More than a year after IBM CEO and chairman Sam Palmisano challenged his company to move to the Linux desktop by the end of 2005, IBM has significantly toned down its rhetoric on the subject of open source clients.

"We don't have anything we want to say that's definitive," said Nancy Kaplan, an IBM spokeswoman, as she declined to comment on specifics of the roll-out. "There are people using Linux and nobody is telling them to stop," she said.

IBM's Linux migration plans were made public in January 2004, just months after IBM CIO Bob Greenberg formed an internal initiative called the Open Desktop project to facilitate the move.

"Our chairman has challenged the IT organisation, and indeed all of IBM to move to a Linux based desktop by the end of 2005," Greenberg wrote in a November 2003 memo. "This means replacing productivity, Web access and viewing tools with open standards based equivalents," he said.

IBM executives said at the time that they had approximately 15,000 Linux desktops within the company and predicted that they would have between 40,000 and 60,000 desktops in operation by the end of 2004.

IBM's Kaplan declined to say whether that goal had been met or not. "I don't know if there was ever a goal of 40,000 users; I don't know if there are 40,000 users," she said. "There's nothing mysterious about it; we're using Linux."

Whether IBM's Linux users are getting any help from IBM's internal support staff is another question, however.

According to one IBM employee, who asked not to be identified, the company has created a Linux version of its standard desktop client, called the Client for eBusiness. Based on the Red Hat Linux distribution, the Linux client includes the Open Office productivity suite, a Lotus Notes client running under the Wine Windows emulation software, and the Mozilla browser.

Though IBM volunteers have set up an internal IRC channel where Linux problems are discussed online, users may experience problems running IBM's internal Web applications. Most of those applications are written for Internet Explorer, which has not been ported to Linux. Internet Explorer is the only browser supported by IBM's internal support desk, according to another IBMer.

"If you don't use Internet Explorer, you might not get very far with them helping you with the problem," he said.

The majority of IBM's Linux users to date are technical users in the company's product development and research and development groups - users who are technical enough to support themselves, the sources said.

IBM is using Wine to run Lotus Notes software on thousands of clients, according to sources, but ironically, the company's internal use of the open-source Windows operating system emulator did not translate into a ringing endorsement in a guide to migrating to Linux clients, published recently on IBM's Web site.

Wine is mentioned only in passing, in a section entitled "What to do if all else fails," and it is called a "temporary workaround" to get an application running on the Linux client. "This is not a solution for the long run," the guide states.

(Peter Sayer, in Paris, contributed to this report.)