IBM Unveils Server-Based Software Model

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-05-10

IBM Unveils Server-Based Software Model

NEW YORK—IBM on Monday unveiled a new server-based software model designed to lessen enterprises reliance on desktop applications such as Microsoft Office, while easing application management and making platform choice irrelevant.

The company is living up to its promise of delivering "middleware everywhere" by shrinking its core middleware technology down to run on devices and other platform, according to company officials at a kickoff event here.

The new model supports the management, provision and deployment of business applications and data from a central server to clients ranging from PCs to PDAs, cell phones and shop-floor terminals. Enterprises would get the rich functionality of PC software from applications deployed via the Web, IBM officials said.

The model also extends applications to virtually any client a customer chooses, as the open middleware is designed to support clients running Windows, UNIX and Linux, as well as operating systems for wireless and embedded devices such as Symbian. Support for the Mac operating system will be available later this year, company officials said.

As reported by eWEEK in January, much of this new software model will center around IBMs fledgling Lotus Workplace messaging and collaboration suite. Two new Workplace products were announced as part of the new software model launch: IBM Lotus Workplace Messaging and IBM Lotus Workplace Documents.

Both offerings are delivered through Workplaces new rich client platform built on the Eclipse framework. The new applications will allow organizations to centrally deploy and manage messaging and document management function to the most appropriate client or different types of users, while providing a rich client experience, IBM officials said.

Workplace Documents will provide a centralized location for users to create, import, edit and save rich documents, presentations and spreadsheets, officials said.

IBM also announced Workplace Client Technology, Micro Edition, also known as Workplace Micro Environment (WCTME) version 5.7. This middleware product is designed to extend enterprise applications to non-PC devices so that enterprises, developers and manufacturers can build and configure applications on devices, as well as manage, update and install new services remotely and wirelessly, IBM officials said.

The software enables the management of applications in an environment in both connected and disconnected environments, officials said.

The new software model has also been extended to Tivoli software to centrally administer clients and provision computing resources to clients when needed; WebSphere Portal software to provide a single point of personalized interaction with people, applications and content; and built-in, server-managed security, workflow, and application and data management capabilities, officials said.

Next page: "This is not a Microsoft replacement system."

Page Two

At the kickoff event, Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBMs software division, said "this is all about Workplace and trying to outfit our customers and their employees; its all about productivity. Were trying to make people more productive and connected to our pervasive computing strategy so they can run our middleware on any device."

Mills explained that the client systems of yesterday were monolithic, with rich function on the desktop, but were stove-piped. The clients of today tend to be Web front ends that require service-specific programming. But the clients of tomorrow will be managed clients that will be delivered on demand with rich function delivered across broad access spectrums.

To deliver this capability, IBM had to make its middleware more broadly available. "Weve miniaturized and micro-ized technology to allow our middleware to run on any device," Mills said. "This is all about customer value; this is not about competitive value. This is not an anti-Microsoft play."

The offerings will be available for as low as $1 a month per employee for the IBM Lotus Workplace Messaging, and $1 a month per employee for IBM Lotus Workplace Documents, according to Ambuj Goyal, general manager of IBMs Lotus division. Yet Mills said this is not a play akin to Sun Microsystems Inc.s JDS (Java Desktop System), which Sun offers for $5 per employee per month.

Sun has released version 2.0 of JDS. Click here to read the full story.

"This is not a Microsoft replacement system," Mills said, whereas Sun markets its JDS as a replacement to Microsofts Office suite.

"We have created a Microsoft Office plug-in for the rich client," Goyal said. Indeed, the plug-ins and the user interface technology for the new software were written in Eclipse, Mills said.

And, through Eclipse and its flexibility in building component applications and services, "this extends that services-oriented architecture notion and makes the client device a first-class citizen in those SOA environments," Mills said.

"Eclipse is the foundation," Goyal said. "The basic technology is built on Eclipse. It has the capability to make an XP application look like XP, 2000 look like 2000, etc."

The Eclipse 3.0 foundation provides the user experience framework, windowing and component interaction mechanism, he said.

"Components can be put together to create any desktop you want," Goyal said.

Stephen OGrady, senior analyst at RedMonk LLC, said IBM was taking the "first steps" toward addressing its customers desktop concerns with the new server-based software model and applications.

"IBM is essentially aiming to answer several important questions by declining to choose sides," said OGrady, in Bath, Maine. "Linux versus Windows? Take your pick. Rich client versus thin client? How about both?

"It essentially is positioning the offering to be the deployment target for IT shops rather than the OS, abstracting out questions around OSes or devices. IT shops can develop to Workplace and deliver on multiple platforms, from devices to PCs," OGrady said.

Meanwhile, Gary Cohen, general manager of IBMs pervasive computing effort, took a swipe at IBM competitors who tend to look at the move to devices from an always-connected perspective.

"We never believed in a Webtone—that one would always be connected," Cohen said. "We knew youd be connected, disconnected and intermittently connected. We have provided that middleware" to handle all of these scenarios, he said. Cohen said IBM supports more than 20 operating systems and runs on the five major device processors.

"The miniaturization of the software gives customers the opportunity to deliver enhanced value," Cohen said.

Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from IBM officials.

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