A Ray of Hope for Desktop Linux

Posted by: Steve Hamm on July 10, 2006

Linux has had a major impact on the server end of corporate computing, but, so, far not too much action on the desktop. The reasons are clear: Microsoft’s Windows and Office products totally dominate and its hard to compete with network effects. Desktop Linux has only a couple of percentage points of market share. I don’t see anything on the horizon that seems likely to change that, but, for Linux fans, here’s a ray of hope: IBM, one of the penguin’s biggest backers, is releasing a version of its Notes communications and collaboration software designed to run on Linux. Unless you have important applications running on Linux, you won’t have corporations adopting it en masse. And Notes, with 125 million users worldwide, qualifies as an important application.

IBM's release of Notes is interesting on its own, but, under the covers it signals a notable advance in the craft of writing software. The massive program was developed using the Eclipse programming framework, an open source project designed to make it easier, faster, and cheaper to create new software packages. Thanks to Eclipse, IBM was able to produce the Linux version of Notes in just one year--and nearly a year ahead of its original projections. But that's just the beginning of the savings. Eclipse allows IBM to maintain a single code base for Notes going forward for its Windows, Linux, and, soon, Macintosh versions. That means it, essentially, only has to maintain, patch, and upgrade one application. "We probably never would have made the investment in Notes for Linux if we didn't have this," says Danny Sabbah, general manager of IBM's Rational Software unit.

What are the prospects for Notes on Linux? It's likely to be a slow uptake. Even IBM itself still uses Windows on most of its PCs. IBM is putting some marketing muscle behind it, though. Under its "Migrate to the Penguin" program, Big Blue pays business partners and software resellers incentives of $20 per user, up to $20,000, for migrating customers from Microsoft Outlook/Exchange to Lotus Notes on Linux. It has signed up 100 partners for the initiative.

The Lotus business has been growing robustly recently, but analysts I talk to believe Outlook and Exchange have more momentum. IBM's best hope for making headway here is to appeal to companies that want to run their communications and collaboration software across the three major operating systems--rather than just on Windows. By itself, this initiative won't make desktop Linux into a hot seller, but it's another log on the fire.

Reader Comments


July 13, 2006 1:01 PM

The important thing is not whether people is running Linux, Windows, Mac OS X or any other operating systems you may think about.
The important thing is to run free software, Linux is free software, the GNU system is free software, most Linux distributions out there are mainly made of free software (although only one is 100% free software so far).
Free software is about freedom, not price. A free program should allow anyone to run it for any purpose, to study to see how it works and modify it if you want. To make copies, for your friends. To take the modified version and make copies for everybody. If you don't have those freedoms, it is not free software and as a user you are less free.
By making Lotus run on Linux IBM is not really helping free software. They are only making their product run in what is a better platform for them.
If they released the source code, under the GPL-license (a license for free software), then, that would be a huge step ahead and you'd have, in no time, Lotus for Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD and who knows what else (Minix, Hurd, Plan9, whatever).

More on http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-sw.html

Sanket Sharma

July 17, 2006 5:14 AM

I think it is an interesting move and one that I would like to watch. I think there are two big hurdles in enterprise wide adoption of Linux:

1.) I think most linux distributions are bulky, messy and far away from the experience that Windows users enjoy. Although, we are beginning to see this difference disappear (Suse and Ximian, ubuntoo), a major optimization effort is actually required to push Linux to enterprise.

2)Lack of enterprise quality software: What options do I have If I want to replace my Office suite with open source? Open office seems to be an alternative but I dont think any application comes close to MS Outlook. Evolution/Thunderbird are good for developers, but I think most users will stay away from them.

I would conclude by saying that the open source community should actually aim for improving and optimizing the user experience if it wants to replance/compete with MS Windows/Office.

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