IBM's Desktop vision

we might reasonably expect IBM to respond to any success theproduct may have by either buying or buildinga ninties style X-terminal as a Sun Ray competitor.

As fellow blogger Chris Jablonski reported last week ( IBM's Mills touts managed clients 8/10/05), IBM's Steve Mills had some interesting things to tell the Linuxworld audience in San Francisco about its Linux desktop vision.

Here's part of Chris's report:

Managing clients from a platform neutral server platform is a more cost effective way for companies with high numbers of routine task workers, who don't need the same PC experience as knowledge workers, according to Mills. "You don't gain anything by deploying the same infrastructure you did in the mid-80s," he said. It's more complex than simply substituting Linux for Unix or Windows.

What IBM is offering is a package called Workplace. Here's a November, 2004, summary by cnet's Martin LaMonica:

The Workplace software, which is being developed through IBM's Lotus division, is built around the company's Java-based WebSphere Portal software, which delivers applications and documents from servers to desktop PCs or handheld devices running Windows or Linux. The Workplace software can present information in a Web browser or so-called rich-client software, which has full graphical capabilities and can be used offline.

Things have changed a bit since then, with the product maturing through testing, the focus shifting increasingly to the Linux desktop, and the emphasis on off-line continuation gradually morphing into little more than laptop file syncronization.

Somewhere there's an IBM document on migrating to a service oriented architecture that labels the Workplace software stuff the core of a "workframe architecture" and I think that's a pretty good title for a pretty good collection of older word processing, spreadsheet, drawing, and E-communications tools all drawn together and run, via a web portal, directly on the server.

There's an important parallel here to Sun's Java Desktop System [JDS] circa 2002. What IBM is getting ready to do, and what Sun was trying to do then, involves going after Microsoft's Office franchise with desktops that look as much as possible like Microsoft's.

There is one big difference: Sun intended JDS to run on PCs equiped with SuSe Linux and would therefore have continued the basic client-server architecture the Microsoft market relies on. They might have succeeded too, if SuSe hadn't become a competitor and a deal with the communist Chinese hadn't gone sour - leading to layoffs among Sun's developers and today's focus on JDS for the Solaris Sun Ray.

IBM also continues the client-server architecture, but does so in a way that makes it completely irrelevant except as a source of cost. Thus what IBM is really telling the customer is that the Linux client is great, but the Windows client works equally well because their use is a sop to customer assumptions rather than a requirement of the technology.

The conclusions I came too in looking at this is that Workplace cries out for a good smart display option - and therefore first that it might be a useful short term alternative to JDS on the Sun Ray, and secondly that we might reasonably expect IBM to respond to any success the product may have by either buying or building a ninties style X-terminal as a Sun Ray competitor.