IBM CEO Sam Palmisano has challenged his company to move to the Linux desktop over the next two years, according to an internal memo written by IBM chief information officer Bob Greenberg in November and leaked to the Inquirer website.

"Our chairman has challenged the IT organization, and indeed all of IBM to move to a Linux based desktop by the end of 2005," Greenberg wrote. "This means replacing productivity, Web access and viewing tools with open standards based equivalents."

The company has formed a new initiative called the Open Desktop project office to facilitate the move, which will involve contributions from Greenberg's office as well as from IBM's software and research groups, according to the memo.

The memo was written by Greenberg in November and circulated to select members of his team, said an IBM spokeswoman.

She downplayed the significance of the memo, noting that the company had no specific plans to move to the Linux desktop. "This (memo) was not a directive, but a challenge to an internal team," she said. "It is routine for IBM to challenge its internal IT team to rigorously test new platforms and technology inside IBM."

Open source operating system Linux and the Open Office business application suite have had some high-profile successes over the last year. The city of Munich and the government of Israel both have announced plans to drop Microsoft's products in favour of open source alternatives.

But the open source revolution has yet to catch on at the corporate desktop. Linux represents only 2.8 percent of the client operating system market, according to IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky. IDC doesn't expect that figure to change significantly over the next three years.

Kusnetzky said that a switch to Linux could make sense for some parts of IBM but that an effort to move the company's entire work force of 316,000 employees seemed unlikely. Developers working with other operating systems such as AIX, or workers with software or procedures that have been tied into the Windows platform, would have difficulty moving to Linux, he said. But Kusnetzky added, "my suspicion is that if IBM is like many computer suppliers, most people in finance, accounting, human resources, and sales could be well served by a Linux desktop."