IBMs Bisconti: Under the Hood with IBM Workplace

IBM's new Workplace client brings a rich middleware layer to Windows, Linux and Unix desktops. IBM and Lotus veteran Ken Bisconti drills down on the rich-client platform with eWEEK's Steve Gillmor.

When IBM shook up the collaborative desktop with its Workplace cross-platform, rich-client strategy, the reverberations were felt all the way from Redmond, Wash., to Silicon Valley.

In a conversation with eWEEKs Steve Gillmor, Ken Bisconti, vice president of Lotus Workplace technologies at IBM, details Big Blues new client middleware stack.

Whats the goal of the Workplace client?

When we started talking about the Workplace strategy, a key goal was to provide an integrated platform for collaborative services and a consistent user experience to basic browsers, to mobile devices and also to a rich-client experience.

We werent going to build just a fat-client/rich-client experience like Outlook or Notes, but in fact we were going to carry this componentization model forward on the client side as well.

Were trying to marry the low-TCO, centralized-management qualities and ubiquitous access qualities of traditional Web apps with the rich-function offline support user experience and other qualities of traditional thick clients.

And were doing this by using the model of client-side components with dynamic provisioning technologies and a number of services that we provide.

Some of them are similar to Notes services such as data storage, replication, etc., but there are also many expansions beyond the early Notes model—much broader programmability model, more extensive data-storage capabilities, more openness throughout the stack we provide, and again, not using the traditional thick, fat-client model but using the latest in dynamically provisioned client-side components.

/zimages/3/28571.gifFor more collaboration coverage, check out Steve Gillmors Blogosphere.

Are these services delivered via Java applets?

No, think of a relatively lightweight middleware stack on the client which consists of a runtime environment—a mini-app server if you will—thats based on some services we get from our WebSphere Everyplace colleagues.

It was originally called ASWE, or Extended Services for WebSphere Everyplace, and it consists of a J2EE container and a J9 runtime, and some things for running Java and J2EE applications.

It includes a Cloudscape data store, a relational lightweight embedded relational store that we acquired when we bought Informix [Software] but have developed forward.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about Cloudscape, a 100 percent Java database.

It includes provisioning technology both from Tivoli as well as from the Eclipse effort, and also bidirectional replication based on SyncML—using Notes-quality replication methods but based on a more open SyncML method thats also more conducive to synchronization with non-PC devices. And then on top of that, we deliver a user experience and a programmability and extensibility model based on top of Eclipse.

Eclipse was started by IBM but handed down to an open-source consortium. It was originally developed for rich, development -oriented Java IDEs, and its been a very successful project—over 20 million downloads of the Eclipse toolkit, hundreds and hundreds of plug-ins available, and lots of key tier-one ISVs that have built IDEs based on Eclipse.

But over the past couple of years, thereve also been efforts—one of them called Equinox—to recognize the Eclipse environment as a pretty attractive runtime environment as well, not just an environment for building programming tools.

So, weve capitalized on that, and were using Eclipse in the foundation here to provide a programmability model which is much more flexible and broader than what we have done on the Notes side. It supports Java, J2EE, even .Net, C++ applications—and includes a component model for building cross-platform components. Weve used this platform to build some embedded editors that run on Windows and Linux and whatnot that are OpenOffice-derived.

Compared to old models of Java clients, where you were left to the lowest-common-denominator widgets or functions based on what was able to run cross-platform, Eclipse is much more pragmatic.

It allows you to reach down into the bowels of an OS and call the GUI through Windows GDI interfaces. I can run this on XP and get the look and behavior of XP, I can run it on a future Longhorn and get an Avalon look and feel, I can run it on Macintosh and get a Carbon look and feel, etc.

On top of Eclipse, Cloudscape, the synchronization engine, the provisioning and app runtime, we also provide a number of services—the typical things youd expect Lotus to do with instant messaging, presence awareness, e-mail and calendaring.

Were building document services with embedded document editors—word processing, spreadsheet, presentation tools, etc. —and were building this out as an enabling technology that can be used not just in Lotus Workplace products but all across IBM and IBM partners.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about IBMs new server-based software model.

We will deliver this quarter reference applications using this enabling framework—Workplace Messaging and Workplace Documents. When instantiated in the rich-client mode, you get a richer e-mail experience, offline support, a Notes-quality e-mail experience.

Optionally, Workplace Documents uses the Cloudscape store to create and manage documents on the desktop but then trickle-synch them back to a server to be managed, encrypted, access-controlled, etc.

We integrate and will launch Office editors directly and let you use those natively, or you can use the embedded, OpenOffice-derived editors that we provide as part of the technology stack.

Next page: Forking OpenOffice.