IBM pushes into Africa with Ubuntu alliance

Canonical and IBM have teamed up to provide businesses in emerging markets with an office suite that works on-premise and in the cloud
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

IBM and Canonical have released a software package for Linux netbooks and thin clients, in a bid to push IBM's office productivity suite in emerging markets such as Africa.

The IBM Client for Smart Work package, announced on Wednesday, includes Lotus email, word processing, spreadsheet, unified communications and social networking applications, among others. All the applications are based on open standards and run on Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution, and the package can also plug into IBM's LotusLive cloud-collaboration services.

"Businesses in emerging markets are looking to gain the freedom and flexibility afforded by open standards," IBM Lotus chief Bob Picciano said in a statement. "The IBM Client for Smart Work builds on the movement toward open standards and web-based personal computing by giving people the power to work smarter, regardless of device."

Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth said in the same statement that the package would help his company "realise our vision of eliminating barriers to computer access for emerging markets".

The companies intend to find local business partners to distribute the package across Africa, but only one — South Africa's Inkululeko — has been announced. The US systems integrator ZSL is also working with IBM and Canonical to distribute the bundle.

Inkululeko is also offering the ability to extend the package's capabilities to virtualised desktops, using software from Virtual Bridges.

Peter Woodward, who manages Canonical's relationship with IBM, said that the Client for Smart Work package could be either premise-based or cloud-based — a reflection of the fact that, in many emerging markets such as Africa, "the [telecommunications] infrastructure is not there yet to support a robust cloud environment".

"Our partners will offer premise-based alternatives to Windows desktops [where the infrastructure is there] and, in areas where the infrastructure does allow for cloud-based solutions, we would work with the business partners to enable those," Woodward said.

According to IBM, the use of the Open Document Format (ODF) standard makes desktops using the new package cost around half as much per seat as Microsoft-based desktops, based on administration, licensing and maintenance costs.

The actual cost of the package remains unclear. Ubuntu itself is free, but the Lotus applications are not. LotusLive subscriptions will cost users at least $10 (£6) per month. The local business partners — who will be the main point of contact for customers — are also likely to charge fees for architecture, design and support, Woodward said.

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