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IBM has announced plans to extend Linux support for its collaboration tools and to release to the open-source community its framework for searching unstructured data.

Continuing its push to woo small businesses into adopting its portal-based Workplace Services Express team collaboration offering, IBM teamed up with Red Hat Inc. to make it easier for SMBs (small and midsize businesses) to test the collaboration tools in the Red Hat Linux environment.

Under the deal, SMBs can download Red Hat Enterprise Linux and IBM Workplace Services Express preinstalled in a VMware environment and packaged as a virtual machine for a free 90-day trial. The download will be available next month through Red Hat Network.

Workplace Services Express, geared for fewer than 750 users, includes integrated collaborative team tools, document management and instant messaging, while providing access to existing e-mail, calendars and address books.

While the majority of IBM’s SMB customers are still using Lotus Notes and Domino tools, several thousand SMBs have deployed Workplace Services Express since its launch last year, according to Ken Bisconti, vice president of IBM Workplace, Portal and Collaboration Products, in Somers, N.Y.

IBM at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo last week also said it will release next quarter new Domino browser-based messaging software with support for the Mozilla Foundation’s Firefox browser and, in the first half of next year, a new Lotus Notes plug-in that will allow Linux desktop users to access their Notes/Domino system and run Notes/Domino applications in IBM’s Eclipse-based, server-managed IBM Workplace Managed Client.

Support for the Firefox browser is appealing to San Francisco State University, which is rolling out IBM’s Workplace Collaboration tools next year, said Phoebe Kwan, executive director of IT at SFSU.

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“We’re hoping to cater to both Wintel and Mac environments, and we have high hopes that Firefox will provide the same functionality on [both],” said Kwan.

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