For IBM, it's Linux on the desktop, take 2.
Big Blue on Monday announced software products designed to reduce PC software costs by running the same applications on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. The project grew out of the company's attempt to lower software costs through the use of Linux, said Scott Handy, vice president of Linux and open source at IBM.
The software, called the Open Client Offering, combines IBM's Lotus Notes and Sametime software for e-mail, calendar and messaging; WebSphere software for server-based applications; a special version of the open-source OpenOffice.org software suite; and Lotus Expeditor for hybrid applications that can run either when a computer is connected to the network or not.
The work sidesteps some of the thorniest issues of the long-promised but as-yet unfulfilled vision of using the Linux operating system on desktop computers. The open-source operating system is widely used on servers, but it's still a rarity on personal computers where Microsoft's Windows dominates--in part, because of the difficulty of moving a multitude of Windows programs to Linux.
To get around the issue, the Open Client Offering uses software that grew out of the IBM-launched Eclipse project called the Rich Client Platform (RCP). This package includes a "runtime" foundation that lets the same software run on multiple operating systems, presenting the application with a native look.
"One code base runs on Linux, Windows and the Mac," Handy said. "With the Eclipse RCP runtime, a Windows application is rendered with Win32 (the Windows interface). Linux is rendered in GNOME (one Linux interface). The Mac version looks like a Mac native application."
The technology is conceptually similar to Sun Microsystems' Java, which was launched under the "write once, run anywhere" tagline and which also incorporates a runtime component.
IBM rewrote the OpenOffice.org suite--a Microsoft Office competitor that includes a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package--as an Eclipse RCP plug-in, Handy said.
The software grew out of IBM's attempt in 2004 to move many of its own PCs to Linux, he said. With the Linux move, IBM had hoped to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO)--the cumulative costs of purchasing, supporting and running computing equipment--but instead found that costs rose because the company had to support two separate software suites for Windows and Linux.
"We determined that the TCO savings probably wouldn't materialize if you had to support both environments," Handy said. "We did a hard re-look at the whole thing."
Linux is still widely used on desktop computers within IBM, Handy said. Among those using it are employees at the Linux Technology Center, IBM operations in Brazil and India, Linux sales groups, and the China software development lab, he said. "We have big pockets of Linux users," Handy said.
IBM rewrote the Linux version of Lotus Notes 7 to use the RCP technology, and Windows will get it with version 8, due midyear, Handy said. The Mac OS X ability is scheduled to arrive by the end of the year, he added.