IBM is readying a initiative to push Windows NT users towards Linux. The company is hoping to capitalise on Microsoft's decision to stop supporting NT and build on the growing interest in Open Source software.

IBM is set to offer its business partners free migration classes, and some discounts on software and services for users moving to IBM software running on Linux.

Microsoft is discontinuing support and security patches for Windows NT at the end of this year, requiring nearly two million customers to develop a migration strategy, IBM said.

Big Blue's classes will be offered worldwide, and will cover migration to IBM hardware and software for needs such as database management, collaboration, security, systems and network management, Web and application serving and file and print serving.

The company is also offering discounts on Lotus Domino running on Linux for any IBM eServer, including its zSeries mainframe, to customers moving from Windows programs like Microsoft Exchange.

Special programs are also being offered for migration from Microsoft SQL Server to DB2 Universal Database on Linux and for security and network management migrations.

Microsoft first announced that it was retiring Windows NT in September 2001, in an effort to get users to adopt its Windows 2000 family of products. Support and security fixes are due to be discontinued on 1 January, 2005, and online support will cease 31 December 2004, according to the company's Web site.

IBM's timing is good, said James Governor, principal analyst with RedMonk in London. "Users are definitely looking at Linux to reduce their total cost of ownership around Windows and at the same time IBM is savvy to the fact that it can make extra money on pieces of software and services," Governor said.

Linux has proved itself stable and less expensive than Windows on the server side, and there is already great momentum for customers to move to the platform, he added.

"Linux is not hard to sell at the moment, and IBM has done a great job at associating itself with Linux," Governor said.

However, Jean van Laarhoven, systems manager for part of Amsterdam's city government and a Windows NT user, said that despite Linux's purported benefits, he's sticking with Microsoft.

"I don't trust the evolvement of Linux. It depends too much on hobbyism," Van Laarhoven said. Besides, no one in his three-person department knows about Unix or Linux systems.

"We would have to go back to school," Van Laarhoven said. Even though IBM is offering classes to help users migrate, for the time being Van Laarhoven isn't interested.

He is planning to migrate his department's eight servers from Windows NT to Windows 2003 in June. The licences have already been purchased and he estimated that the cost of the migration -- mainly for support -- will be from €25,000 (US$30,885) to €30,000.

While Van Laarhoven is reluctant to migrate to Linux, IBM will likely get some takers, according to Governor.

"Linux on the server has really proved itself and most ISVs (independent software vendors) are supporting Linux," he said. "This is going to be a very challenging year for Microsoft," he added.