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Linux: Dell, HP and IBM Blazing the Way

I still have my doubts whether Linux on the desktop will ever be real but it gets a huge push in 2008 from both Dell and IBM, who are taking huge gambles on the platform. Of the two, IBM’s is the more interesting and vastly more risky, while HP is, with a somewhat similar approach, being much more focused on being platform agnostic.

For IBM and HP it is a platform changer. IBM is using blades and thin client technology, coupled with Linux, to recreate a mainframe experience (in terms of reliability, security, and cost of ownership) for the desktop (and may have AIX in the wings for a premium offering). HP is also using blades but this is more of a blend of PC and Server technology with a heavy focus on high density and power/heat conservation and no exclusive commitment to Linux.

Dell’s is a straight Windows replacement, and has, at least initially, a similar feel to other Dell offerings. (See the Dell blog here; scroll down to see Ubuntu post.)

Each company’s offering should appeal to a distinct audience: IBM to places where security and user control is of primary concern; HP where security is high, but trumped by flexibility of solution and choice of platform; and Dell for those that don’t want Windows but do want a very similar experience. IBM believes so much in their view of the future they actually sold off their PC division to Lenovo so there would be no conflict going forward and they could focus.

Both IBM and HP use Linux as more of a packaged solution and typically dictate which distribution you will use, significantly reducing their own support cost and related risk. Dell is still struggling somewhat with choosing a Linux platform and their initial choice appears to be Ubuntu Linux.

Because these company’s offerings are so dissimilar the Linux outcome will likely be mixed, one of these approaches is likely to eclipse the others and define the future of the Linux desktop in business – but which one is anyone’s guess and I don’t have a good one yet.

It is also possible that all three could fail because it is still too early or because of the lack of consistency between vendors, which is often required to create a viable market in this space. Once again strength will be best in 2009/10 and we are looking for major enterprise moves towards the IBM or HP offerings, and major consumer/small business/education success for Dell’s.

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