In the hopes that broader platform support will help it gain ground against Microsoft, Lotus Development is forming a team to look at porting SmartSuite desktop business applications and Notes/Domino groupware to Linux with an eye to releasing the products in 1999.
SmartSuite would follow the same pricing model as Linux -- that is, free open-source code -- according to Michael Zisman, executive vice president of strategy at Lotus.
Linux support is a no-brainer, said Zisman, who also said this move is in direct response to market demand for the increasingly popular operating environment.
"It's very easy to do, just a matter of building another Unix port," Zisman added.
One analyst said offering SmartSuite and Domino on Linux is little more than "a flag-waving in the anti-Microsoft movement."
According to David Marshak, vice president and senior consultant at the Patricia Seybold Group, in Boston, "the best approach to non-Microsoft desktop applications is through Java, not Linux."
"Lotus would be better served opening code to its eSuite [Java-based productivity applets]," Marshak added.
One Lotus customer concurs.
"I'd rather [Lotus] spend their time enhancing SmartSuite on [Windows] NT; we have no interest in running Linux," said Craig Lowenthal, vice president of information technology at Reliance National Insurance, in New York. "From a server standpoint for Notes, Linux support may make some sense, but certainly not from a desktop standpoint."
However, Linux enthusiasts look forward to the port. One said he has been waiting for years for desktop and server software on Linux.
Robert Shingledecker, the information systems manager for the city of Garden Grove, California, said the city's entire government -- including 24-hour-per-day police department operations -- has been running on Linux since 1995.
"The city of Garden Grove would be very interested in these Lotus products on Linux," Shingledecker said. "Our big frustration has been keeping Microsoft on the desktop. It is a closed environment. We've been totally impressed with Linux on the server and have been waiting for the desktop apps to be there."
In addition to whatever Lotus ultimately does, IBM has already announced that its DB2 Universal Database would be available on Linux by the end of the year.
Corel, meanwhile, has a leg up on the Linux desktop over Lotus. This week it made its existing productivity applications for Linux available for free.
Lotus Development Corp., in Cambridge, Massachusetts, can be reached at www.lotus.com.