IBM Puts Notes on The Linux Desktop

IBM  has been a huge Linux backer since 1998. Yet despite its love of the penguin, Big Blue’s Lotus Notes product has never fully supported a standalone client for the Linux desktop. That is, until now.

Why has it taken so long for IBM to support the Linux desktop for Notes users? The answer is fundamentally about demand, opportunity and ultimately, money.

IBM has certainly leveraged Linux for Lotus Notes in the past but never in a complete way for the Linux desktop.

In 2002, IBM actually made a massive Linux commitment to Lotus Notes by moving the application that monitors server performance for its worldwide Lotus Notes e-mail system to Linux. At the time, the system supported 300,000 users.

In 2003, Big Blue unveiled Linux client support for its Lotus iNotes Web Access software support. More recently, in 2005 at LinuxWorld San Francisco, IBM announced a plug-in that would integrate Lotus Notes and Domino into IBM’s Managed Workplace Client, which can run on Linux. Yet in all that time, IBM developed a real standalone Lotus Notes client for the Linux desktop.

“This is the big one,” Arthur Fontaine, senior offering manager at IBM Lotus, told “This is the actual Lotus Notes client running on Linux. We’ve actually had the server running on Linux since 1998 and we’ve had our Web interface supporting Linux since 2004.”

Fontaine explained that the difference between the new Lotus Notes client for Linux and the one announced at LinuxWorld in 2005 is really about the personality of the actual code.

“Instead of requiring that you buy and install Workplace Managed Client we’re using the Workplace Managed Client technology to add a no charge Linux alternative to a current Notes license,” Fontaine said.

“So when you install, the Workplace Managed Client technology goes in underneath as the framework supporting it, but the only thing that has surfaced for you is the Notes personality,” Fontaine added.

Fontaine admitted that he has personally been “hammered” for the last several years at Linux and Lotus Notes conferences on the issue of when a client would be available for the Linux desktop. Though demand has been growing, there has been at least one significant hurdle that could not easily be overcome: cost.

“When we first looked into this, and believe me, I’ve kicked off processes to look at this for the last three or four years, the expense involved in creating a new port of Lotus Notes for a new operating system versus the opportunity for revenue enhancement has just not been there,” Fontaine said.

Thanks to the Eclipse Framework, cost is less of an issue. The next version of Lotus Notes, codenamed “Hannover,”  is an Eclipse-based product and is expected to provide a Windows, Mac and Linux version in the same install executable.

“We’re going to move to a pure Eclipse-based Notes client starting with the next feature release,” Fontaine explained. “What we’re doing here is making a down payment on that because the Eclipse capability is now rich and stable enough where we can actually make a shipping product based on it.”

Though accurate numbers are hard to come by, there is little doubt that Linux desktop deployments are only in the single digit territory now. One of the factors, according to Fontaine, that will help expedite the growth of the Linux desktop, is the availability of mission-critical applications like the Lotus Notes client for the Linux desktop.

Fontaine expects that most users of the new Linux version are people who run Windows but are looking into a Linux desktop strategy.

“So there is no incremental revenue opportunity for us from those people; they already have a license,” Fontaine said. “We expect it will help to grow the market for Linux desktops in the enterprise.”

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