Sun pitches its Linux desktop to IBM

Sun Microsystems Inc., in a somewhat sarcastic open letter to IBM Corp. posted on Sun’s Web site, is inviting Big Blue to purchase Sun’s Linux-based Sun Java Desktop System for IBM’s own employees.

In a letter dated Jan. 21 from Jonathan Schwartz, Sun executive vice-president for software, Sun is proposing its server system, Java Enterprise System, for use by IBM employees as well.

Schwartz said IBM in an internal memo challenged its own IT organization and all of the company to move to a Linux-based desktop before the end of 2005.

“Now we all know how rumours can take on a life of their own in the press, but nonetheless I applaud IBM’s efforts to reduce costs and complexity, and wanted to offer the benefit of Sun’s experience in making the migration,” Schwartz said.

Sun, he said, is not waiting for 2005 to migrate to a non-Microsoft desktop. Instead, Sun hopes to accomplish this by the summer with its Java Desktop System. The product set features the StarOffice productivity suite, Mozilla browser, Gnome windowing environment, and Linux.

Saying Sun’s desktop can save IBM “a ton of money,” Schwartz said the product is the “most popular Linux desktop on the market today.”

“To help IBM with your transition, we can offer a desktop for every one of your employees — with a free right to use the desktop at home — for US$50 (per) employee. Consider this a formal quote from Sun. But only if you’re willing to buy in volume,” Schwartz wrote.

Schwartz then goes on to make a similar proposal to have IBM use the Sun Enterprise System server software package for a US$100-per-employee yearly fee with a cap of US$12 million. The package features a directory, e-mail, calendaring, Web/portal/application server, and clustering on Sun’s Solaris OS.

Schwartz also questions IBM’s commitment to Linux, expressing disappointment that IBM refuses to resell Linux and indemnify customers for its use. He concludes the letter by saying he just does not understand IBM’s Linux strategy.

An IBM representative acknowledged existence of an internal memo pondering a switch to Linux for employees. “Our CIO is doing the work to investigate whether this makes sense for IBM,” IBM representative Trink Guarino said. There is no specific timeframe for any such move, she said.

As to whether IBM would ever consider utilizing Sun’s desktop and server products, Guarino said she did not know.

In regards to Sun’s comments pertaining to reselling Linux, Guarino said IBM works with Linux distributors to provide Linux for IBM customers.

As far as indemnification, Guarino added that IBM contributes to the Open Source Development Labs Inc. defence fund to protect any customers should they be sued by SCO for their use of Linux. IBM is being sued by SCO over Linux code.

Sun has been prone to issuing open letters lately. In December, the company questioned Microsoft Corp.’s plan to discontinue products featuring Java software. Last week, the company issued an open letter to the Eclipse open source tools consortium concerning unity in the Java world.

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