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IBM has told Linux developers the desktop is the next frontier, but they must avoid employing the same tactics used against Unix on servers to conquer it.

Steve Mills, IBM's senior vice president and group executive, told Linux developers they need a new value proposition on the desktop. One option is the "managed desktop", something that - unsurprisingly - looks a lot like IBM's Workplace.

Speaking at LinuxWorld on Wednesday, Mills noted that IBM has seen an enormous number of Unix migrations to Linux. The key driver for this is customer desire to replace expensive, under-used Risc-based servers, with cheaper x86 systems.

Mills also took issue with Microsoft, who has been waging a war against Linux by arguing Windows provides better value through improved cost of ownership.

"The cost benefit gets debated and debated and debated. The independent studies have consistently demonstrated a cost advantage for Linux with any typical workload, and it goes beyond the cost of buying the operating system," Mills said.

Pointing to large growth rates in revenue and unit shipments for Linux servers, Mill said the next opportunity for Linux is on the desktop. The market for Linux desktops is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 37 per cent between 2003 and 2007, with 10 million desktops installed by 2004, according to Mills.

Despite this, and the success of Linux on servers, developers should adopt a new approach to selling Linux and not engage in a server-style debate, he said: "Substituting Linux on less expensive hardware to run the same work, which was the server scenario, does not play out in the same way on the client."

Customers are unlikely to swap out a 1980s client/server codebase for a 1990s client/server codebase just because it uses a different concept, Mills noted. Instead, ISV should devise applications that can provision end-users who are running a variety of desktop, laptop and mobile devices, through a centrally managed architecture that provides high-levels of reliability and performance.

IBM is rolling out this particular concept with Workplace. This uses elements of IBM's software portfolio such as WebSphere Portal to supply a front end to applications and server-based data, while opening up desktop environments such as Lotus Notes through a browser.

According to Mills, the Workplace client provides a consistent model for client applications to map to the back end while allowing navigation, workflow and transaction execution to take place through the portal. "Workplace can take richness out to the client... and do it in way that ensures good performance and low latency, but controls the client," he said. ®

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