IBM Launches Alternative To Microsoft Office - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

IBM Launches Alternative To Microsoft Office

The server-based bundle of desktop applications runs on Linux, Windows, handheld computers and cell phones.

IBM on Monday unveiled a server-based bundle of desktop applications that offer companies an alternative to Microsoft's market-dominating Office suite.

Part of IBM's Lotus Workplace strategy, the software includes email, instant messaging, word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. Unlike Microsoft's products, however, the applications are not tied to Windows or Mac systems, and can run on Linux, Unix or proprietary operating systems used in handheld computers and cellular phones.

The new products are built to be distributed and accessed through a web server. In addition, they are centrally managed, which means they can be upgraded on the server, with changes uploaded to the client when the user connects to the network. IBM claims this model is less expensive than upgrading applications from the client.

The software's management capabilities include check in-check out, version control and access to a central repository. Mobile users, such as corporate salespeople, can download the applications and data, disconnect to work offline, and then reconnect to synchronize changes in business documents, customer data or other work-related information.

IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., plans to charge $2 per user per month for access to the software, plus the cost of the server needed to run the applications. IBM's WebSphere application server would be the preferred infrastructure.

Toni Duboise, analyst for market researcher Current Analysis, sees the IBM products as a niche play, particularly for companies using Linux on desktops used in call centers, for example, or IT workstations. The software also may gain some traction in the mobile market.

"This really speaks volumes to Linux users," Duboise said. "(But) it's still a niche play for IBM. I don't see hordes of corporate users abandoning the standard that Microsoft has successfully implanted on the desktop."

In releasing its new software, IBM joins Sun Microsystems in challenging Microsoft, which controls more than 90 percent of the market with Office. Sun has racked up sales among businesses and government agencies with its server-based productivity suites called StarOffice and OpenOffice.

IBM, however, also offers plug-ins to Office, so the two products can work together within the same client environment.

Jeanette Barlow, market manager for IBM Workplace, played down the overlap between Office and the new IBM products.

"We're supporting Windows as much as Linux," Barlow said. "This is more about choice, about taking the conversation up a level from arguing about one suite or another. Enterprises are always going to have different classes of users, and needs. It's been a nightmare tailoring to their needs. Now you can have a choice."

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