IBM Workplace - Now I Get It

Wednesday 8th June, 2005
I attended the IBM Workplace Live! show yesterday which gave me more (much needed) exposure to Workplace, Portal and Notes/Domino 7.

Finally, after seeing some active demos of the Workplace designer etc., I finally see how all this new product suite fits together. I'm going to use an analogy to describe it.

A few decades ago, VHS video cassettes and recorders were invented. They were ground breaking, you could record live TV (in colour) and then playback when you wished. Features included fast forward, rewind etc. Slowly the product evolved; timers were added to schedule recording event, stereo sound, remote controls. It evolved into a fantastic device and a "must have" consumer success....and then it pretty much reached the point where they couldn't get much better without a full rework of the product from the ground up.

Fast wind was good, but seeks times for a tape were just too slow to compete with the access speed people were used to from audio cds. Picture quality was good, but not as good as modern TV pictures. Stereo sound was OK, but people now wanted Surround sound. So, they went back to the drawing board and invented the DVD player.

The DVD player brought video into modern times. The devices could be smaller and thinner. Access times were almost immediate, Digital picture quality rendered lovely images and surround sound, like DTS and Dolby digital, were added. The DVD player went on to be the fastest selling consumer product of all time. But what about my old tapes? How can I play a tape on a DVD player. Will I have to rip and replace them all?

So consumers were given an option. They could keep their old VHS player and build up their DVD collection alongside it. They could pay to have all of their videos converted from one format or the other, or they could just get a dual format player...a DVD player with a tape slot. This will play all of their latest video cassettes without a problem whilst offering all the modern DVD features alongside.

IT strategy has changed a lot in the years since the release of Lotus Notes. We're moving away from heavy, locally installed software and replacing them with server managed thin client apps. We've become used to accessing more and more information from a Web Browser and being able to connect to that information anywhere. Lotus Notes created a connected world without permanent connections with it's excellent replication model. In today's connected world this still has value, but people expect to be able to access their data from anywhere without a client installation.

We're becoming more standards based and more open. People want more choices of OS platform and to be able to manage all their client files from a single interface or Portal, not by clicking Alt-Tab.

Enter IBM Workplace, the new "DVD player" from IBM! It's new technology in a new box with more connections. The remote has more buttons and the picture quality is superb. It's disc based, not tape, so it's quicker and the new point and click front end makes it more modern and intuitive for users.

Lotus Notes isn't just a good product, it is a great product and it's lasted well but at the end of the day it was a fat-client and not as easy to deploy in today's connected web based world. Redeveloping the Notes client completely would be a massive step and likely remove the backwards compatibility they've retained in the product since it's launch. Even today, applications written in Notes 2 have been tested successfully on Notes 7!

So essentially, with Workplace and Portal, IBM have started again. They've built a new product, with modern standards. One that looks modern, works the way people would expect it to and works as a thin-client in a browser. It can be managed easily and applications deployed "On Demand" to the users. Applications can be developed just like Notes, with similar timescale,  with very familiar looking formula language in use. Form design looks very much the same, just modernised. Your old Notes based applications can still be served up through a Notes plug-in within the Workplace managed client, no conversion required at all, just like a DVD player that plays your old video tapes.

Ultimately, if you're thinking of rolling out a new Notes/Domino environment, you should take a serious look at Workplace/Portal. It can do the same kind of thing but in a very different and more modern way. It has more features and looks nicer.

Workplace...it's Notes with surround sound :O)

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