Lotus chief says 'no way' to Linux... for now

Jeff Papows, president and CEO of IBM's Lotus development corp. told ZDNet UK News this morning that it makes no sense to support Linux with its groupware product, Notes.
Written by Richard Barry, Contributor

Papows was giving a keynote speech at UK Technology Week and was asked if Lotus plans to support the freeware operating system that last week gained support from Netscape and Intel. "I'm torn on this." said Papows. "All my engineers tell me this is a sound platform and I'm a great believer in the [free] model Linux exists in. It's a great achievement with a certain amount of promise, but to me -- at this point in time -- I just cannot say Linux offers a viable proposition. There are so many Unix variations."

Papows' response will be a major dissapointment to the Linux movement which the Lotus chief described as 'flavour of the month' but, perhaps realising his statement would be scrutinised, did not rule out the possibility of a Notes for Linux next year. "We'll be looking at a point release for Notes by the middle of next year and who knows? But at the moment Linux is just too risky."

Notes has, up until recently, been the world's leading groupware product. 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.

Papows' flat refusal to include Linux in the Notes portfolio may be a short-term obstacle to corporate adoption, but Chris Lewis, Technical director of ZDNet UK, believes it is Lotus that stands to lose out. He said: "It's not in Lotus' interests not to port Notes [to Linux]. There is increasing support for it in the technical community and if you look at Germany for example, it is by far the most popular Unix flavour."

Meta Group analyst Ashim Pal agrees with Lewis' comments but remains unconvinced about Linux as a mainstream networking platform in the short term. Pal said: "I think Papows is about 100% right. If you look at Linux as a corporate technology there is not a single enterprise vendor supporting the product and there are no compelling benefits for spending millions of research dollars porting to a Notes product." Pal concedes that interest from Netscape, itself an aspiring groupware player, will do much to aid the Linux cause. "I'd say you're looking at about 2-3 years before Linux will be viable for most companies. Linux is a nice story -- a bit like the fabled Network Computer throwing off the Microsoft oppressors -- but in reality moving to it is too big a risk."

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