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IBM, Ubuntu Unveil Microsoft-Free 'PC'

IBM is taking another step forward in its bid to undercut Microsoft's dominance on the PC.

Together with Ubuntu Linux backer Canonical, Big Blue is now rolling out a virtual desktop solution that delivers IBM Lotus software to users.

The new solution includes a Ubuntu desktop with IBM Lotus applications, delivered via a Linux virtual desktop infrastructure from vendor Virtual Bridges. The applications come by way of the Open Collaboration Client Solution software (OCCS) and include IBM Lotus Symphony, Lotus Notes and other Lotus applications.

The Linux-based virtual desktop marks the first product announcement from the IBM-led Microsoft-Free PC effort that it announced at LinuxWorld in October. IBM argues that in today's economy, the desire for enterprises to have full functionality and lower cost is driving the move to PCs free of Microsoft software.

Microsoft did not return request for comment by press time.

The offering isn't an entirely open source solution, IBM said, but it's designed to appeal to customers weighing functionality, price and support -- regardless of licensing.

"It is an open standards solution. It includes components that are open source and it includes components which are not open source," Inna Kuznetsova, director of Linux at IBM, told InternetNews.com. "We think the market today has shifted from the being either totally open or closed."

Kuznetsova argued that for some of IBM's customers, open source may be an important part of their strategy. However, she added that she often hears that focusing on open standards can help facilitate choice among users.

But can it save money?

IBM claims its new virtual desktop solution is cheaper than a Microsoft-based solution -- cost savings that it believes will drive users away from Microsoft and toward Linux.

Kuznetsova explained that everyone is looking to cut costs in the current economy and the Linux virtual desktop is an effort to help them save. In her view, virtualization in particular can help enterprises realize savings by using less energy through server consolidation and better storage utilization.

"The Linux desktop already provides great savings compared to a Microsoft desktop," Kuznetsova said. "In a nutshell, we think that the Linux desktop is a great step toward saving in this economy and using a virtual desktop really increases the customers' possibility to save."

Though IBM is claiming that the Linux virtual desktop is a cheaper alternative to Microsoft-based solutions, Kuznetsova was unable to provide exact pricing for the total IBM Linux virtual desktop offering.

She explained that IBM is still in the process of finalizing arrangements with its business partners, but added that the VirtualBridges component would cost $49 per user. Costs for the Lotus software as well as any Ubuntu support costs have not yet been publicly disclosed.

Kuznetsova also was unable to comment about any revenue-sharing arrangement with Canonical or the Ubuntu project through the deal.

Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth admitted last month that his Linux company was not yet profitable, though it claims to have over 8 million users.

Microsoft's software may be the most visible target IBM is gunning for with the new offering. But Kuznetsova said it's also aiming to challenge the larger idea of what a "desktop" PC means.

"We are in more of a paradigm competition than a product-to-product competition," she said. "We are competing against the standard perception that the desktop is your machine on your desk, running Windows -- and skipping out on all the other possibilities."

"I think the adoption rate of virtual desktops is still low enough and has room to grow up," she added.

Beyond Ubuntu?

Though Canonical's Ubuntu is included in IBM's virtual desktop solution, Kuznetsova said it does not necessarily imply a shift away from either Red Hat or Novell, the company's other Linux partners.

"There is no specific reason why this solution is being announced first with Ubuntu," Kuznetsova said. "We work on a number of projects with all of our Linux partners. At different times, different projects come through the pipeline."

"Today we announced our first virtual desktop solution with Canonical Ubuntu, but we will continue working in this direction, and I know there is a lot of enthusiasm and interest from all of our Linux partners in this area," she added.

As a case in point, Kuznetsova noted that IBM announced the Open Collaboration Client itself alongside Novell, with Red Hat following several months later.