IBM delivers an open desktop

Client software will support Linux, Windows and eventually Mac, but scant details prompt more questions

IBM has developed an open desktop product that supports a range of applications, such as email and instant messaging, without the need to run Microsoft Windows.

On Sunday, IBM announced details of its Open Client solution. It incorporates a range of applications, some from IBM's Lotus family, and runs on the two major strands of corporate Linux, Red Hat and Suse, as well as Microsoft Windows and, soon, the Apple Mac.

Software supported includes:

  • Lotus Notes email and collaboration software
  • Lotus Sametime software for unified communication, collaboration and instant messaging
  • WebSphere Portal 6.0 for building portal applications and services, which offers a common access point for different browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari
  • Lotus Expeditor, which uses the open-source, Eclipse-based Rich Client Platform (RCP) for deploying composite applications or business "mashups" for online and offline use

According to IBM, this combination of software and services is aimed exclusively at business users for the moment, although the company said it was aiming to gain widespread acceptance. It argues that the Open Client will cut the cost of running Linux or Apple, versus Windows.

The long-term aim is to appeal to users of any operating system, according to IBM's Adam Jollans, the open-source and Linux marketing strategist.

"What is clear now is that the underlying operating system is becoming less and less important," Jollans told ZDNet UK. "So if you want to use Linux or something else, that is fine. It is a mixed world and companies want to use a bit of this and some of that. Whatever fits the job."

Jollens could not talk about specific customers but said that IBM has developed the software through a long internal development process that involved "around 100 customers". The company says it is one of "the largest corporate deployments of Linux ever", Jollens said.

But a reaction from some was muted, with one analyst suggesting it was a case of "better late than never".

"We were getting anxious enterprise inquiries back in 1997, asking about IBM support for the Lotus stack," said James Governor of analysts Red Monk. "Now 10 years later IBM has an offering but no immediate customer names."

Although Governor said that he felt the announcement was an "interesting" move from IBM, he added that "it seems it raises a lot of questions".

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