Ubuntu + IBM = Choice corporate Linux desktop?

I can set up a Linux desktop from bare metal to working customized desktop in about an hour. I can set up several dozens Linux desktops for an SMB (small to medium sized business) in a day. I can't, however, roll out several hundred or thousands Linux desktops without a lot of help, time and work. Now, thanks to a partnership between Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, and IBM, there's a way to roll out corporate Linux desktops almost as fast as you can plug them into the network.

IBM pulls this trick up by using the old thin-client approach. Instead of having a full-out desktop on every desk, users have computers that pick up their desktop applications using Virtual Bridges' VERDE (Virtual Enterprise Remote Desktop Environment) virtualization software.

Even old Linux hands may not recognize the Virtual Bridges name, but they will know its products. Virtual Bridges is the company behind Win4Lin, one of the first and best of the Windows on Linux virtualization programs.

VERDE, however, is pure Linux software stack. Here's how it all comes together. On your PCs, you'll install Ubuntu 8.04 with Firefox and all of its usual packaged programs. This is a vanilla installation so it can quickly be dropped on multiple systems. On top of that, you'll also put VERDE. Then, using VERDE and your network, your users pick up the office desktop image.

This desktop is made up of three main applications: the Lotus Notes client, the Sametime IM client and the OpenOffice-based Symphony office suite. These, in turn, are supported by IBM server and middleware programs on a variety of different platforms.

The point of this offering is two fold. One is, of course, to push the Linux desktop over the Windows desktop. But, there's also another purely pragmatic reason for this bundle: It's cheap.

Inna Kuznetsova, director of IBM Linux Strategy, said that it's a "solution to keep IT costs down." With the software stack, system administrators can let end users sign up from any corporate-networked PC and access their desktop applications. This can also work over the Internet with VPN (virtual private networks). Kuznetsova added, "As your desktop machine supports certain protocols, you can access and use it. It's all being stored on the server, so all the upgrades and updates can be performed on the server simultaneously by the system administrator." Centralized management, just as much as using the low-cost, secure Ubuntu Linux for the desktop, also cuts down costs.

How cheap is it? You can buy the package, starting at $49 per seat for a 1,000-seat deployment from IBM Global Services or IBM resellers. There are, of course, other volume discounts. As Kuznetsova observed, ""We are certainly cheaper than migrating to Office 2007 on Vista."

You can say that again. Although, I confess, I can't imagine even the most hard-core Windows CIO recommending that any business switch to Vista. Even Microsoft has given up on pushing Vista to businesses.

More to the point, and leaving Linux vs. Windows out of it, if you need to cut IT costs on the desktop, the Canonical/IBM/Virtual Bridges stack demands you at least consider it. It's affordable, it should work extremely well, and it has serious top companies behind it. In an insane economy, this desktop software stack is a really sane choice.

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