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IBM, Canonical release 'Microsoft-free' virtual Linux desktop bundle

Another push to break Microsoft's stranglehold on the desktop

By Eric Lai
December 4, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - IBM and Canonical Inc. today announced a virtualized software bundle with Lotus desktop applications running on top of Ubuntu Linux that they say is far cheaper than running Microsoft Corp.'s Office suite on conventional Windows PCs.

It's the latest salvo in IBM's ongoing battle to break Microsoft's stranglehold on the desktop.

According to IBM, the virtual Linux desktop suite could cost large companies as little as $59 per person. That would include a minimal configuration of $49 for the VERDE desktop virtualization software from a third vendor, Virtual Bridges, $10 for Ubuntu Linux support, and no cost for Lotus Symphony productivity software.

A full-fledged Linux desktop system that includes Lotus Notes e-mail, Sametime instant messaging, and other collaboration tools would cost $258 per user, according to IBM.

Customers would also save on labor costs, because moving to a server-side system would cut maintenance needs, said Inna Kuznetsova, director of Linux strategy at IBM. The server-based setup could also reduce hardware costs by extending the life spans of desktop PCs.

"This is hopefully the first step in multiple announcements to come from us," she said.

In August, IBM said it had reconfigured its Lotus productivity and collaboration software so it would be easier to bundle with Linux distributions like Red Hat, Ubuntu and Novell Inc.'s SUSE Linux.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

IBM and its partners plan to sell the bundle directly and through reseller partners. Asked if IBM planned to host and deliver the software itself as a service, as Microsoft plans to do with Office Web, Kuznetsova said, "we have no announcements at this time, though we will certainly look at this."

Kuznetsova acknowledged that IBM's calculations don't factor in the potentially high cost of migrating users from Microsoft Office and Windows to the Linux virtual desktop environment, or the cost of extra server and networking hardware needed to host the software.

Nor has IBM calculated how the Linux virtual desktop stacks up cost-wise versus the virtual Windows desktop system, using desktop virtualization from VMware Inc., Citrix Systems Inc. or Microsoft, Kuznetsova said.

"We are certainly cheaper than migrating to Office 2007 on Vista," she said.

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