Today's release of Workplace 2.0 is on schedule with the product roadmap IBM laid out last fall.
In May of last year, IBM released Workplace Messaging, the first component in the Workplace suite. In November, it updated Workplace Messaging and added three new components to the Workplace line: collaboration, content management and e-learning.
IBM executives said during today's press event that its new software model brings together the best qualities of Web-based computing and PC desktop environments. The key to this, the company said, is letting the middleware reside on the client, rather than the server.
"The role middleware has played on the server has insulated application developers from the changes in the underlying hardware and operating systems," said Michael D. Rhodin, IBM's vice president of development for Lotus Software, IBM software group. "Really, this announcement is about extending that concept off the server to the client."
IBM said that Workplace Documents leverages client technology to allow users to work connected or disconnected to store and manage documents. The company said this should go a long way toward soothing compliance fears.
"One of the magic things here is that in a server managed model there is a model of your workplace," said Rhodin. "That set of tools shouldn't change merely because you happen to be accessing your tools with a different set of devices."
The company said the benefits of the server-managed client model will be immediately evident to users of Workplace Messaging and Workplace Documents.
Through the server managed client model, Workplace Messaging can now offer users increased functionality normally reserved for desktop applications, IBM said. Some of that new functionality includes the ability to work offline and to view attached documents from within applications.
IBM also announced Workplace Client Technology, software that extends enterprise applications to a wide variety of devices. A core component of the server-managed client model, Workplace Client Technology lets users build on non-PC devices. In addition, the software enables the management of applications in an environment in which devices are not connected to a network all the time.
Michael D. Osterman, president and founder of Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash., said that for him, the two most striking aspects of Workplace 2.0 are its increased flexibility and its potential to lower the total cost of ownership (TCO).
"It allows a variety of devices to be used, and you can use it for a rich client or a browser," Osterman said.
Workplace has the ability to help organizations lower TCO by providing employees a simplified, centralized manner in which to interact with each other and, thereby, increase productivity.
Osterman added that IBM's recent flurry of messages about Workplace and messaging just might be construed as a dig at the competition.
"My guess is that they're taking a shot at Microsoft," he said.
Pierre Fricke, a senior analyst with D.H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, N.Y., agreed with Osterman that this announcement represents a highly strategic move against the Redmond.
For years, Microsoft has been dominant over IBM when it came to front-end systems, Fricke said. IBM is trying to change all that by giving end users a richer, Java-based computing environment.
"This is an area where IBM hasn't connected the dots as well as they have on the server side," Fricke said. "But how well they'll execute remains to be seen."
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