With IBM Workplaces new rich-client strategy, Big Blue appears ready to challenge Microsoft for control of its core platform. No, not Windows. And no, not Office, either. Instead, the battle has been joined at Redmonds most vulnerable spot: software as a hosted service.
In this attack, IBM has endorsed and bootstrapped Suns JDS (Java Desktop System) strategy. Even some of the code is the same: Workplaces default word processing, spreadsheet and presentation editors come from the same OpenOffice.org code base, albeit one from which IBM forked away more than a year ago.
"We componentized them and tried to slim them down a bit," Ken Bisconti, vice president of Lotus Workplace technologies, told me but pointedly added that this is not eSuite redux: "Were not building a Web-based desktop suite." Instead, Workplace embeds a mini-app server version of WebSphere Everyplace on the client and dynamically provisions it via an XML data stream. Here, Big Blue takes advantage of the J9 JVM (Java Virtual Machine) to establish an auto-update channel for communicating with the network and its WebSphere server infrastructure.
IBM deploys its Eclipse Runtime IDE as the host for the OpenOffice.org editor components and associated API. This lets IBM play the Java compatibility game with its JVM while using the Eclipse Runtime to provide direct GDI (Graphics Device Interface) calls into Windows, .Net, even "Longhorn" and Mac Carbon applications. Thus, Workplace pushes down a rich cross-platform controller architecture that leverages Office while adding Workplace Messaging and Workplace Documents, which communicate with the WebSphere/DB2 back end.
Its a strong story, particularly for orphaned Notes developers who have long leveraged tight integration with the Windows desktop to provide future Microsoft services today. The dynamic policy-based provisioning and document management capabilities offer immediate ROI for Sarbanes-Oxley and other mandated reporting compliance. And the per-user licensing costs compare favorably with Suns JDS disruptive pricing model, nominally $100 per user.
In fact, IBMs Workplace client initiative proves that Suns software strategy has been effective. By forcing IBM to commoditize its Lotus messaging franchise at software-as-a-service pricing, Sun can now drop the other shoe by pressuring WebSphere and DB2 with per-citizen pricing for Java Enterprise System.
This transfers IBMs profit margin to its services business, where software-as-a-service plays such as Salesforce.com and Googles Gmail are threatening Workplace partners such as Siebel and PeopleSoft, as well as Domino/Notes collaborative application builders. While Suns JVM ships on 60 percent of new machines, the Eclipse engine has nowhere near that share today. Counting on IBM Global Services to spread both the word and the code is a long shot, especially when countered by the Sun-Microsoft détente.
Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor is editor of eWEEK.coms Messaging and Collaboration Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.