IBM released a version of the Lotus Notes collaboration software that runs on the Linux operating system, part of an IBM plan to lower the barriers to enterprise adoption of desktop Linux, a company executive said.
The company, on Monday, unveiled an update to Lotus Notes Version 7 that supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, Update 3 and Novell SUSE Linux Desktop for Enterprise 10, due later this year. IBM used the Eclipse open source framework to make a Linux equivalent to Windows and Macintosh versions of Notes, said Arthur Fontaine, senior offering manager at IBM Lotus.
Support for Linux on the desktop has been planned for the next major release of Notes, dubbed "Hannover." However, the company decided to release Notes on Linux before Hannover was complete to provide fuel to what the company sees as a growing Linux application development market, and another incentive for Notes customers who may be contemplating a shift to Linux on the desktop, he said.
Other Linux distributions should be able to run the new Notes client, but IBM is only offering support to licensed customers on Red Hat and Suse, he said.
While Notes on Linux has all the same features as the Windows and Mac versions, there are subtle differences, at least for now. For example, the Linux version will not offer the same kinds of shortcut bars that are available on the Windows and Mac version. And the Notes version released Monday will not allow users to access the Lotus Sametime IM client from within the Notes client environment, Fontaine said.
Those differences should disappear with the arrival of Hannover in 2007, he said.
IBM has offered Windows and Mac versions of Notes for years, but balked at making a Linux version because of the relatively low demand for it and the considerable cost and complexity of porting the Notes code to a different operating system, he said.
The advent of the Eclipse open source development platform changed the equation. By using the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP), a kind of client-side middleware, IBM was able to abstract Notes from the underlying OS, writing to the RCP, and then relying on it to hook into and manage interaction with the OS.
"What it allows you to do as an ISV is write something on top of (RCP) and get cross-operating system capability for free," he said.
IBM plans to use the same approach in moving other client software. In addition to the Notes Hannover release, Sametime and clients for the Rational, WebSphere and DB2 product lines will be ported to Linux by way of Eclipse, he said.
Notes on Linux helps solve the "chicken and egg" problem with Linux adoption in the enterprise, said Erica Driver, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., which counts IBM as a customer. It is also a small victory in the bigger goal of unseating Microsoft's dominance in the enterprise collaboration market.
By throwing its weight behind Linux, and weaning its own workers off Windows and Microsoft wares, IBM is hoping to promote enterprise alternatives to Windows and Office, with the ultimate goal of creating a robust alternative to them for companies, said Driver.
While IBM doesn't expect to see a major shift to using Notes on Linux, it has around 5,000 employees using it internally, Fontaine said.
Notes on Linux, plus a free set of openoffice.org editors planned for the Hannover release of Notes are small steps in that effort, with underserved IT workers on the shop floor in retail and manufacturing a good first audience, Driver said.
"These are people who need tools now but don't get them," Driver said.