October 21, 2009
Most of the comments about IBM's release of a Linux desktop package have been about timing it to compete with Windows 7's release. Let's look at a slightly broader picture.
IBM Client for Smart Work, as this package is called, includes either Ubuntu or Red Hat Linux plus IBM's own Lotus Notes / Symphony / LotusLive solution mix. The obvious target is companies that are still mulling an upgrade to Windows 7 but might not need the entire feature mix and could easily have their needs satisfied by something less expensive.
In their words:
"If a company is a 'Windows shop,' at some point it will need to evaluate the significant costs of migrating its base to Microsoft's next desktop and bolstering its defenses against virus and other attacks," said Bob Picciano, general manager, IBM Lotus. "American businesses have asked for a compelling alternative and today we are delivering IBM Client for Smart Work in the U.S. Our goal is to help organizations free up desktop expenses to use in more strategic collaboration projects."
Part of me wonders what Windows shop worth its salt hasn't already evaluated those costs as part of the price of using Windows in the first place, just as they would need to evaluate the cost of switching away from Windows and into an IBM/Linux mix. But that's less about IBM than the clients they're trying to woo.
What I see here is IBM attempting to give Ubuntu (and Red Hat) that much more legitimacy as a managed desktop environment for business users. Novell has had SUSE, and IBM offers Open Client solutions for SUSE too, but to have IBM's weight behind the other two major Linux distributions out there is significant. It means, in theory, a shop looking to run Linux as a client system could pick any of those three and have IBM's app mix supported on all of them. It's that much more of a step towards Linux as something that exists in a predictable implementation, where you're not defeated or confounded by the array of choices available.
It's an open question how many established Windows shops are going to completely defect, though. I'd bet that they would start by putting a toe in the water and seeing how many of their clients they could switch first, without dumping their backend infrastructure (i.e., the nigh-irreplaceable Active Directory). Let's see how far they go -- and what bone Microsoft is willing to throw them to keep from doing that.
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