will this sort of thing shift the Linux community's focus from creating good, stable software to making money? How long 'til we start seeing ads for RedHat on billboards?

But let's not worry about that quite yet. Let's enjoy the fact that IBM is footing the bill for an ad that promotes (almost exclusively) a free product, and does so with expensive stars.

My only real complaint?

...

No Tux!


References:
1: IBM.com (http://www-5.ibm.com/e-business/uk/linux/)
2: AdAge.com: "IBM kicks off global Linux ad push" (http://www.adage.com/news.cms?newsId=38634)
3: Mortice and mirv, resident Latin scholars

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