IBM has launched a range of new services that the company said should make it easier for customers to run Lotus on a mixture of Windows and Linux.

The Open Client services will include desktop management and application migration support and advice on best practices. Red Hat and its main Linux distribution rival, Novell will provide operating system services.

In coming up with the services, IBM applied lessons it learned during its own deployment of desktop operating systems, notably Red Hat's Enterprise Linux Workstation software, said Jeff Smith, vice president, open source and Linux middleware for IBM.

"It's about applying the right technology to the right user," he said. Roles-based computing is a concept most software vendors are touting, especially IBM's main groupware rival Microsoft.

With Open Client and other initiatives, IBM's now seeking to differentiate its Lotus collaboration software from Microsoft's Exchange offering by stressing its multiplatform capabilities. Microsoft doesn't provide support for Linux.

IBM has also been slow to come out with versions of its Notes client and Sametime instant-messaging software that can run natively on the open-source operating system. The vendor only announced native Linux support for Notes and Sametime in July and August of last year respectively. Previously, users had to rely on Web clients or software emulation.

It became easier for IBM to offer native Linux support once it moved to new base versions of its software, including Notes and Sametime. The new versions run on a middleware layer from the open-source Eclipse Foundation, which IBM calls the Eclipse Rich Client Platform, Smith said.

Open Client covers Notes, Sametime, WebSphere Portal 6.0 for building portal applications and services accessible by a Web browser and Lotus Expeditor, an Eclipse-based client development platform for composite applications.

IBM plans to add widen the scope of its Open Client services later this year to add in support for Apple Inc.'s Macintosh operating system. The vendor also intends Open Client to include Lotus Notes 8, Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr, when they ship later this year.

In IBM's internal deployment, the company created a single software stack of its collaboration software so that staff could integrate their Lotus applications running on Windows or Linux into IBM's enterprise infrastructure.

About 5 percent of IBM's 329,373 work force, some 16,468 staff, are running Lotus software on Linux, up from the 5,000 employees involved last year in beta testing the new versions of the vendor's collaboration software. The staff running Lotus on Linux include software and hardware developers, chip designers, Linux support and marketing staff and research groups. Linux doesn't yet make sense for IBM business consultants who use a mobile device as their main computer.

"The capabilities are there to support just about every workload," Smith said. "The difference is what effort is required to pull it all together." Running applications on Linux on mobile devices is still more challenging than on desktops or servers.

IBM's due to talk more about Open Client on Wednesday and Thursday at the LinuxWorld OpenSolutions Summit in New York, Smith said.