IBM is trying to hit Microsoft where it hurts, with a new offering designed to lure customers away from Windows 7.

The company is teaming up with Canonical to provide cloud- and Linux-based desktop packages in the US at half the cost of upgrading to Windows 7. It's called the IBM Client for Smart Work package, which was initially launched last month in Africa, as it was designed for emerging markets.

But IBM sees an opportunity to extend the product to the US "to help companies avoid the higher licensing, hardware upgrades and migration costs associated with Microsoft Windows 7," IBM said.

Despite announcing the product on Tuesday, IBM and Canonical say it won't be widely available from its full lineup of partners until 2010. That gives the industry's dominant operating system vendor a significant head start, with Microsoft's Windows 7 set for general availability on Thursday.

But IBM says the Client for Smart Work package, which is based on IBM's productivity and collaboration software, will give customers a less expensive alternative to Windows by taking advantage of existing PCs or low-cost netbooks and thin clients.

IBM claims its package will help businesses save as much as 50 percent versus Windows on software costs. IBM says Client for Smart Work will consist of the following components, some of which are already available: "Word processing, spreadsheets and presentations from IBM Lotus Symphony, which is a free-of-charge download on the web; email from IBM Lotus Notes or the cloud-based LotusLive iNotes launched earlier this month, which starts at $3 per user, per month; Cloud-based, social networking and collaboration tools from from $10 per user, per month; and Ubuntu, an open platform for netbooks, laptops, desktops, and servers."

"Since the IBM Client for Smart Work is based on Eclipse, Linux and open web standards, it can integrate with any third-party software," IBM says. "This gives companies the freedom to use technologies of their choice, extend their functions and preserve existing investments."

See also:

Windows 7 review

Network World