IBM to Launch MS Office for Linux

As part of its initiative to put Linux on the desktop, IBM Corp. wants to migrate Microsoft Corp.’s Office suite to Linux. Microsoft said it’s not involved and suggests that IBM might do it by emulation.

For several years, the Linux operating system has been part of IBM’s explicit strategy. So far, we’ve mostly seen server-side solutions. Now, IBM is going for the desktop.

Many Linux users would prefer to run both Microsoft’s Office suite and IBM’s Lotus Notes. This is actually possible, using so-called emulation. Companies such as U.S.-based Codeweavers offer such products. But this will not give you applications that are actually compiled for Linux.

Stefan Pettersson, technical manager for IBM’s Lotus division in Sweden, said that there will be a Java client of Lotus Notes some time during the second half of 2004. This means that the first “native” Notes client to run under Linux will soon be available.

However, the ubiquitous desktop software package is Microsoft Office, even inside IBM. So there are no plans to abandon Office. To the contrary.

“The Office package is very good. If there’s anything from Microsoft that shines, that’s it. Frankly, we choose to port all our solutions to Office,” said Pettersson.

Also, Microsoft is one of IBM’s largest and most important partners. Still, promoting the Microsoft Office package might seem incompatible with IBM’s Linux strategy. But that’s not so, said Pettersson.

“It will be possible to run the Office package on the Linux platform. Exactly how it’s done, I can’t reveal right now. But we’re working together with Microsoft, who have provided us with part of their code. We’ve worked together like that previously.”

Pettersson is referring to IBM’s porting of Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail client to the Domino server system, which was made possible using code from Microsoft. The reason was that Domino is a major player in e-mail.

Jonas Persson, Microsoft sales director for development tools, denies that Microsoft is collaborating with IBM about the Office suite.

According to him, there can be no porting of Office to Linux. More likely is that an emulation version is being developed.

“I am sure IBM is looking at different solutions. That’s good, we encourage evaluations,” said Persson.

IBM might consider Sun Microsystems Inc.’s StarOffice as an alternative, since StarOffice already runs under Linux. However, this is not on the horizon now.

“It suits us fine that Microsoft and Sun fight about office application suites. We stay away from that. The reason we don’t collaborate with Sun is that they’re too small,” said Pettersson.

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