IBM Open Client Bridges Mac, Windows, Linux Systems

IBM is billing its new Open Client Solution as an “alternative to vendor lock-in” for user desktop operating systems.

The Open Client Solution has two basic goals. One is to let organizations replace Microsoft Windows-based PCs in favor of Linux or Mac OS X-based desktops. The other is to let businesses more easily run a mix of Windows, Linux and Mac OS X desktops.

The solution has several components, and it provides a foundation for letting organizations run open source applications across the three desktop operating systems without requiring extensive application development changes for each platform.

Proof of Concept

IBM has been using the Open Client Solution within its own organization for the last year as it stress-tested the application for both bugs and proof-of-concept, the company said.

While some customers might want to run nearly all desktops with Linux, others want to mix and match desktops, which is what IBM has been doing, Adam Jollans, IBM worldwide open source and linux strategy manager, told LinuxInsider.

“There’s a group of customers who say, ‘we have a variety of users, and we want to have the flexibility to choose which platform we have, so we want Linux and thin clients in the front office, Macs in the design department … and we want to have a common set of applications and framework across the clients,'” Jollans explained. “And that has to do with the different roles within the company, which is something we learned from within IBM — the need for different roles in an organization.”

Core Components

The key to a functional enterprise desktop lies with the business applications that users can run on it. In this case, IBM’s Open Client Solution focuses on the company’s e-mail and collaboration products, Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime, which were the first two mass-marketed enterprise products to be delivered for Linux-based PCs. IBM says it plans to release Lotus Notes 8 with Mac OS X support later this year.

In addition, IBM’s Open Client Solution includes WebSphere Portal 6.0, which is a server-based foundation for building portal applications and services that can be accessed through a common entry point via a browser. Plus, IBM’s Lotus Expeditor provides an Eclipse-based Rich Client Platform (RCP) that lets organizations deploy applications for both online and offline use.

A Vista Opportunity?

As organizations evaluate Windows Vista and the costs involved in upgrading, IBM might have an opportunity to pick up new Open Client Solution customers.

“One of the biggest cost savings customers will find is having the option of not having to do a forced upgrade to Windows Vista and refresh all of their hardware to get to Vista,” Jollans stated.

For some users, Vista might be worth the investment, he added, but for others, Vista isn’t necessary. An Open Client Solution, for example, would let customers re-purpose an existing PC — which would require a hardware upgrade for Vista — into a Linux desktop PC.

Cracking the Lock

While the solution might offer enterprises additional choice and cost savings, getting businesses to jump to Linux and Mac desktops anytime soon is a huge challenge.

“The corporate PC operating system market is absolutely dominated by Microsoft, and Linux plays a very small role within business PCs,” Forrester Research analyst Benjamin Gray told LinuxInsider.

Forrester interviewed 676 PC decision-makers last May at North American and European enterprises with 1,000 or more employees, according to Gray, and found that just 2 percent of PCs run Linux while 67 percent run Windows XP. Twenty-four percent run Windows 2000, 6 percent run Windows 98, and 1 percent run Mac OS X.

In the same time frame, Gray noted, Forrester interviewed 914 PC decision-makers at smaller North American and European companies with six to 999 employees, confirming that just 1 percent of PCs run Linux, as compared to the 71 percent that run Windows XP, 20 percent that run Windows 2000, 7 percent that run Windows 98, and 1 percent that run Mac OS X.

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