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IBM's Homeward Bound Linux PC Push

By Jason Z. Cohen LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Aug 5, 2008 3:46 PM PT

IBM fired the opening salvo at this year's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo, and to the surprise of no one, it was aimed squarely at Microsoft.

IBM's Homeward Bound Linux PC Push

Sure, it was the low-hanging fruit -- Microsoft's an easy target. It's kind of like taking pot shots at John McCain at an Obama fund-raiser. But here, the ammunition was more notable than the target.

IBM's initiative hits at Microsoft -- and proprietary software in general -- on five fronts, from supercomputers to middleware to the average personal computer.

The company highlighted its first decade of support for open source software and communities as a segue into discussing its plans for the next decade. While company officials were quick to point out that what will happen in 2018 is anyone's guess, they laid out their planned areas of focus for the next few years, anyway.

Into the SMB

First, in the supercomputer space, IBM announced it is contributing a package of open source software for supercomputers that run on Linux. The package includes such components as the Extreme Cluster Administration Toolkit, which runs on Roadrunner, the supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The second announcement, that IBM is targeting the small and medium-sized business market with Linux-based software appliances, seems a sound strategic move. The plan is to offer service-based appliances targeting a business function, and also to preinstall Novell Suse Linux Enterprise Server in Lotus Foundations. Right now, the market segment is dominated by Microsoft Exchange Server.

"We believe that it'll present a very compelling alternative and bring openness to the world of small business, which has not historically been true," said Jeff Smith, IBM's vice president for Linux and Open Source. "The client side of the IT environment is one the last bastions of proprietary technology. It has been disproportionately dominated by one vendor."

Yeah, we all know who that vendor is.

Other announcements included boosting its support for real-time Linux and a new version of WebSphere Application Server Community Edition, which is based on Apache's Geronimo project.

'Microsoft-Free Desktops'

It was the announcement of a program to offer PC vendors Linux distros bundled with Lotus software that got me scratching my head, though. Big Blue is teaming with Canonical/Ubuntu, Novell and Red Hat to offer the bundles to hardware makers. IBM's people were careful not to name any names, apparently because they don't have the deals in place yet, but they strongly hinted that PC makers would start rolling out what they're calling "Microsoft-free desktops" some time soon.

So, in theory, a PC maker such as Lenovo (I chose that one simply because it's the successor to IBM's PC division) could offer a unit that runs on Suse Linux packaged with the IBM Open Collaboration Client Solution, which is Lotus Notes, Symphony and Sametime. It's cheaper for the PC maker -- no Microsoft license to pay, I get that.

But if that's the case, why are Dell's Linux offerings more expensive to the end user? Why are they nearly impossible to find on the company's site?

Clearly, Microsoft has exerted its considerable influence to thwart efforts to sell a mainstream Linux desktop, and it has worked.

What's Keeping Linux Away From Home?

Several factors have prevented the mainstream adoption of Linux, said Inna Kuznetsova, IBM's director of Linux Strategy. Chief among them are ease of use and a lack of available applications.

"We see Linux as the mainstream of business today," Kuznetsova told LinuxInsider. It's only a matter of time, she believes, until it also becomes the mainstream in the home as well.

"I can hardly name an area where we need more choice," she said.

Will IBM's own considerable influence help turn the tide toward mainstream Linux adoption?

It'd be nice if it would.

Click here to e-mail Jason Z. Cohen.

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