IBM Goes Back to School

Could Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) lose its grip on young programmers? Today, news broke that IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) plans to offer free software and deeply discounted hardware to universities' computer science programs. In addition, it will work with interested universities in coming up with curricula that's open-source -- and, it seems, suitably Big Blue-centric, of course.

According to various news sources, the move by IBM is in the hopes that young geeks-in-training will become experts in the technologies that it has a vested interest in, such as the Java programming language and Linux, which happens to be used in IBM's line of servers.

Though many scoff at the idea that the open-source movement will ever move too far away from a very limited, hobbyist market, IBM's aggressive move is still an interesting one to contemplate. After all, if there's anywhere the open-source movement might flourish, that's within the halls of universities, with their built-in population of young, idealistic students who are less likely to toe any party line and more likely to embrace cooperation.

And, if companies want to try to chip away at Microsoft market share, now's likely the time to make the move. There's a heck of a lot on this tech giant's plate. It's trying to catch up with search and settle scores. Meanwhile, it delayed its XP Service Pack 2 by two months to August, Longhorn isn't due for official release until next year, and virus attacks have been hacking away at its reputation for security.

Sure, the jury's still out on the future of the open-source movement, and it could still end up being a tempest in a teapot that we'll all laugh about one day. As things stand now, Microsoft still has the vast majority of corporate tech budgets and will remain a standard in IT training for a long time to come. However, given certain trends, it's certainly not difficult to see demand for college graduates trained in alternative tools, as well.

Could this move have an impact on the future of corporate IT habits -- and make it a Big Blue world? University students, of course, remain a large portion of the future of the corporate world (whether the little whippersnappers like it or not). IBM is making an investment that may not bear fruit for a while, but if many universities bite, it could change the IT landscape and position Big Blue for better days ahead.

Do you think IBM's move into the classroom is a threatening move? Talk about the issue on the Microsoft discussion board.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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