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IBM, open source, and the 'Microsoft-free' desktop

Big Blue is deepening its open-source story with moves across an array of hardware, from supercomputers to the desktop.

IBM has been busy this past week at LinuxWorld, releasing some of its supercomputing code as open source, plus partnering up with Novell to battle Microsoft's Small Business Server and with Canonical/Ubuntu, Novell, Red Hat, and others to go after Microsoft's hold on the desktop:

The company said its HPC Open Source Software Stack, which includes IBM's Extreme Cluster Administration Toolkit, was its first ever contribution of open source code for supercomputing....

IBM also said it would work with Canonical/Ubuntu, Novell and Red Hat and a number of hardware partners it did not name to deliver in 2009 "Microsoft-free" PCs with Lotus Notes and Symphony. The company said integration between Linux and Microsoft desktops and the proliferation of client computing devices such as the Smartphone would provide the opportunity to finally make a noticeable dent in Microsoft's stranglehold on the desktop.

It remains to be seen whether smaller companies will want IBM's Lotus software. When I was with a start-up that used it I found it to be clunky, and our IT department (that is, "Jim") found it cumbersome, causing us to dump it for Exchange).

But I like the direction. Google and others are pushing new paradigms for desktop computing, but IBM still has billions at stake in wrenching Microsoft out of enterprises, both small and large. IBM has the heft to give Microsoft a run for its money on the traditional desktop. It's one thing to have Novell, Red Hat, and Canonical/Ubuntu pushing the Linux desktop, but it's quite another when IBM gets into the fray. IBM is just as biased but the move brings a brand that commands respect beyond Linux. This should matter.

A more natural, near-term fit, however, is IBM's supercomputing move. IBM is huge in high-performance computing. Any contributions it makes should be welcome...unless you're HP or another competitor seeing IBM seed the market with its own free and open-source tools.

All in all, a great set of moves by IBM.