IBM puts Workplace at center of managed apps vision

By Stacy Cowley, IDG News Service |  On-demand Software

IBM Corp. is looking to broaden its Workplace architecture for component-based application delivery beyond the Lotus portfolio in which Workplace got its start. IBM software head Steve Mills outlined Monday how a forthcoming rich-client platform from IBM can be used as a hub to deliver to end-users a variety of applications centrally managed on servers, including applications from Microsoft Corp.'s Office suite.

IBM's Workplace products won't save companies money on hardware or software licensing costs: Businesses will still have to license every application they deliver to their users. Instead, Workplace is aimed at increasing productivity and decreasing the labor costs firms bear for managing their desktops, executives said.

"The real savings is on people and productivity inside the enterprise. PCs and devices are cheap. That's not where the savings are," Mills said at a press event in New York. "The more we can speed up the human side of the business processes, the more economic benefit is delivered to our customers."

IBM's Workplace Client Technology, first discussed in January at IBM's Lotusphere show and due out this quarter, is an Eclipse-based platform that places on client devices a WebSphere layer and a relational database layer. In conjunction with IBM's server software, it allows offline and synchronized access to an array of applications.

The strategy isn't new -- it's a variation on the thin-client vision Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. touted in the '90s, and which Hewlett-Packard Co. said last year it would like to revisit.

"What's new is the fact the IBM is pulling it all together," said independent technology analyst Amy Wohl.

She expects Workplace to attract the interest of large companies exploring the idea of centrally managed desktops. She also anticipates the piecemeal desktop construction Workplace allows will attract corporate interest. Companies can mix and match applications, keeping some workers on Microsoft's Office applications while adding other users on other applications.

The first two business processes IBM wants to address with Workplace are document management and messaging. For messaging, it will use the upcoming next version of its Lotus Workplace Messaging software; for document management it will offer the newly announced Lotus Workplace Documents software. Both are due out this quarter. Other business processes will be developed soon in conjunction with business partners, executives said.

A plug-in built into Workplace Documents will allow it to manage Microsoft Office files, according to Ken Bisconti, IBM's vice president of messaging products. He declined to say if IBM has any beta testers managing Office with Workplace.

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