Is the IBM Client for Smart Work an alternative to 7 for schools?

Is the IBM Client for Smart Work an alternative to 7 for schools?

Summary: Windows 7 looks like a genuinely good OS. Reasonable system requirements, high levels of usability and stability...

SHARE:

Windows 7 looks like a genuinely good OS. Reasonable system requirements, high levels of usability and stability...What's not to like? Well, the price, of course. Volume educational licensing runs around $70 a seat for Windows 7 Professional upgrades. Then there's the actual upgrade process. Major rollouts (like new operating systems, enterprise-wide) are mighty disruptive during a school year.

However, upgrades are eventually inevitable. We can't keep using Windows XP forever, right? (Right?) In many cases, Windows 7 will filter into organizations via new equipment. For schools, upgrades, whether hardware or software tend to happen over breaks, so we have a while to think about exactly how we want to move on from Windows XP or Vista (or if we even do). IBM and Canonical, though, are asking if that upgrade path really needs to involve Windows at all.

The IBM Client for Smart Work (ICSW) is a combination of IBM Lotus-branded productivity software (either client- or cloud-based), Ubuntu Linux, and IBM's cloud storage solutions. I initially highlighted this a few weeks ago when the company rolled it out in Africa, asking

Is this another nail in OLPC’s coffin or will their innovative designs and potential advancements in 1:1 pedagogy be enough for them to be a player in this field? We’ll watch the education space carefully now that cheap, Linux-powered netbooks are becoming mainstream instead of a novelty from American academics.

Not surprisingly, IBM and Canonical saw a market for this in the States as Thursday's Windows 7 release has everyone thinking migration. Why migrate to Windows, though, when your client machines can run Ubuntu with its regular, straight-forward updates, your users can store their data in IBM's robust cloud, and IBM's productivity and groupware software (also with regular updates, some of which are transparent on the cloud-based apps) are thrown into the mix?

IBM claims lower prices and lower TCO, an all-around easier software maintenance regime, superior groupware solutions, and solid cloud integration. In education, I'd buy everything except the lower TCO, since not only can we leverage educational pricing from Microsoft, but schools with a Microsoft infrastructure already in place have relatively easy management (and therefore, relatively low TCO). As Ars Technica points out,

There seem to be a lot of potential cost-saving opportunities for companies that adopt Linux and Web-based cloud productivity services, but the relative cost of a Windows 7 migration might not be as steep as IBM wants customers to believe.

It isn't clear exactly what the cost of these services bundled together would be. Right now, they are custom-packaged for businesses and no educational pricing has been posted (or mentioned). I'll post responses from IBM when I hear back regarding their educational vision, if it even exists.

What is clear is that LotusLive is a really robust solution for communicating, meeting, collaborating, and sharing in the cloud. Lotus Symphony (their version of OpenOffice) is a perfectly adequate, free productivity suite. Ubuntu 9.10 is a highly competitive OS. There are a lot of interesting things you can already do in IBM's test cloud (this isn't for the faint of heart yet - read the directions). All of this can even be delivered virtually. A version of ICSW based on Ubuntu 8.04 can even be downloaded here.

Microsoft obviously also has a few tricks up its sleeves with compelling cloud-based and on-premises services, as well as a really likable OS. Google, for its part, is giving away its really usable Apps to schools, which, when combined with Chrome, make the Windows underneath largely irrelevant for many users.

So what does all this mean? I don't know if ICSW is a real alternative for schools given that their educational pricing (if it exists) isn't clear. What I do know, however, is that there are now three potential competitors in the desktop-augmented-with-cloud-services space that could all serve educational needs well. Google Apps for Education, Microsoft Live@Edu/OutlookLive/Live Web Apps, and the IBM Client for Smart Work. I just love the smell of competition.

Topics: Operating Systems, Banking, IBM, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Software, Windows

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

7 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Thoughts

    "IBM and Canonical, though, are asking if that upgrade path really needs to involve Windows at all."

    Umm - dare I ask why large industries are allowed to influence education?

    "Why migrate to Windows, though, when your client machines can run Ubuntu "

    Because I don't need to deal with any migration headaches from changing OSes rather than merely upgrading an existing OS.

