IBM may be lining up Microsoft Office in its sights with new software designed to create a hub for delivering enterprise-scale applications to PCs and PDAs from centrally managed servers.
Big Blue's new components use a thin-client model that allows software to sit centrally on an organisation's systems as a low-cost alternative to applications running on individual desktops, such as Microsoft's Office suite.
The technology is based on the company's Lotusphere Workplace technology, which runs on PCs and PDAs.
The applications, data and provisioning of access is centrally controlled via the Websphere middleware platform, accessible to the user via a Workplace browser. The data is replicated when online to synchronise the data held at both client and server levels.
The underlying Workplace Client technology is based on the open source Eclipse framework. A micro edition (version 5.7) provides a development platform to extend its use to more devices.
IBM said this was designed to remove the need to use rich-client devices to access and manage data. Any desktop PC, PDA or data-collection device (such as a radio frequency identification tag) can synchronise with a central system.
Users then also have the choice of working online or offline through the Workplace browser.
"People can use virtually any client device they choose to collaborate with people and access and manage key business information and applications whenever and wherever they need it," said IBM in a statement.
By allowing a piecemeal construction, IBM's approach allows companies to roll out the software for some employees while retaining the Microsoft Windows/Office combination for other knowledge workers.
Workplace will be available first in Windows and Linux versions, with a Macintosh product to follow later this year. It is also interoperable with most Eclipse-supported embedded devices, such as Symbian.
Pam Stanford, IBM director of on-demand workplace solutions, said: "We are working with ISVs to embed this technology in applications, and with customers from every industry vertical with pilots. Expect to see results by the fourth quarter."
The platform supports newly available versions of Lotus Workplace Messaging and Documents components, to provide a central location for users to create, manage, store and exchange emails and documents at a cost of $29 per user per year.
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