Lotus Notes on Linux won’t tip scales in IBM, Microsoft battle

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IBM Corp.’s launch of a Linux version of its flagship Lotus Notes collaboration software might not be enough to tip the scales in its favour as it tries to win over Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Exchange users.

However, industry observers say the move is a clear message to customers and partners that Big Blue is truly a “cross platform” company.

“This won’t tip the scales, but Lotus Notes on Linux does add another strong weapon to IBM’s arsenal,” said David Senf, manager of Canadian application development and infrastructure software at analyst firm IDC Canada Ltd in Toronto.

Senf said the announcement “demonstrates support for Linux and signals to customers and partners that IBM is truly cross platform.”

A U.S.-based analyst shares these views. “I don’t expect a massive defection [from Exchange to Lotus Notes on Linux] since Linux is not in the mainstream yet, but this would be a key differentiator for IBM,” says Peter O’Kelly, research director of IT consultancy firm Burton Group Inc. of Midvale, UT.

On July 24, Lotus Notes 7 on Linux will be available for free download to existing Notes users. IBM hopes to entice Linux-using businesses into deploying its top selling desktop software by offering an alternative to Microsoft’s Exchange system.

Linux is a powerful operating system (OS) available for free download from the Internet. is the OS popular in North America where it is mainly used to run server computers that perform “back office” operations.

While use of Linux on the server side has grown rapidly over the past few years, the take up of desktop Linux has been slow, in part due to a lack of mainstream applications running on the open-source OS.

The new Lotus Notes for Linux will run on both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell SuSE Linux.

Back in 1998, Big Blue offered Linux support for its Domino server software. Domino controls networks of desktop computers running the Notes client. However, because few businesses used Linux at that time, IBM deemed it unnecessary to create a Linux version of Notes.

Jim Elliott, infrastructure solutions manager and Linux advocate for IBM Canada Ltd. in Markham, Ont. said the announcement has been received “warmly” by their customers.

According to Elliott, Lotus Notes for Linux would likely garner a lot of new customers among those “who don’t want to be constrained to a Microsoft world”.

Senf, however, said the announcement holds value mainly to organizations already planning to switch over from a Windows-based OS to Linux. “Will the rest of Canada jump to Linux? I think not.”

The IDC analyst said only about 12 percent of Canadian business are using Linux, and they are predominantly developers and call centre organizations. But among “knowledge-based workers who are the largest desktop users, adoption of Linux has been slow.”

This is in contrast with the situation in the so-called BRICK countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea) where users opt for a cheaper open-sourced operating systems.

“Linux adoption in these countries is stronger because of more constrained cost structures. Moreover unlike Canada these countries do not have a long Microsoft history,” said Senf.

O’Kelly said the Linux market in North America is not that strong.

“The market for Linux on the desktop is still a wild card. So far you see, only pockets of Linux users; many firms looking for an alternative to Windows go to Mac,” O’Kelly said.

Despite that, he said, “this announcement is a milestone on the road towards the first full Notes client.”

Elliott agrees noting that the next the major release of Lotus Notes, codenamed “Hannover,” (due for next year) will run across Windows, Macintosh and Linux platforms without requiring any modifications.

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