IBM, Linux Dealers Seize Chance to Market 'Microsoft-Free' Desktop

The slow adoption of Vista is giving IBM and Linux distributors an opportunity to convince enterprises that there are good desktop software alternatives to Windows. IBM, Canonical, Novell and Red Hat will work with hardware makers to market custom-designed PCs preloaded with Linux and Lotus word processing and collaboration software.

SAN FRANCISCO-IBM's front-line Linux and open-source troops were out in full force at Linux World Conference & Expo Aug. 5 in their continuing effort to remind the community at large that the company is serious about becoming more open-source-minded in enterprise product development.
IBM revealed a couple of news items at the Moscone Center conference, the attendance of which appears to be dramatically down from past years-most likely due to the slumping economy and general difficulty of travel. Some 7,500 developers, vendors and assorted others are registered to attend. But my early take-having been to eight consecutive LWCE events-is that there are not nearly that many people actually on-site.
News item No. 1: IBM, Canonical (Ubuntu), Novell (SUSE Linux), and Red Hat (RH Enterprise Linux) are joining forces with their corresponding hardware partners to deliver so-called "Microsoft-free desktops" worldwide.
News item No. 2: IBM introduced do-it-yourself-type software appliances-in the forms of physical boxes and software-aimed at speeding up the adoption of Linux in the small and midsize business data center market.
Take that, Windows makers.
The three Linux companies in item No. 1 have tuned their respective operating systems for use on IBM's Lotus Notes and Lotus Symphony in an effort to cut into the Microsoft Windows- and Office-dominated desktop market worldwide by a year from now. Analysts have determined that the enterprise market consists of more than 1 billion desktops worldwide, and that number continues to go up each day.
If desktop Linux is going to have a fighting chance in the open market against the standard Windows deployment, then coalitions like this need to happen.
"The thing that's always been missing in the Linux desktop world is the business model," Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, told me. "If we can make it as simple as possible for people to use it as an alternative, whether on PCs or on mobile devices, that is the way to go.
"Look at what the Kindle ['s always-connected electronic book reader] has done-that should serve as an inspiration to Linux developers."
The Kindle, which costs around $350, runs embedded Linux in a small, dedicated form factor, and has turned out to be a useful, popular item. "They've been sold out for a while," Zemlin said.
"The slow adoption of Vista among businesses and budget-conscious CIOs, coupled with the proven success of a new type of Microsoft-free PC in every region, provides an extraordinary window of opportunity for Linux," said Kevin Cavanaugh, vice president for IBM Lotus Software. "We'll work to unlock the desktop to save our customers money and give freedom of choice."
The four companies will distribute preloaded PCs that feature IBM's Open Collaboration Client Solution and will include Lotus Notes, Lotus Symphony and Lotus Sametime; the Linux operating system of each distributor; and software applications and installation services from the local partners in each market.
Local Firms Will Bring New PCs to Market
The final product will be branded by local IT firms that bring it to market. In addition, customers, ISVs and systems integrators have the option to develop applications using Lotus Expeditor based on the open-source Eclipse programming model, IBM said.
These custom PCs will be tailored to the needs of customers in specific sectors, such as government, banking, health care and education.
For example, one custom-designed PC for government buyers may support key ISV applications for document and case management, crisis management, and citizen services. Custom PCs for schools would offer a low-cost open platform that could use Lotus collaboration and social-networking software.
Novell already has launched a software bundle that consists of IBM collaboration software and SUSE Linux Enterprise with the help of Avnet UK, the largest IT distributor in that country.
Canonical will redistribute Lotus Symphony via its Ubuntu repositories. Symphony 1.1 will be available through the Ubuntu repositories by the end of August. General availability will coincide with the Lotus Symphony 1.2 release expected to be available by the end of October, said Canonical Vice President Malcolm Yates.
Canonical founder and president Mark Shuttleworth was not in attendance at LWCE Aug. 5 after being highly visible at the recent OSCON event in Portland, Ore. Red Hat also skipped the conference, as it has for the last several years.
New Alternatives for SMBs
The IBM software appliance initiatives are aimed at familiarizing smaller enterprises with Linux and helping to deploy Domino applications on Lotus Foundations.
A new, preconfigured version of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 from Novell in Lotus Foundations and a new tool kit for Domino software vendors are now available. IBM also announced a new strategy, the ISV Software Appliance Initiative, designed to help a wide range of ISVs deliver Linux software appliances to midmarket customers.
This is all designed "to liberate small businesses from Microsoft's proprietary Small Business Server," IBM open-source chief Bob Sutor told a press conference.
Lotus Foundations features an integrated software package for collaboration, file management, networking, office productivity, security, backup and disaster recovery. Foundations' backup feature enables businesses to recover system settings and business files in a matter of minutes.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...