IBM pumps up support for Linux app developers

Seeing a steady increase in the development of server-based Linux applications, IBM is making yet another investment in the open-source operating system, announcing plans yesterday to significantly expand its Solution Partnership Centers (SPC) where developers can customise and test their applications.

Over the next few months, according to IBM officials, the company will increase the number of its SPCs from two to 14, to be spread over five different continents. These centers will offer developers free technical support as they port, test, and market their applications on all IBM platforms, particularly the company's PC-based Netfinity line of servers.

"What this [announcement] is about is making it easier for Linux applications to be available," said Tom Figgatt, Linux Global executive at IBM's Netfinity Servers. "This is all part of paving the roadway."

Until recently, many IBM users have seen Linux as mostly suited for departmental computing chores such as filing, printing, and perhaps some Web serving. But increasingly, users have been more interested in using the open-source platform for hosting weightier applications.

"Through these centers we are trying to encourage the development community to help propagate a growing array of high-quality apps that can run on Linux. It is applications that sell our boxes, and it is applications that are the core requirement for success and acceptance by customers," Figgatt said.

The technical focus of the centers will be almost exclusively on servers and not desktops. IBM has seen little interest emerge among users for desktop productivity applications for Linux and expects it to be that way for the foreseeable future.

"In a few isolated cases we are seeing big demand in a company for Linux-based desktops. But for the most part we are not seeing demand for general-purpose, knowledge-worker user installations," Figgatt said.

Developers interested in Linux, particularly smaller ones with minimal financial and human resources, are heartened by the prospect of the upcoming centers.

"Compared to getting started with an [Windows] NT environment, Linux development costs are much lower. But still, an environment like this helps not only further cut costs but helps us get the product out there faster to a still-developing market," said Jim Bower, a chief technology officer at a small retail distributor in Pittsburgh.

At the two existing centers and the proposed 12 new ones, developers will have access to all of IBM's most recently delivered hardware and software, secure porting labs, and technical support. Collectively, these resources are intended to help developers lower their up-front development costs and cut down on their time to market.

Developers can also get assistance in integrating their Linux applications in multi-vendor environments with a particular focus on e-business opportunities.

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