IBM is, at last, set to launch Lotus Notes for Linux. It's a move users have long been demanding, with those wanting to run the Notes client on the open-source operating system previously having to resort to web clients or software emulation.

Lotus Notes on Linux will be available for free download to existing Notes users come 24 July, according to Arthur Fontaine, a senior offering manager at IBM Lotus. It will be the company's first mainstream business application for the Linux desktop.

While use of Linux on the server side among corporate customers has grown rapidly over the past few years, their deployment of desktop Linux has yet to really get going, in part due to a lack of mainstream applications running on the open-source operating system.

IBM has offered Linux support for its Domino server collaboration software since 1998, adding Linux support for web clients two years ago. It's only later this month that the vendor will finally be able to provide end-to-end native Linux support for both its client and server groupware.

Fontaine said IBM has looked into Notes having full Linux support on a yearly basis. Like any other independent software vendor, determining which operating systems to support is an economic issue. It's a case of spending the most money on continuing to support Notes' most popular operating environment, Microsoft's Windows, then the Macintosh which has a growing user base, he added.

Back in late 2003, IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano challenged his company to move to a Linux-based desktop by the end of 2005. As time went on, IBM went quiet on the progress of such efforts within its ranks. The vendor apparently at one time was using a Linux version of Notes via the open-source Wine compatibility layer for running Windows applications. However, IBM didn't promote that work and later decided not to continue using Wine.

To deliver Lotus Notes on Linux, IBM has used a middleware layer from the open-source Eclipse Foundation which it calls the Eclipse Rich Client Platform, Fontaine said.

IBM is using the same Eclipse technology in next major release of Lotus Notes, codenamed "Hannover," due out next year. The Hannover release will run across Windows, Macintosh and Linux without requiring any modifications. "It's write once, run anywhere," he added.

Basing new versions of its software on the Eclipse middleware is a strategy being adopted across IBM, Fontaine said. The vendor's Rational development tools are already built on top of the Eclipse technology and the next release of IBM's enterprise instant messaging software, Sametime 7.5, will also use the open-source middleware as its foundation.

Lotus Notes on Linux will be available as part of Lotus Notes version 7. First off, the software will support Red Hat Inc.'s Enterprise Linux 4, Update 3 and then add in support for Novell's Suse Linux Desktop for Enterprise 10 within the next 90 days, Fontaine said.