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IBM Looking to Break Windows

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New corporate computing platform to take on Microsoft.

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Computer geeks have loved to hate Microsoft (MSFT) for years, but most users simply haven't had an off-the-shelf alternative to Windows.

But a new package from IBM (IBM) will allow corporate users to run computer systems without Microsoft.

The new package runs on a backroom server and requires no desktop hardware. It runs the open-source Linux operating system and IBM office applications that can be displayed on "thin clients" that don't have hard drives or processors.

IBM's set pricing for its Virtual Linux Desktop package will range from $59 to $289 per user, depending on the service and software required. IBM says that corporate customers licensing the new software would save $500 to $800 a year per user compared with the cost of Microsoft's Vista operating system and related collaboration tools.

The key: A single server running the new IBM package can run dozens of so-called "virtual" PCs. Each worker would have a keyboard and screen connected to the network through a "thin client," usually costing under $200, or an old PC that functions as a "dumb terminal."

It's part of IBM's continuing effort to break Microsoft's hold on desktop computers. Despite the hype, it sounds like a low-cost variation of systems used by many newspapers in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Running the software on a central computer rather than individual desktop computers is intended to make the system easier to service and upgrade. Storing data on a central computer may increase security, because information could be moved to secure centers or even offshore. By contrast, skilled hackers can easily steal data from desktop computers.

Computer companies have been pushing "thin clients" for years, but most companies have stuck with PCs. Part of the reason may be the high cost of the installed base; some clients may fret about the compatibility of Linux-based systems with existing software, especially when most companies run Microsoft. The cost advantage therefore may not be enough to offset the real or imagined hassle of adopting the new system, at least for now.

IBM's new system includes:

  • Virtual desktop provided by Virtual Bridges of Austin, Texas and called Virtual Enterprise Remote Desktop Environment, or VERDE.

  • Ubuntu, a Linux operating system from Canonical in London.

  • IBM Open Collaboration Client Solution software based on IBM Lotus Symphony, IBM Lotus Notes and Lotus applications. IBM Lotus Symphony is built on the Open Document Format.

"The financial pressures on organizations are staggering and the management of PCs is unwieldy," Inna Kuznetsova, director of IBM Linus Strategy, said in a prepared statement.

Maybe. For now, IBM's virtual desktop system looks like a good idea, and it's sparking interest - but despite the desire for an alternative to Microsoft, no buyer stampede has happened yet.

IBM's solid reputation for quality and service may change that in the future, but for now -- especially during the economic downturn -- most companies are saying, "After you."

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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