IBM, Linux and the Microsoft-Free PC

IBM is expanding its Linux solution set today with a new initiative together with Red Hat, Novell and Ubuntu for Microsoft-free PCs.

After 10 years of supporting Linux, IBM (NYSE: IBM) continues to challenge Microsoft on multiple fronts and aims to push Linux even further into the enterprise. While IBM has competed and partnered with Microsoft over the last two decades, the Microsoft-free PC effort is perhaps its most direct assault yet.

“The idea of Microsoft-free personal computing has been in the air for a while,” Inna Kuznetsova, director of Linux at IBM, told “We’re just partnering with Linux distribution vendors and hardware vendors to make it happen.”

The Microsoft-free PC effort involves the Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), Novell (NASDAQ: NOVL) and Ubuntu Linux distributions in a broad effort to displace Microsoft technologies. Kuznetsova declined to comment on the financial details that IBM has determined with its partners at this point, but she was clear on what IBM’s role in the initiative will be.

“Our role is more on evangelizing and providing the necessary software for corporate needs,” she said. “I think the need for alternatives to the Microsoft-dominated personal computing environment are there.”

Kuznetsova commented that she’s heard customers tell IBM that they have saved money by moving to a Linux desktop and away from Microsoft. As part of the Microsoft-free PC effort, IBM will ship preloaded versions of Lotus Notes, Lotus Symphony and Lotus Sametime with each of the participating Linux distributions.

IBM is also taking aim at Microsoft’s installed base in the small-business market as well with a new independent software vendor (ISV) appliance toolkit.

“We’re providing the toolkit to ISVs who will work with mid-market and small customers and allow them to package their applications with Linux and the necessary middleware,” Kuznetsova explained.

The idea behind the toolkit is to allow mid-market ISVs and users to avoid the details of Linux installation and to just get an easy-to-install appliance that they can run.

“We’re viewing this as an alternative to the Microsoft Small Business Server group of products,” Kuznetsova commented. “Rather than talk about virtualization technology for an appliance, we’re talking about something that is simple and has a small footprint,” she said, adding that the product could even run from a USB stick.

Open source stack

In addition to targeting Microsoft, IBM is also expanding its High Performance Computing (HPC) offerings for Linux with a new open source stack. The stack includes the Extreme Cluster Administration Toolkit (xCAT) used for managing HPC clusters.

“A lot of IT shops lack the experience to quickly deploy a Linux-based cluster,” Kuznetsova said. “By making this software stack available we’re trying to make cluster deployment faster.”

IBM is also bolstering its Linux middleware solutions with the latest release of its Websphere Community Edition (CE) version 2.1, which is based on the Apache Geronimo Web server. Since Websphere CE’s initial release it has been downloaded more than 1.3 million times. The latest release offers new usability and configuration functionality.

“One of the new features is that it allows you to build custom servers,” Kuznetsova explained. “So users will only have the components that are necessary for running their particular application, and this adds tremendously to the agility and flexibility of the system,” she said. “There are also additional server monitoring tools included and overall deployment and system management has been streamlined.”

In addition to all the Linux news IBM is announcing, Kuznetsova herself is also celebrating an anniversary of her own. It was a little more than a year ago that she took over the top Linux executive job at IBM from Scott Handy. By and large she noted that things have gone well for her and IBM’s Linux initiative, though at least one thing did surprise her.

“I think what I was surprised at the most is how far Linux gets into the datacenter, how deep it gets and how complex the projects are that customers implement, Kuznetsova said, adding that many of them wouldn’t be possible without Linux.

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