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IBM Pushes Client-Side Linux With $100M

IBM plans to invest $100 million over three years to support the development of Workplace technologies for Linux users, officials said Thursday.

The initiative is the latest effort to garner ISV adoption of the Armonk, N.Y., company's hardware and software technology on the Linux platform.

Big Blue is now building a Linux ISV program around its Workplace suite, a collection of collaboration applications for the enterprise, such as instant messaging, e-mail, Web conferencing and document management.

The applications themselves reside on a server, with users logging into that server through a Web browser to gain access to the programs. The goal is to get developers to create end-user applications that can be plugged into the Workplace model. For example, IBM's Chiphopper program announced this week is a similar move to create more of these apps on its server platform.

"Up until recently, there's been a limited opportunity to do much on the desktop because the deployment of clients kind of lagged behind the deployment of servers from a Linux perspective," said Art Fontaine, IBM senior marketing manager, adding that most of the company's Linux support has focused on the server end.

Many customers, he said, are interested in a move away from other platforms to Linux, but are hesitant to do so until there is end-to-end support and products.

"They're telling us they need us to have the products before they can consider a move to Linux for either part of their organization or, in some cases, the whole organization," he said. "But they're also looking at us for leadership to show the market, in statements like this [announcement], the real monetary investment is there to support an open source or Linux strategy on their part. Nobody wants to be out there doing it all alone."

IBM's Workplace, WebSphere Portal and Lotus Domino platforms are already Linux-enabled, Fontaine said, and in 2004 they saw double-digit growth in deployments, which prompted officials to lay down $100 million on the technology.

Fontaine said the lion's share of the money will go to ISV support -- research, testing, marketing and sales -- but some of it will also go to fund the ecosystem surrounding that support, like IBM's integration and development centers around the world.

Despite a recent report by the research firm Radicati, which finds that Microsoft's corporate e-mail Exchange platform will maintain its dominance in the enterprise because of IBM's strategy to migrate existing Lotus users onto the Workplace platform, Fontaine said there's genuine interest in building end-to-end applications on the Linux platform.

"We did take share away from Microsoft last year and we are doing so both with our Lotus Domino product line, as well as the emerging Lotus Workplace line," he said. "With this announcement, we're being responsive to what the customers are asking us to do, which is to give them the software they need for their own strategies, which involve Linux on the desktop."