12 November 2003 IBM’s computer services business is to offer Linux desktop support for enterprises, signalling an end to its past hostility to organisations running the open-source operating system on their PCs.
IBM Global Services is developing what it describes as a comprehensive, general-purpose technical support programme to replace a customised service offered only to a handful of its corporate clients.
It is understood that IBM will support Linux desktops at major organisations and leave its new Linux partner, Nuremberg, Germany-based SuSE, acquired for $210 million in cash last week by Novell, to support Linux desktops at small and medium-sized businesses.
The precise launch date of the IBM service is being kept under wraps but is likely to be around mid-2004.
“Linux is ready to blossom on the desktop,” Samuel Docknevich, an IBM Linux services executive, told a Linux desktop conference in Boston, Massachusetts yesterday. “Big customers want level two and level three support. We’re not there today but we will be there next year.”
In a presentation entitled ‘The time is now for Linux on the desktop’, Docknevich added that the main advantage of Linux over the market leading desktop environment, Microsoft’s Windows operating system, was that it would help enterprises avoid being “locked in” to a proprietary Microsoft world.
But there are growing fears, at least within the close-knit open source community, that IBM is gradually assuming control of the Linux market.
IBM has sold and supported Linux-based servers for several years. Its move to support Linux desktops comes only one week after its surprise $50 million investment in Novell, the network operating system company, on the same day that Novell acquired SuSE.
The two deals were interpreted by some analysts as IBM partly financing the SuSE acquisition, with a view to moulding the future shape of the Linux support market.
Nevertheless, many organisations are likely to welcome IBM’s latest endorsement for Linux on the desktop, say analysts. So far, only a relative handful of big organisations have switched to Linux-based PCs — although this select crowd includes some notable names, such as Disney, telecoms company Verizon and Munich City Council.
At present, Linux has only about a 1.5% share of the desktop operating system market, but market analyst IDC expects that figure to grow to about 7% by 2006.