IBM and Novell have strengthened their existing partnership on two fronts, after Linux distributor Novell increased support for IBM’s Notes desktop collaboration software and its open-source WebSphere Application Server Community Edition (WAS CE).

The collaborations, announced this week at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco, are designed to counter Microsoft’s Exchange software and Red Hat’s JBoss application server.

On the desktop side, business partners of IBM and Novell will be able to offer customers a so-called open collaboration client for Novell’s Suse Linux Enterprise Desktop. The client includes IBM’s Lotus Notes groupware, its Lotus Sametime instant messaging software and some productivity tools.

Antony Satyadas, IBM’s chief competitive marketing officer for Lotus software, said that the company is looking at potentially striking a similar relationship with Red Hat.

A combination of Notes and Suse Linux could be substantially cheaper than the Microsoft alternative of Office 2007, which includes Exchange, and the Windows Vista Business operating system, Satyadas said. Using approximate pricing, he estimated that the Notes/Suse offering could be $300 to $500 cheaper than the Microsoft software on a per user basis.

Novell does have its own GroupWise collaboration software, but that product for years has trailed way behind market leaders Notes and Exchange.

IBM introduced Open Client desktop management and application migration support services in February as a way to make it easier for customers to run its collaboration software on a mixture of Windows and Linux operating systems. The vendor was slow to come out with native Linux support for Notes and Sametime, only doing so in the middle of last year. New versions of Notes and Sametime run on a middleware layer from the open-source Eclipse Foundation, which makes it easier for the software to support Linux. IBM is also due to provide support for Apple’s Macintosh operating system.

On the server side, Novell will deliver and support IBM’s WAS CE as part of its Suse Linux Enterprise Server distribution, according to Michael Applebaum, senior product marketing manager for Suse Linux Enterprise at Novell. The move will enable Novell to better compete against the other leading Linux distributor, Red Hat, which already has its own application server, JBoss.

IBM acquired what became WAS CE through the May 2005 purchase of open-source startup Gluecode.

WAS CE is based on the open-source Apache Geronimo project steered by the non-profit Apache Software Foundation. WAS CE has proved very popular with users, said Patty Dudek, vice president of WebSphere server development at IBM. Since the vendor began offering WAS CE 1.0 in November 2005, there have been one million distributions of the software, she added.

IBM and Novell plan to provide support and migration tools to encourage JBoss customers to move to WAS CE. The two vendors will also work on joint sales and marketing efforts around the combination of Suse Linux and WAS CE.

For IBM, teaming up with Novell is all about drawing on the Linux distributor’s strength in the small to midsize business market, to encourage more WAS CE adoption by those customers, Dudek said.

IBM also announced plans for WAS CE 2.0, due to ship later this year, which will provide full support for Java Enterprise Edition 5.