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IBM Unveils Linux Push For Desktop PCs, SMB Appliances

But deals with PC makers aren't ready. Will the channel buy the idea of 'Microsoft-free' PCs?

Linux

The announcements, made at the LinuxWorld show in San Francisco, also included plans to sell pre-configured Linux "appliances" for SMBs and a new package of Linux-based software for supercomputers.

IBM executives called the desktop the last bastion of proprietary technology -- a not-so-subtle reference to Microsoft -- and acknowledged that Linux has been slow to catch on in that arena. The relative dearth of Linux-based desktop applications and its poor reputation for user friendliness have hindered its acceptance for personal computing, said Inna Kuznetsova, IBM's Linux director, in a press conference.

She said the steps unveiled Tuesday are designed to help overcome those hurdles. "Linux has always been about choice," Kuznetsova said. "We're providing a well-recognized alternative for the desktop."

IBM's plan to work with the leading Linux distributors: Canonical/Ubuntu, Novell and Red Hat to make Linux more widely available on desktop PCs is perhaps of greatest interest to the channel. Kuznetsova noted that people tend to use the software that comes pre-loaded on the PCs they buy. And until now that has given Microsoft an obvious advantage.

Under the plan IBM and the Linux distributors would bundle Linux with IBM Lotus' Open Collaboration Client Solution that includes Lotus Notes, Lotus Symphony and Lotus Sametime. Those bundles will then be offered to PC makers to sell with their desktop products. The goal is to have such products sometime in 2009.

But no deals with specific PC makers were announced Tuesday: IBM executives said agreements with those vendors were still in the works. And Kuznetsova acknowledged that adoption of "Microsoft-free" personal computers won't happen overnight and she did not offer sales projections for the plan.

For the SMB market IBM said it would offer Linux appliances based on its Lotus Foundations line that incorporate a pre-configured version of Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10. The appliance will be targeted at the market now dominated by Microsoft's Small Business Server package, said Jeff Smith, IBM vice president of Linux and open source.

The self-managing Lotus Foundation products, unveiled at the Lotusphere conference earlier this year, are designed for companies with five to 500 employees. The new Linux appliances will include a toolkit for Lotus Foundation ISVs to adapt their applications for Linux. Like the rest of the Lotus Foundation line, the new appliances will likely be sold mostly through channel partners.

"SMB is really promising over the next 10 years," said Bob Sutor, IBM vice president of open source and standards, talking about the potential for Linux sales. Kuznetsova also touted Linux's potential for "green computing" initiatives such as server consolidation and reducing power consumption.

On the enterprise level, IBM released its first certified package of Linux-based software for supercomputers. The pre-configured IBM HPC Open Software Stack makes it easier to deploy Linux applications running on clusters of servers linked together for high-performance computing tasks. IBM also announced a new version of its z/VM mainframe operating system that will allow customers running Linux on System z to add extra memory for sharing across virtual servers.

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