Just four weeks after Jeff Papows, CEO of IBM's Lotus Development, told ZDNet UK News that it made no sense to support Linux, Lotus is gearing up to port to SmartSuite and Notes/Domino suites to the free operating system.
In a move that will be welcomed by the growing Linux community, Lotus has announced that it plans to port its SmartSuite and Notes/Domino application suites to Linux after all. It also plans to make SmartSuite open-source.
Papows told ZDNet UK News that he was "torn" on the idea of Notes for Linux at UK Technology Week in early October. He said: "I just cannot say Linux offers a viable proposition. There are so many Unix variations." In his keynote speech, the Lotus chief only hinted that that the company was considering looking at a point release for Notes by the middle of next year.
But Lotus is now forming a team to look at porting SmartSuite and Notes/Domino to Linux with the likelihood of releasing products in 1999, according to Michael Zisman, executive vice president of strategy at Lotus. The move is in direct response to market demand for the increasingly popular operating environment, according to Zisman.
A native Linux version of the software would represent a major coup for Linux, which is becoming increasingly prominent in the IT departments of large organisations and is seen by some as a potential threat to Microsoft's Windows NT.
But Meta Group analyst Ashim Pal believes Lotus' investment in Linux is nothing more than a hedge. "Frankly, Lotus has enough on its plate -- like trying to get Domino 5.0 out the door -- and Linux is a distraction. It would be big mistake for the company to re-route its efforts towards Linux. I'd be surprised if people did not look at Linux but, relative to other major projects, I do not believe Lotus is investing an huge amount of money."
Pal claims that, while Linux has the potential to be an enterprise operating system, it's early days yet. "Firstly, if you're buying an operating system, you want to know who the hell you're buying it from. Linux has an uncertain parentage and there are critical areas for the enterprise customer such as support that remain unresolved."
The popularity of Linux is steadily growing. Red Hat, which offers packaged Linux software, tools and books to users world-wide, has around 50 percent of market share among users of the operating system. Netscape and Intel are developing products using Red Hat's Linux distribution as are many other large software companies.
However, Pal believes that large organisation will take the pragmatic, not the purists approach. "If I am a multinational -- am I going to trust enterprise systems to a tiny Linux company, or will I be pragmatic and opt for an operating system that has universal support? Linux does have benefits, such as scalability, but the risks outweigh that."
Meta Group predicts that it will be about 2 to 3 years before Linux will be viable for most companies.