IBM Taking MS Office to Linux

IBM reportedly is working with Microsoft to port the Redmond, Washington-based company’s popular Office desktop software to the Linux platform, which IBM has wholeheartedly endorsed and leveraged to win market share in the enterprise-computing space.

Although open-source alternatives such as StarOffice and OpenOffice have evolved to the point of acceptance and use by companies with Linux environments, the Microsoft Office suite is the leader on the desktop, sharing space with IBM’s Lotus Notes software.

And while Microsoft denies it is working with IBM on the movement of Office to Microsoft’s nemesis platform Linux, an IBM technical manager in Sweden has indicated Big Blue is indeed working on running Office on Linux with help from Microsoft.

Harvard Research Center vice president of Linux strategy Bill Claybrook told LinuxInsider that IBM’s weight behind Microsoft programs on Linux — already possible through emulation software from smaller organizations such as CodeWeavers or Wine — would do much for Linux on the desktop.

“Certainly, if IBM is pushing or promoting or helping someone else in the market, it will help,” Claybrook said, adding that despite the existence of solid Office emulations, running Microsoft on Linux is somewhat a secret in the industry. “A lot of people don’t know Office will run on Linux.”

Porting for Penguin?

Although he was not specific, an IBM technical manager who works in the company’s Lotus office software division reportedly has indicated it will be possible to run Microsoft Office on an IBM Linux platform. IBM, which was not available for comment, also is working with Microsoft on the effort and has used code provided by Microsoft to make it happen, the report said.

Microsoft denied it is working with IBM on any Office-on-Linux strategy or support, telling LinuxInsider through a spokesperson that previous collaborative efforts between the two technology giants on Microsoft’s Outlook and IBM’s Domino e-mail server centered on interoperability but were completely separate projects.

“Microsoft has no plans to collaborate with IBM to port Microsoft Office to Linux,” the spokesperson said.

While he was not aware of any collaboration between Microsoft and IBM to take Office to Linux, Claybrook said IBM has the heft to make it happen.

“They may have something new,” he said. “If they don’t, they could be putting the marketing oomph behind what CodeWeavers and Wine have.”

Emulating and Replicating

Claybrook indicated that most companies with Microsoft Office emulations of different sorts typically have relationships with the world’s biggest software company.

However, he questioned whether IBM would orchestrate a movement toward Microsoft software on Linux. “It doesn’t seem IBM would want to duplicate what a number of these other small companies have done,” Claybrook said. “You’d think they would want to do something else in addition.”

He added that although Linux and open-source Office equivalents — including StarOffice and OpenOffice — have won significant acceptance in enterprise environments, such open-source desktop efforts are minimally publicized and promoted.

Delivering on Desktop

In addition to its reported work to port Microsoft Office to Linux, the IBM representative also said Big Blue should have a native, Java-based version of Lotus Notes for Linux by the end of 2004.

Analysts have praised the Java-on-Linux approach for its compatibility, and Claybrook said there is a lot going on with different vendors, particularly Sun, which this week touted its total systems approach as superior to IBM’s individual dedication to software, services and hardware.

Claybrook said that although Linux has succeeded in the enterprise server market, the operating system has not been heavily promoted among consumers, who are as key to the desktop space as the most popular office software.

“They’re all oriented toward the enterprise,” Claybrook said. “But I think they should be working toward the consumers.”

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  • With everything moving towards a .Net architecture, I’m surprised not to hear more clamor about a .Net virtual machine for Linux rather than a porting of the current Office manifestation. As much publicity as MS is putting into Longhorn, and with all the emphasis they have put on completely revamping the architecture of all their software, I think Office running on a .Net VM is more likely to be the first real "porting" of Office to any platform.
    Interesting story if it’s true, though. MS Office, despite all the gains of other suites, really does seem to still be far and away a better piece of software. At least IMHO.

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