    "with its regular, straight-forward updates,"

    More straightforward than automatic updates? Every OS, be it Windows, Mac OS, or Linux, has an automatic update system.

    "your users can store their data in IBM?s robust cloud"

    Well, clouds are everywhere these days. That's not saying much.

    Basically, you listed things everybody has. Why switch to IBM?

    "IBM claims lower prices and lower TCO"

    Everybody does. Proof is in the pudding, not in the claims.

    Same with all of the other claims they list.

    "is a perfectly adequate, free productivity suite."

    "adequate?"

    Not exactly the most encouraging description.

    "Ubuntu 9.10 is a highly competitive OS."

    Yes, compared to other *nixes it is quite competitive.

    "(this isn?t for the faint of heart yet - read the directions)"

    Umm - education system, hello? Most students are still novices, still learning the ropes, and you want to shove something that "isn?t for the faint of heart" on them?

    Honestly, it looks like a big business solution, not really something that's designed to be shoehorned into an educational environment. No, the students are not your employees. They are your customers.

    "make the Windows underneath largely irrelevant for many users."

    Right. Many != most. And frankly, all we have to support that claim that has been re-hashed a gazillion times is occasional anecdotes. Most from ABMers with an axe to grind.

    If OSes are truly irrelevant, why switch to any OS from another, including from Windows to Linux?

    Supposedly OS doesn't matter, so it doesn't matter if you stay with Windows, RIGHT?

    *OR* do OSes really matter somehow?

    When people claim that "everybody should switch to *nix, it's better" and in the same breath claim "well, OS doesn't matter," frankly that seems totally contradictory.

    Either the OS doesn't really matter (therefore there is no reason to switch to another OS) or it does (something about the other OS makes it better).

    "I just love the smell of competition."

    This I'll agree with :).

    In the end, choose the right tool for the job, and don't forget your audience!
    CobraA1
    • If OSes are irrrelevant, than price IS relevant

      "If OSes are truly irrelevant, why switch to any OS from another, including from Windows to Linux?"

      Chris answers that quite well at the beginning of his article: "What?s not to like? Well, the price, of course. Volume educational licensing runs around $70 a seat for Windows 7 Professional upgrades."

      Unlike businesses, schools do NOT make money. Therefore, they need to get the most effective educational tools for the least amount of money. And if that means migrating to something different, then that's what should be done.

      mheartwood
    • RE: Is the IBM Client for Smart Work an alternative to 7 for schools?

      @CobraA1
      the best thing you said here is the last sentence....and maybe the third one too....
      flexing
  • What about new types of human-machine interfaces?

    I think that sometimes people think that all that there is to computing these days is the web. It does go beyond this and I do think that Microsoft is building compelling functionality into Windows. We now have incredible inking and multi-touch interfaces in Windows. Think of the things that math, science and art students can do with this type of technology.

    The web and the cloud are not the end of technical evolution and innovation and there are other factors that will push computing into more and more spaces new ways of interacting with machines beyond the keyboard and the mouse.

    This is good not only for Microsoft but for all as our economy looks for new ways to grow, new products and services and new jobs.
    Heatlesssun
  • You will see more innovation in the Linux environment...


    You won't see it with Microsoft unless they copy it off of somebody else, and then they won't make it accessible to you... unless they can charge you an extra nickel for it.

    bbneo
    • But Jobs will make it sleek and friendly

      I love my Linux and FreeBSD systems. They run nicely. And if one looks at Microsoft's past, the vast majority of their great products, windows included, were ideas stolen from competitors. And they've managed to do all right with it.

      But no one makes it sleeker, easier to use, and friendlier than Jobs and his crew. Too bad he charges a premium for it.
      mheartwood
  • Good, but..

    IBM is well known for being nearly as expensive, if not more so, than Microsoft. How much is this offering going to cost? As a small web-based business I would not mind a situation like this if the price was right, but if I'm going to end up paying out the behind in licenses for Lotus Notes, then I might as well just stick with Microsoft Office or use Google Apps instead.
    wayne62682