July 10, 2006

IBM unveils Lotus Notes on Linux

Author: Lisa Hoover

IBM announced today that its collaborative software and email system Lotus Notes is now available for the Linux desktop. Lotus Notes on Linux is the first business-grade collaboration software of its kind to formally support the Linux operating system. Previous versions of Lotus Notes have been limited to Windows or Macintosh platforms.

The application is available for $140 as part of Lotus Notes version 7. Lotus Notes on Linux supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, Update 3, and support for Novell SUSE for Enterprise 10 is expected in about 90 days. According to IBM, while no official plans have been released for the future support of other Red Hat-related platforms or Debian-based distributions, testing is ongoing.

News of the release has been met with mixed reaction in the Linux community. Most Lotus Notes/Linux users say they are thrilled that IBM is finally offering support that has been a long time in coming. Others, however, say it's too little, too late, since many Lotus Notes users have been able to run the application on Linux using Wine or Crossover Office. An IBM spokesperson said no users were available to speak about the product because there was no formal beta testing prior to the product's release.

Lotus Notes on Linux was designed using the Eclipse framework, an open source application development tool. The upcoming "Hannover" release, slated for 2007, was also designed using Eclipse technology. IBM says that same technology will be used for all future releases of Lotus Notes in order to provide multi-platform functionality.

Lotus Notes is used in a wide variety of settings including education, financial services, and the pharmaceutical industry. It is used to manage inventory, sales and call center data, and other inherently unstructured information, as well as provide an enterprise email infrastructure.

IBM says the release of Lotus Notes on Linux offers increased opportunities for developers of Linux-based applications and is designed to help remove the barriers for businesses considering making the switch to Linux from other operating systems. "It can take multiple pieces of data -- email, documents, screen shots, notes -- and get them collected and shared with a group. It's 'open activity computing,'" says Arthur Fontaine, senior offering manager for IBM Lotus.

"Its real value, however, is when it is used as a platform to address specific issues within the company," Fontaine says. Lotus Notes on Linux offers businesses the ability to customize the application to meet their specific needs and run them on multiple systems.

"A lot of businesses are asking themselves, 'Do I really want to be a Vista or Office 2007 customer? 'As a result, there is a growing recognition of open source software. Customers can either lock themselves into a future with Windows-based products, or opt for open source Linux instead and get off the Microsoft treadmill."

Wave of the future

According to IT research and advisory firm Gartner, collaborative technology is destined to become the wave of the future. Gartner estimates that "80 percent of the work performed by employees will be collaborative rather than people working alone." The Linux Counter Project estimates the number of Linux users somewhere around 29 million. Industry analysts say IBM's willingness to marry the needs of both growing segments of the technology population may help the company stand out from its competitors.

"IBM's biggest competitor in the enterprise collaboration platforms market is Microsoft. Microsoft's messaging and collaboration client software products run only on Windows. Support for non-Windows desktops helps differentiate IBM from Microsoft in the collaboration platforms market," says Erica Driver, principal analyst with Forrester Research.

With IBM publicly declaring the value of open source software, many people wonder if this is a step toward IBM eventually ridding itself of the internal need for Windows-based products altogether. "Having native Linux support for Notes allows IBM to begin to decrease its dependency on Windows desktops -- and therefore its dependency on Microsoft -- within its own four walls," says Driver.

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