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IBM and Canonical push onto African netbooks

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LinuxCon 2009 IBM and Canonical are buddying-up to sell a new business application bundle combining Ubuntu and Lotus for small, cheap computers in Africa.

Under the pact, IBM is tying together various Lotus client applications running on top of the open-source operating system for the country's lower-end devices like netbooks, thin-clients, and even mobile phones. Big Blue announced the offering on Wednesday at LinuxCon in Portland, Oregon.

The bundle will include elements from Lotus such as open-standards email, word processing, spreadsheet applications, and social networking tools, plus cloud-based services through LotusLive. It will also work on virtual desktops using the VERDE system from Virtual Bridges.

The companies hope the package will catch on with local service providers, who will then vend the IBM client locally throughout Africa to government, educational institutions, and businesses. IBM said it will also work with leading universities such as Makerere university to bring this computing model to students and employees.

"The idea is really to drive local partnerships around offering this," Bob Sutor, IBM's vp of open source and Linux, told El Reg. "So that doesn't mean users be sitting in Cape Town and connecting to a cloud somewhere in Iowa."

But what remains to be seen is if local providers have the infrastructure necessary to broadly adopt the cloud-based side of IBM and Canonical's offering.

Big Blue estimates the package can save businesses up to 50 per cent per user over a Windows-based desktop. The company didn't offer specific prices, however, saying it would depend on the configuration and support requirements.

Although the offering is available only in Africa at the moment, IBM intends to expand its deal to other emerging markets later. Africa is the obvious launching point given Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth's South African heritage as well as Ubuntu's foothold in the country.

Sutor reckons deals like this will spur greater adoption of Linux desktop throughout the world.

"I think what's extremely important with Linux-based desktops is to think about the particular type of person who is going to use them, as well as the applications and connectivity they need," said Sutor. "This will cause people to look at the value of Linux on the desktop and how they can easily shift their workload from what they do locally versus what can be in the cloud. I believe this thinking about what the desktop really is and what a good role Linux has at this particular price point will lead to a greater and greater adoption of Linux desktops." ®

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