IBM has announced a major initiative to expand the use and marketing of Linux across its entire range of server hardware.
Analysts said that should further boost the confidence of corporate managers interested in the the open-source operating system.
Under the new effort, IBM - which first announced plans to support Linux nearly two years ago - will focus on improving the user interface and interoperability of Linux with other operating environments supported by IBM, such as its AIX version of Unix, OS/400 and Windows NT.
The company will set up a 200-person Linux development team with centers in India and the US.
IBM's Linux effort will be led by Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who has been in charge of IBM's Internet division for the past four years.
The goal is to make Linux more palatable to companies attracted by the growing popularity of the operating system but leery of its open-source roots, analysts said.
The growing support for Linux by all of the major system vendors "will certainly speed up the acceptance of Linux as a serious alternative to Windows 2000 and to some Unix," versions, said Bill Claybrook an analyst with Aberdeen Group.
The growing popularity of Linux, particularly for smaller applications, also makes it important for vendors such as IBM to support it more fully, said Rich Partridge, an analyst at DH Brown Associates.
"Linux seems to have caught the fancy of a broad enough market that IBM wants to make sure they fully embrace it," Partridge said.
Much of IBM's effort is likely to focus on integrating Linux more tightly with its other operating systems, he said.
IBM already supports Linux in a number of ways. For instance, Linux is available on some models of its RS/6000 Unix servers and IBM has released source code modifications that enable Linux to run on its S/390 mainframes. Similarly, Linux support on the AS/400 platform extends file serving and print services to Linux clients. IBM also has formal agreements with four major Linux distributors including Caldera and Red Hat.