IBM unveils applications that run across multiple OSes

Offering promises email, IM, web browsing and other programs all on one platform

IBM believes it has found a better way to offer Linux on the desktop for corporate users.

For years, Linux backers have been saying it’s time for their favourite OS on the desktop because it saves money, bolsters security and offers open standards for corporate IT departments. But that time has never quite arrived, prompting IBM to take a vastly different tack: a package that allows companies to deploy and use the same multi-platform applications on the operating system of their choice, be it Windows, Linux or Mac OS X.

The idea, according to IBM, is that the open-standards-based suite of applications will allow users to collaborate and work more efficiently while making life easier for corporate IT departments, which won’t have to piece together disparate systems.

IBM says the Open Client Offering package will allow companies to buy one application suite for email, instant messaging, web browsing, social networking and ODF-based productivity software for all of its users. “This is about access to office functionality from any client,” says Adam Jollans, IBM’s open-source and Linux strategy manager.

The company has been putting together similar packages for customers on a one-off basis, he says, and will now bring them together for all users.

The new offering was made possible because IBM has been building some of its most powerful collaboration products, including Lotus Notes and Sametime, with the Eclipse rich client development platform. Eclipse allows applications to be built once and then run across different operating systems where they behave like native applications, Jollans says.

“Everyone can use the same software clients, regardless of the operating system,” which provides greater interoperability, ease of use and easier deployments, he says.

As it has done in the past, IBM developed the new services through its internal use of the products over multiple operating systems, Jollans says.

“We’ve been battle-testing it inside IBM” for more than a year, he says.

One motive behind the offering is that some corporate customers have been eyeing Microsoft Vista and aren’t ready to commit to the hardware upgrades or replacements it will require, Jollans says. “With Vista, the hardware requirements will go up,” he says. But with the new IBM software, customers can more easily continue to use their existing hardware and operating systems, he says.

“I think this is about opening up the clients and giving more flexibility and choice to customers.”

Analysts have varying views on the announcement. Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, says that despite the promise of a one-size-fits-all approach to the Eclipse-based applications from IBM, the products won’t likely bring about any big corporate migration to Linux on the desktop.

“Will there be a customer here or there?” he asked. “Sure, but the more likely solution I see is a switch to a thin client, whether the back end is Linux or Windows.”

“This may fit here and there,” Haff says, “but it’s really looking at the desktop through the lens of the past.”

Dana Gardner, an analyst with Interarbor Solutions, disagrees, saying the IBM offering could have promise for businesses that want more choice of user operating systems.

“I don’t think this is tilting at windmills,” he says. “I think there are more reasons for considering a rich-client platform rather than a particular platform” like Windows, Linux or Macintosh, he says. “If you focus on the applications rather than the operating system, that’s a choice that’s still there.”

Later this year, the Open Client will include new versions of email and messaging, social software and team collaboration software that will ship with the upcoming Lotus Notes 8, Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr applications, according to IBM.

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