IBM Sets Out New Workplace Software Strategy

IBM has outlined a new Lotus Workplace software environment aimed at joining Web and traditional PC computing to enable more efficient building, deployment and management of applications and data.

Big Blue said its new environment and software products such as Lotus Workplace Messaging and Workplace Documents will give users a new way to develop, deliver and centrally manage rich end-user applications in a server-managed client model.

Meta Group senior vice president Mike Gotta told TechNewsWorld that the new Workplace products and strategy break from the recent trend toward Web and portal-based management and return more control back to PCs and other client devices.

“It sets the stage for companies to take advantage of what we used to call rich-client computing,” Gotta said, downplaying the Big Blue strategy as a play against Microsoft and its Office software.

“It’s not an anti-Microsoft strategy,” Gotta said. “It’s actually a pro-end-user platform.”

Fusing Web and Device

IBM, which touted partnership and support on the new strategy from Adobe, PeopleSoft and Siebel, said its new server-managed client model enables customers to manage, provision and immediately deploy key business applications and data to a range of devices, including desktops, laptops, PDAs, cell phones and shop-floor terminals.

“IBM is combining the low total cost of ownership and immediate deployment qualities of Web applications with the rich functionality of traditional PC software,” the company said in a statement. “As a result, customers will no longer have to deal with separate and distinct applications on the Web and their desktop PCs — receiving the benefits of a single model of client computing.”

Gotta said that while the plan looks good on paper, it has yet to be proven in the real world.

“This is not just a 2004 thing for IBM,” Gotta said. “It’s a journey. They’re putting into play something that is going to take years to play out. The question is, will people follow the parade that IBM has started?”

Looking Like Longhorn

There was some industry speculation that the new strategy and software from IBM — which includes new Lotus Workplace software for collaboration, messaging and document management — was aimed at competing with Microsoft’s Office products, but analysts agreed the IBM strategy was more of a competitor with Microsoft’s forthcoming Longhorn, the next-generation of Windows.

“In many ways, it is competing more with Longhorn because that’s what Longhorn is supposed to do,” Meta Group vice president Steve Kleynhans told TechNewsWorld. “In some ways, it’s not nearly as ambitious as Longhorn, since that encompasses ‘everything.’ But in another sense, it’s extremely ambitious because no one’s been able to create as complete a picture as Microsoft.”

Gotta agreed that in the new Workplace environment and software, IBM is promising some aspects of what Microsoft is promising with Longhorn, which is also proposed as a platform to join Web and client computing, workers and devices.

Open in the Middle

IBM said its “open middleware” was designed to support devices of all kinds running Windows, Unix, Linux and other operating systems for wireless or embedded devices, such as Symbian. Big Blue said support for Mac OS would be available later this year.

IBM said independent software vendors, developers and integrators would be able to use the Workplace technology to deploy offerings to heterogeneous environments as well as customized solutions on a range of devices extending J2EE solutions to J2ME devices.

“This really is a collaborative play,” Kleynhans said. “This is all about creating an environment for developers to create new applications in. It takes the management of applications, the interfaces between applications and the operating system and packages them up so you can create new applications that can be run on top of Windows, Linux or whatever is coming.”

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