IBM Lotus Strategist Sees Linux on Netbooks Making Inroads vs. Windows in 2009

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-12-15

IBM Lotus Strategist Sees Linux on Netbooks Making Inroads vs. Windows in 2009

With just a little over two weeks to go until the New Year, technology strategists and pundits are revving their prognostication engines to predict what 2009 will usher in.

But unlike the last handful of years or so, the economic environment is dreadful, with thousands of high-tech layoffs by parched startups seeking exit strategies after coming up dry at the venture capital wells all over the country. Bellwethers may suffer layoffs, but they will largely remain intact should the recession deepen.

IBM is one of the vendors that sees the harsh economic climate as a catalyst for opportunity, particularly for Web 2.0 software in the workplace. Doug Heintzman, director of strategy for IBM's Lotus collaboration software unit, discussed technologies and trends that will change the way we work in 2009.

The answers comprise the usual mixed bag we've come to expect from IBM. UCC (unified communications and collaboration) is getting stronger, supported by SAAS (software as a service), cloud computing, mashups, Web browser technologies, free software and, of course, Linux and open source. Expect to hear more about all of these at Lotusphere 2009 next month.

However, Heintzman said IBM has changed its tune with regard to Linux, noting that the emergence of netbooks -- those cheaper, tiny laptops -- have opened a crack in Microsoft's Windows operating system hegemony. Indeed, given Microsoft's Windows control "we've been pretty cautious about declaring Linux as viable on the desktop," Heintzman told eWEEK, adding:

We may well be at an inflection that, with distributions like the Ubuntu distribution, with the rise of popularity in the Mac OS platform, maybe the market starts to fragment and the monopoly loses its power. The Vista launch didn't help matters much. Netbooks, where people are using a basic set of capabilities on the desktop but are storing photos and music files and editing their documents in much more in an online way.... All these factors combined suggest that this may be an important inflection for this new class of ultralight laptop computers, the Asus Eee PCs and Everex CloudBooks of the world. You're dealing with price points and memory- and processor-size restrictions that make them extremely attractive for a Linux operating system as opposed to a Windows operating system.

Heintzman, who admitted to being won over when one of his colleagues let him play with it, predicted that as more and more people begin to use netbooks for play, more robust netbooks and even desktops based on Linux will rise up as more cost-effective, secure and durable machines.

Noting that Lenovo, Dell and HP are getting into this game, Heintzman said "these whole class of cloud notebook may be the  thing that changes the viability of Linux on the desktop."

As Microsoft Watch's Joe Wilcox notes on one of his many blog posts regarding threats (and opportunities) to Microsoft, manufacturers shipped 6.5 million mini-notebooks during the first three quarters, according to IDC, which predicts full-year shipments of 10.88 million, up from 181,000 last year.

Challenges to Microsoft and Other Predictions

Microsoft faces other threats from free or close-to-free software suites such as IBM's Lotus Symphony and Google Apps' productivity and collaboration applications, will pave the way for the first serious "fissures in the world's largest monopolies," and downward pricing pressure on incumbencies that can charge monopolistic rent,"  Heintzman said.

Heintzman's hyperbole aside, pundits have been predicting this in the wake of the tear SAAS has been on in 2008, though there is little evidence from Google or IBM to suggest that Microsoft is really feeling this pressure.

Yet it could be that Microsoft hears SAAS on its heels, as the company is beginning to offer its classic on-premise apps online such as Exchange and SharePoint in pay-by-the-drink options through the Web.

Other trends from IBM sees bubbling in 2009, according to Heintzman:

  • Universal access to collaboration technology on any device will redefine what it means to be "at work" in an increasingly globally distributed workforce. Business-specific applications will begin to enjoy collaborative context the likes of which haven't been seen before.

For example, an agent viewing an insurance report can hover over the name of the agent that took the pictures of a car accidents and ask the question or view the report they submitted. Also, a physician looking at a radiology report I can mouse over a fellow doctor's name and bring them into a discussion about the report or pull data from other sources.

This is, of course, part of what Heintzman said will be an emerging, collaborative mashup of UCC technologies in business.

  • UCC capabilities on the PC will make the telephone obsolete as unified communications becomes second nature for users, he said.

Advancements in Web conferencing technologies will allow remote offices to communicate and collaborate better than ever before. "The boundary between the phone space and the computing space will dissolve." Heintzman, for example, doesn't use the phone to contact employees without checking if they're free first.

Using the Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony VOIP app, he clicks on someone's contact info and calls them through his PC. The name becomes the universal identifier instead of the phone number. This is no surprise. BT bought VOIP startup Ribbit to cement its VOIP plans while Google added voice and video chat to Gmail.

  • Social networks, he said, will become more prevalent and useful in the enterprise, with employee skills and interests more easily catalogued, helping employers find the perfect fit for projects and assignments. Every self-respecting social network will have a Twitter-like tool, one assumes.

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