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Workplace framework promises easier mobile content

While much of the industry discussion about IBM's Workplace client-side software has revolved around the Lotus Workplace collaboration technologies, another element of IBM's strategy may prove to have greater long-term implications.

@6021 Workplace Client Technology, a client-side framework for the creation of server-managed business applications, could make it easier for Domino shops to update mobile devices with real-time information. Warren Wilson, practice director for Boston-based research firm Summit Strategies, wrote a recent report about WCT, and he spoke with about the technology's potential.

What's the easiest way to explain what Workplace Client Technology is?
It's a model, albeit complex, for building manageability and flexibility into a core application architecture. What is it intended to do?
In the enterprise realm, there have been numerous attempts to streamline and automate the process of tailoring content for mobile devices. This is about downloading software components on an as-needed basis. With that, you get some freedom from the underlying device operating system so that -- in theory -- this management model would support a Nokia Series 60 phone, as well as a pocket PC PDA and a Linux-based notebook. Why is there a need for WCT?
Everybody's talked a lot about having access to data anytime and anywhere with any device. Microsoft was one of the first to use that phrasing, but what Microsoft always meant was anytime and anywhere with any Microsoft device. What IBM is doing is enabling Java to deliver content on any device without the Microsoft caveat, but that also makes it more complex. You wrote that the WCT has "a lot of moving parts." What did you mean?
The flexibility that is so useful to the end user is, theoretically, accomplished by great complexity on the back end. For example, knowing what device and what privileges a user is connecting with is complicated. I may right now be working at a public computer kiosk at an airport, and the server is going to want to tailor my access to the fact that I not only have a kiosk screen, but also that I might walk away without logging off. Somehow it needs to either disconnect me quickly if I leave the kiosk, or only expose to me things that aren't sensitive.

Five minutes from now I might need another piece of info, and I'll whip out my smart phone, and that implies not only a different interface, but also potentially a different set of functions that makes sense for a PDA. In order to execute well in all those different mobile computing scenarios, it requires a lot of intelligence on the back end, such as automation, security control and role-based permissions. How will WCT make it easier for Lotus shops to manage mobile devices?
I think it makes it easier over time, not necessarily immediately. But the fundamental way in which it should pay dividends is it should provide a unified approach to managing and supporting the full range of access devices that employees need to use, as opposed to a separate management structure for wireless devices versus desktops and notebooks. One comprehensive framework to manage all that should pay dividends in cost, efficiency and security over time.

For more information

Read our exclusive: Is Workplace the new Notes?


Learn why one firm believes Workplace muddles IBM's strategy.

 You wrote about the complex multiple processing layers required for cross-platform integration and multiple operating systems. Is it realistic to think that IBM can solve that problem, and what does it mean that benchmark tests aren't yet available?
I think they are an important proof point, and I hope IBM can issue [benchmarks] soon, because I think that has a lot to do with the credibility of the offering. It's hard for me to imagine that having the multiple processing layers won't impose some kind of a performance hit, but the proof will be in the benchmark test and the ability of IBM and its partners to architect a solution so that hit isn't noticeable to the end user. How does this technology potentially open the door for Linux on the desktop and on mobile devices?
We're starting to hear more about Linux in both of these settings, but in a fairly limited way. The argument for Windows has always been its rich capabilities, but you also have to manage Windows and pay a lot for it. If you could have a lower cost Linux machine that went and retrieved applications or functionality on demand, that would be an attractive alternative. That's what IBM wants WCT to enable. I don't see WCT by itself displacing Windows anytime soon or at all, but it does create the possibility of alternatives that certainly will find some niches. Finally, what's your outlook for WCT, and what will determine its ultimate success or failure?
Ultimately, it'll come down to cost, performance and transparency, so they're going to have to deliver on all three of those fronts. It is complex, and there are a lot of pieces still to be delivered, but it's a tremendously promising idea. Some of the early deliverables are strong, but there's a long way to go. So I think, as with any major initiative, it'll take a sustained effort, and it'll probably be a few years before we'll know whether this is going to be earth-shaking or not.

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