For the first time, IBM's Lotus collaboration software division will offer a Lotus Notes client that runs natively on Linux, perhaps providing a needed kick to IBM's vision of wider corporate desktop Linux use.
Lotus says the Linux client for Notes will be available as a free download for licensed users of Notes Version 7.01 starting July 24. "[The Linux client for Notes is] something that people have really been after us about for a while," says Arthur Fontaine, offering manager for IBM Lotus.
Although a Notes client was available natively for the Unix operating system until about eight years ago, says Fontaine, that product was dropped as Linux gained popularity. Now, with IBM's move to the Eclipse development platform as a basis for many of its products — including the upcoming Hannover version of Notes — the decision to build a full-featured Linux desktop client for Notes became a lot easier to do, he says. The client was written using the Eclipse middleware, allowing it to be configured for various operating systems, including Linux, without additional coding.
"The Eclipse layer lets us do it now," Fontaine says. "We're essentially giving the Linux world a down payment for [the upcoming] Hannover" release, due out early next year.
Until now, access to a Linux client for Notes required a plugin along with Lotus Workplace Managed Client — a process IBM demonstrated at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo last August in San Francisco. But that method wasn't easy to set up and didn't give users all the features of Notes, says Fontaine.
Using Eclipse as the foundation for the new Linux Notes client puts all the operating systems on equal footing, Fontaine says. Lotus will also use Eclipse to have its Sametime software ready for Linux by the end of the year, he says.
IBM has been beta-testing the Linux Notes client internally with about 5,000 IBM users since last summer. "This is something that's been battle-hardened and tested already," Fontaine says.
The client will be supported by Lotus for Red Hat Enterprise 4 users upon the July 24 release and will provide support for SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 within 90 days, according to the company.
Analysts say the Notes client could be an interesting development in the still-nascent desktop Linux marketplace.
"IBM is clearly walking the talk that they're continuing to move on the open source front," says Dan Keldsen, an analyst at Boston-based Delphi Group. "That certainly makes complete sense to me that they're still moving in that direction."
Allowing Linux users to maintain all the other collaboration features of Notes could help push Linux on the corporate desktop, he says.
"This isn't just five guys around the world" developing a Linux client for Notes as an open-source project, Keldsen says. “This is IBM, and they're pouring money into this."
Coupled with the news last week that Microsoft will back an open source project to create software allowing Microsoft Office users to open and save files in OpenDocument format (ODF), the Linux Notes client announcement is "pretty good" for prospective Linux desktop users, he says.
Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Washington, says the Lotus move addresses one of the hurdles that has slowed desktop Linux adoption in the corporate world — a lack of critical business applications.
"Certainly, this is a major step forward with helping those organisations understand that they can go to desktop Linux and have major applications [that they need],” Osterman says. "When people are given the opportunity to adopt a top-tier client, it gives them much more opportunity."
Amy Wohl, an analyst at Wohl Associates in Narberth, Pennsylvania, says the Notes announcement could have a greater impact at companies where technology refreshes are underway. She says companies where the software might be most welcomed include call centres, bank operations and similar situations where Microsoft Office applications aren't needed.
Users in the education, government and healthcare fields might also be interested in the client, she says. "They've been looking at Linux for a long time," Wohl says. "And at the same time, Linux desktops have been getting better. Having [needed business applications for Linux] is certainly something we've been waiting for. Even in the United States, there are customers for this. Outside the US, there are even greater possibilities for Notes on Linux."