Ximian discounts software

With just over a month to go before Microsoft Corp.'s controversial licensing plan goes into effect, Linux developer Ximian Inc. is offering alternatives and incentives to get network executives to switch to open-source software.

Ximian, which develops a Linux desktop and a collaboration suite, on Monday kicked off its Y2Pay campaign, which offers a 25 percent discount on its Ximian Desktop Professional Edition for Linux.

The software includes Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice 6.0, a productivity suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation graphics, and a database. The open-source version of StarOffice, OpenOffice.org 1.0, also is supported.

The Ximian software features a GNOME desktop, which is a GUI interface, Ximian's Red Carpet software for automatic updates and Ximian Evolution, a collaboration package that includes e-mail, calendars, to-do lists and a browser.

"We are trying to highlight Linux as an alternative desktop for companies facing the Microsoft licensing change," says John Perr, vice president of marketing for Ximian.

But Ximian faces an uphill battle. While many organizations say they have an interest in Linux, many are evaluating it for server conversions not the desktop.

Perr says Ximian's intent isn't to convince companies to move all their Microsoft desktops to Linux, but to consider moving certain user populations, such as those that need only basic capabilities such as e-mail and word processing or spreadsheets.

Many companies now are willing to do that evaluation in the face of Microsoft's new Licensing 6.0 program slated to kick off Aug. 1.

According to a recent Gartner survey, the new licensing could increase corporate customers' spending on Microsoft licenses between 33 percent and 107 percent, depending on how often they typically upgrade their software.

A study in April by Information Technology Intelligence and Sunbelt Software showed that 38 percent of 1,400 respondents are actively seeking alternatives to Microsoft products.

"We are evaluating if we can use Ximian to replace our most basic desktops that use e-mail, spreadsheets and connect to our AS/400," says Adam Doxtater, computer engineer for Information Systems at the MGM Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Doxtater, who has been charged with evaluating alternatives to Microsoft, says he has nearly 1,000 desktops that could be candidates for conversion.

"The only issue we have so far is connecting to our [Microsoft] Exchange server. Evolution doesn't support the version of Exchange we are running; it only supports Exchange 2000."

Doxtater says he also may have an issue with a piece of Java software from an independent developer used to connect the Ximian desktop with AS/400.

"In a large organization we have to have supported products. Maybe IBM will offer a Linux connector for AS/400."

He admits that switching to a Linux desktop would be a big step, but that the Microsoft licensing issue prompted the evaluation of that possibility.

"Re-training is an issue, I don't want to introduce something that scares end-users, but Ximian is easy to learn," says Doxtater.

Microsoft's License 6.0 program has met with near unanimous opposition from end-users. The start of the program has been delayed twice due to corporate feedback.

Some users have said the licensing changes could double their software costs. Microsoft officials admit that customers who upgrade on cycles longer than three years will see higher costs. But nearly 80 percent of users will see costs unchanged or reduced, the company maintains.

Licensing 6.0 and a companion program called Software Assurance will replace all of Microsoft's current upgrade programs. To enroll in Software Assurance, users must be on the most current version of software and pay a fee equal to 29 percent of the full retail license for applications and 25 percent for servers. Microsoft is offering both volume licensing deals for which Software Assurance is an option, and Enterprise Agreements, which provides access to all Microsoft software and requires the upgrade plan.

The Y2Pay program runs through Aug. 15 and offers the Ximian Desktop Professional Edition for Linux for US$49.95 or $599 for a 10-user pack. It runs on various implementations of Linux, including Red Hat, SuSE, and Mandrake

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