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IBM warms to desktop Linux

Big Blue is expected to endorse the idea of using the open-source operating system for use on desktop computers.

IBM's other Linux shoe could drop Monday, as Big Blue is expected to endorse the idea of Linux on desktop computers at a conference.

Big Blue has heavily promoted the open-source operating system for use on servers, but Sam Docknevich of IBM's Global Services group plans to discuss how Linux's popularity now has spilled over into the desktop market, according to the agenda for the Desktop Linux Conference in Boston.

Docknevich's speech is titled, "The Time is Now for Linux on the Desktop."

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That's a significant change from August, when Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a senior executive who led Big Blue's Linux effort in the past, spoke on desktop Linux: "There is a strong buildup of interest, but I don't think this has quite achieved escape velocity."

Until now, IBM has favored Linux for use on servers, which are networked machines for data storage and processing that typically are run by technically proficient administrators. The company has avoided pushing Linux for desktop computers, where Microsoft is overwhelmingly dominant.

However, IBM is likely to take a cautious approach to desktop Linux similar to that of Sun Microsystems and . Those companies argue that desktop Linux is most appropriate when the computer user is performing a defined set of tasks.

There's an opportunity for desktop Linux in "running a fixed-function machine like a kiosk or ATM, a transactional workstation like a bank teller's station, or a basic office workstation that runs applications that drive business processes," the IBM agenda information said.

It's significant that an executive from IBM's Global Services group is the one making the case for desktop Linux, not someone from a product group, said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. It could indicate that IBM now sees Linux on the desktop as something it will help offer when customers ask for it, rather than something IBM aggressively pushes.

Some companies are taking a more aggressive approach by trying to steer average computer users toward Linux. Those companies include Xandros, Linare, Lycoris, Lindows and NeTraverse.

Novell, which this week announced a plan to acquire No. 2 Linux seller SuSE, also plans to attend the conference. So do Red Hat, Xandros, NeTraverse, the Security-Enhanced Linux group, OpenOffice and KDE.