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IBM Linux-OpenOffice Desktop offering - history repeating

My colleague, Paula Rooney, recently posted IBM launches first Linux-OpenOffice desktop with virtualization features that pointed out that IBM is having a go at pushing Microsoft's Windows off of corporate desktops once again. Although the technology is different this time around, the concept is the same.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor on

My colleague, Paula Rooney, recently posted IBM launches first Linux-OpenOffice desktop with virtualization features that pointed out that IBM is having a go at pushing Microsoft's Windows off of corporate desktops once again. Although the technology is different this time around, the concept is the same. "What are you talking about?" I can hear some of you saying. Do you remember OS/2? How about the OS/2-based product "Workplace on Demand?"

What's IBM doing?

This time, IBM is building it's desktop operating system based upon Linux, OpenOffice and KVM, one of the two virtual machine technologies that are part of the Linux kernel. This, IBM hopes, will provide a stable, secure and easy-to-use operating system that could replace Microsoft products in its customer's offices. OpenOffice can handle the job of replacing a good deal of Microsoft's personal productivity software while Linux handles the job of replacing Windows XP.

Having used that combination on one of my desktop systems for the last several years, I have to agree that it is certainly a viable alternative that will meet the requirements of many organizations.

Why replace XP?

Well, it's pretty clear that many organizations have decided not to go to Visita and are sticking with Windows XP for the time being. Although Windows XP has its limits, it's good enough to get by.

Most organizations, after all, are in the business of offering products and services that will appeal to their customers not purchasing and upgrading operating systems. If an operating system either won't do what these organizations want or merely is perceived as not doing what they want, they'll continue to use their current software rather than go through an expensive and time-consuming upgrade process.

Another point is that the IT executives remember upgrading to Windows ME and don't want to go there again.

Why is IBM doing this?

The folks at IBM have a long memory. They remember working with Microsoft on a replacement for Windows 3.1 that came to market under the name OS/2. They remember Microsoft telling everyone that OS/2 was strategic and then going out and developing Windows NT rather than continuing the partnership.

At the time, OS/2 was better than Windows 3.X in many important ways. It was more stable, more reliable and a better platform for complex business applications. Microsoft's marketing beat IBM's on every front and OS/2 didn't succeed as IBM had invisioned. Part of the reason for this failure was Microsoft never ported Office or many other of its mainstream tools to OS/2.

To help OS/2 remain viable as Microsoft's personal productivity software became THE standard, IBM invested millions in adding a Windows compatibility mode to OS/2 that allowed the operating system to be "a better Windows than Windows" (in IBM's marketing messages at the time).

Workplace on Demand

Later, they used OS/2 to build what could be considered a very early implementation of desktop virtualization and desktop cloud computing. IBM called this "Workplace on Demand." Nearly all of the things that today's desktop cloud computing suppliers are touting and new features were there in this early product. A user authenticated him/herself by logging onto the network and whatever operating system and application software they used would be streamed down the network to the device they were then using.  It was and still is a powerful concept. In spite of the technical excellence of this product, it, too, died an ignominious death at the hands of Microsoft's marketing machine and Windows NT.

What's new this time?

In the view of many, Microsoft has handled two industry inflections badly making them more vulnerable than before - the transition from Windows XP to Windows Vista and the transition from physical desktop environments to virtual desktop environments.

I won't go into great depth about what problems Visita is perceived to have. My colleages here at ZDnet have done a wonderful job of discussing them. Many organizations have decided to hang onto Windows XP until they can find a better desktop platform.

Microsoft's business terms and conditions have been seen as an impediment for organizations to overcome when they embark on the journey to a more virtualized environment. As Micrsoft fleshes out Hyper-V, it is beginning to understand why its customers were complaining. Now, Microsoft is s l o w l y working to adjust its T's and C's to allow organizations to do the things they wanted to do in the first place.

Any time a supplier is seen as an impediment, rightly or wrongly, it can mean that organizations will show them the egress at the first convenient opportunity.

Snapshot Analysis

IBM is hoping that this is the right time to take back some of its former glory. They remember when Lotus 1-2-3 was the biggest thing in spreadsheets and the IBM PC was the envy of every office staff member. They want those times to return.

We'll have to see if this will work.

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