Times have changed: When Windows 95 launched more than a decade ago, IBM lined up and bowed to Microsoft. Fast forward to the present and IBM is partnering with Canonical's Ubuntu Linux team to counter Microsoft's Windows 7 launch. Plus, Big Blue and Canonical expect "hundreds" of channel partners to back the Ubuntu offering. Here's the scoop.

According to an IBM press release issued today:
"IBM and Canonical are introducing a cloud- and Linux-based desktop package in the US. designed for use on a company's existing fleet of personal computers (PCs) or even low-cost netbooks."
The solution, known as the IBM Client for Smart Work package, helps organizations save up to 50 percent per seat on software costs versus a Microsoft-based desktop, in addition to completely avoiding requisite hardware upgrades, IBM asserts.

IBM and Canonical watchers will recall that the duo launched a similar offering in Africa in September 2009. IBM claims the Africa move "sparked calls for the solution in the U.S."

The IBM-Canonical effort comes one week before Canonical launches Ubuntu 9.10, a much-anticipated upgrade. Several niche PC makers, including System76 and ZaReason, are prepping Ubuntu 9.10 systems. Dell has also been introducing new Ubuntu systems.

Here Comes the Channel

Now here's the interesting part. IBM and Canonical claim "hundreds" of partners will offer the IBM Client for Smart Work in U.S. in 2010. True believers apparently include:
  • regional systems integrators, ZSL and CSScorp;
  • virtual desktop providers, Midas Networks and KalariSys;
  • and several online, vertical industry businesses.

The Windows 7 Alternative?

But what exactly is IBM Client for Smart Work? Glad you asked. IBM says it includes:
  • Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations from IBM Lotus Symphony, which is a free-of-charge download on the Web.
  • Email from IBM Lotus Notes or the cloud-based LotusLive iNotes launched earlier this month, which starts at $3 per user, per month;
  • Cloud-based, social networking and collaboration tools from LotusLive.com, ranging from $10 per user, per month.
  • Ubuntu, an open platform   for netbooks, laptops, desktops, and servers.
IBM says pricing varies depending on configuration and support requirements.

Growing Relationship

This isn't the first time IBM and Canonical have partnered. The two companies, working with Virtual Bridges, have also developed a solution that allows customers to virtualize their Ubuntu desktops on Linux servers.

While promising, The VAR Guy concedes that readers need to keep the IBM-Canonical relationship in perspective. No doubt, Ubuntu has momentum on the desktop. And it's good to see channel partners offering open alternatives to Windows 7. But Ubuntu's march forward in the IT channel requires continued investment by Canonical and its hardware and software partners.

Still, times certainly have changed. IBM didn't dare speak about Windows alternatives a decade ago. Today, Big Blue is helping to drive those alternatives.

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