IBM Blue Spruce Hints at Future of Web Collaboration

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-11-24

IBM Blue Spruce Hints at Future of Web Collaboration

When the subject turns to browser-based innovation, you'd be forgiven if IBM didn't immediately pop up in the conversation alongside vendors such as Google, Mozilla and Yahoo.

That may change with the eventual arrival of Blue Spruce, a Web browser application platform IBM is working on to allow simultaneous multiuser interactions enabled by AJAX and other standard technologies through the Web browser.

David Boloker, CTO of IBM's Emerging Internet Technologies group, met with eWEEK recently to show off Blue Spruce, a mashup that combines Web conferencing with voice and video and other data forms to let people share content.

The project is IBM's solution to the classic one-window, one-user limitation of current Web browsers. Boloker summed it up:

Blue Spruce is really about, How do I take existing apps, enable them for audio and video and also add the ability to start sharing things using existing Web widgets, Web pages and building on top of that?

Calling Blue Spruce Web collaboration "on steroids," Boloker said the platform is geared for impromptu meetings and next-generation telepresence that products such as IBM's own Lotus Sametime wouldn't be able to adequately support. The market probably needs this technology now given the harsh reality of the current recession.

In the first demo, Boloker logged into the Blue Spruce client to show how a real estate investment meeting might work using the Zillow real estate application.

Using a MacBook, he opened a session window supported by the open-source WebKit browser to engage a colleague named Bill, posing as his real estate broker.

Through a small Web conferencing window on the left of the screen, Boloker and Bill could see and hear each other as with Lotus Sametime Unyte, although the feature was created specifically for Blue Spruce.

Boloker and Bill were then able to move their respective mouse pointers around the screen to click and make changes on the Zillow application, with the platform enabling concurrent interactions through the browser without disruptions. Yet this appearance is somewhat deceiving.

Blue Spruce an Alternative to Flash, Silverlight?

What makes Blue Spruce a breakthrough is that while Boloker and Bill were collaborating through the browser, they weren't actually sharing content. Both workers grabbed a Web page through the Blue Spruce client, but the "events" enabled by the mouse are what is being sent to the Blue Spruce Co-Web Server.

Because Boloker triggered the session, Bill's mouse events were sent to the Co-Web Server, then sent to Boloker's client, which was processing the event on his laptop. Boloker explained:

It looks like we're both on the same Web page, but in reality we're not. The value of this, if I happened to be in Sydney and he happens to be in New Hampshire, I'll pick up the caches for general data in both locations.

Next, Boloker showed a more complex scenario involving Reuters, where he and Bill pretended to be stock traders sharing information on the Morning Call application. The mock traders shared streaming video and breaking news alerts through the "shared" browser and did stock quote searches based on those events.

Blue Spruce, first reviewed by ReadWriteWeb earlier in November, is an impressive collaboration mashup, adding high-quality audio and video to shared (though not shared according to the computer logic) collaboration.

RWW's Richard McManus said IBM appears to be aiming to compete with Adobe's Flash or Microsoft's Silverlight rich application platforms. Perhaps, but from a collaborative mashup standpoint there isn't anything exactly like Blue Spruce.

Though not open source, Blue Spruce leverages open standards, including XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) for events and H.264 for video, in addition to AJAX. For the demos, Boloker used IBM multimedia plug-ins for Safari, Cocoa XMPP plug-ins for Safari, and OpenAjax Hub and widgets. Blue Spruce will eventually be ported to Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 and up in January and Mozilla Firefox shortly thereafter.

As a Web collaboration mashup, Blue Spruce would look equally at home in the company's Lotus or WebSphere product lines; Lotus because it's collaboration and WebSphere because it includes a Web server platform.

But that's probably a couple years out. For now, Blue Spruce remains a proof of concept. In the first quarter of 2009, IBM will begin more serious trials of the technology with a hospital, a utility company and the financial industry.

Boloker said the next phase of the project will be to move Blue Spruce to the mobile smartphone, which could be very promising for Nokia S60 users, RIM BlackBerry users and, possibly, Apple iPhone users.

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