IBM thinks it may have finally found a better way to offer Linux on the desktop for corporate users.
For years, Linux backers have been saying it’s time for their favorite OS on the desktop because it saves money, bolsters security and offers open standards for corporate IT departments. But that time has never quite arrived, prompting IBM is to take a vastly different tack: an Open Client Offering software package that allows companies to deploy and use the same multi-platform applications on the operating system of their choice, be it Microsoft Windows, Linux or Macintosh OS X.
The idea, according to IBM, is that open-standards-based suite of applications will allow users to collaborate and work more efficiently while making life easier for corporate IT departments that won’t have to piece together disparate systems.
In an announcement Monday, IBM said the Open Client Offering package will allow companies to buy one application suite for e-mail, instant messaging, Web browsing, social networking and ODF-based productivity software for all of its users. “This is about access to office functionality from any client,” said Adam Jollans, IBM’s open-source and Linux strategy manager.
The company has been putting together similar packages for customers on a one-off basis, he said, and will now bring them together for all users.
The new offering was made possible because IBM has been building some of its most powerful collaboration products, including Lotus Notes and Sametime, with the Eclipse rich client development platform. Eclipse allows applications to be built once and then run across different operating systems where they behave like native applications, Jollans said.
“Everyone can use the same software clients, regardless of the operating system,” which provides greater interoperability, ease of use and easier deployments, he said.
As it has done in the past, IBM developed the new services through its internal use of the products over multiple operating systems, Jollans said. The internal IBM testing included running Lotus collaboration software products and other open-source applications on Red Hat Enterprise Linux Workstation, as well as on Windows and Macintosh computers.
“We’ve been battle-testing it inside IBM” for more than a year, he said. Some of the products in the Open Client Offering include:
— Lotus Notes e-mail and collaboration software.
— Lotus Sametime unified communications, instant messaging and and collaboration software.
— Websphere Portal 6.0 for building portal applications and services accessed with Web browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Apple Inc.’s Safari.
— Lotus Expeditor, an Eclipse-based Rich Client Platform for deploying applications across the IBM and Lotus portfolio.
One reason behind the offering is that some corporate customers have been eyeing Microsoft’s Vista operating system and aren’t ready to commit to the hardware upgrades or replacements it will require, Jollans said. “With Vista, the hardware requirements will go up,” he said. But with the new IBM software, customers can more easily continue to use their existing hardware and operating systems, he said.
“I think this is about opening up the clients and giving more flexibility and choice to customers,” Jollans said.
Analysts have varying views on the announcement.
Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said that despite the promise of a one-size-fits-all approach to the Eclipse-based applications from IBM, the products won’t likely bring about any big corporate migration to Linux on the desktop. “Will there be a customer here or there?” he asked. “Sure, but the more likely solution I see is a switch to a thin client, whether the back end is Linux or Windows.”
The main problem with lingering ideas about Linux on the desktop, Haff said, is that “at the end of the day, there tend to end up being ‘gotchas’ when you leave Windows. The problem is a combination of a lack of business applications and drivers, he said. “Yes, there’s a lot available but as soon as you run into an issue, the IT dollar costs can start going up pretty quickly.
“This may fit here and there,” Haff said, “but it’s really looking at the desktop through the lens of the past.”
Dana Gardner, an analyst with Interarbor Solutions LLC of Gilford, N.H., disagreed, saying the IBM offering could have promise for businesses that want more choice of user operating systems. “I don’t think this is tilting at windmills,” he said. “I think there are more reasons for considering a rich-client platform rather than a particular platform” like Windows, Linux or Macintosh.”If you focus on the applications rather than the operating system, that’s a choice that’s still there. The pain of switching has been relieved” because the applications can run on any of the operating systems.
“I don’t think it’s going to sweep the market,” he said, but it will help companies that want to leverage their existing hardware and simplify their IT infrastructures. “It’s about finding productivity and being able to manage heterogeneity.”
Later this year, the Open Client will include new versions of e-mail and messaging, social software and team collaboration software that will ship with the upcoming Lotus Notes 8, Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr applications, according to IBM. The IBM Open Client is available immediately, with pricing depending on customer requirements.