IBM hopes to have 40,000 Linux desktop users within the company by the end of the year, said an IBM executive at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco.
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About 15,000 of IBM's 300,000 employees have moved to the Linux desktop, said Scott Handy, IBM's vice-president of worldwide Linux strategy and market development.
While Handy believed the Linux desktops cost IBM less than the $5,000 to $7,000 a year analyst firms typically ascribe to the maintenance of Windows systems, the switch to a Linux PC may not be a great deal for everyone.
In many cases, the added cost of testing and supporting a second desktop is enough to make it more expensive for many companies to add Linux.
IBM has created an Open Client Assessment programme, initially designed to help customers move their desktops from Windows to Linux, but IBM discovered ways for customers to reduce costs by keeping their Windows desktops, and the programme is now focused on moving customers toward server-centric applications, regardless of desktop platform, Handy said.
In January, a memo from IBM chief information officer Bob Greenberg challenged the company to move to a Linux-based desktop by the end of 2005. The company has formed an internal initiative, called the Open Desktop project, to facilitate the move.
IBM is not developing its own desktop distribution for the project. The company's desktops will be based on standard Linux distributions from both SuSE Linux and Red Hat.
Outside of its Open Desktop project, IBM has more than 600 people in 43 locations working on 150 open-source projects, Handy said.
Linux on the server is, increasingly, being accepted in the enterprise as a platform for application consolidation and, more recently, for running enterprise applications such as those from SAP.
"There are now more than 2,000 installations of [IBM] customers in production with Linux on SAP," he said. "A lot of people are doing enterprise applications here."
Handy also disputed claims by SCO that IBM was trying to destroy the economic value of Unix by promoting Linux. In a shrinking Unix market, IBM's Unix-based pSeries sales have grown, in part, because of its Linux campaign.
"We made Linux an issue in the agenda of customers," he said. This gave IBM an advantage over Unix rivals such as Sun Microsystems, which were slower to adopt Linux, he said. "Customers who wanted to talk about Linux couldn't talk to Sun about it."
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service