IBM throws weight behind server-managed clients
Thick client bad, thin client bad?
To understand the logic behind IBM's latest strategy announcement - centering on the concept of server-managed clients - you've first got to look at the downside of both thick and thin clients.
Thick clients are bad because of the challenges with distributing code, the high cost, both to IT and the end-user, of management and maintenance, and the fact that the solution is limited to PCs.
Thin clients are bad because they do not provide the rich user experience that can be developed on a thick client. Add to this conundrum the fact that more and more business users will want to move between different client types during a working day - high specification desk top in the office, tablet in the client, voice activated PDA in the car...
Key to IBM's server-managed clients concept is the idea being that any application, data, user interface, transaction or message on the client can be managed from the server. This means that the user does not have to worry about anything but their business problems. Data created on the client will automatically be synchronised with a copy at the server. Applications can run in the client or the server depending on the form of the client and the type of connection. The application and data will be provisioned when needed (on demand). All of this with the TCO profile of a thin client.
It is an appealing vision: TCO of thin client, richness of the thick client and flexibility to run across any client. Can IBM deliver on the vision? It has a strategy for doing so, backed with products to drive the process.
The company recently announced WebSphere Studio 5.1.2 which provides support for three new Java specifications: Java Server Faces, Service Data Objects and Portal Tools. All of which assist the development of rich function on a thin client, for example they can include dynamic graphs that reflect changes put in by the user without having to round trip to the server.
To accompany the strategy, IBM has announced new versions of Workplace Client, Rich Edition to support a thick client PC, and Workplace Client, Micro Edition to support a variety of small forms factor devices.
The rich edition provides the support for dynamic provisioning, data synchronisation, and a set of component such as calendaring and a word processing editor. Together they should supply a productive workplace for the user, which can be used on any thick client operating system, Windows, Linux and even Mac/OS.
The micro edition provides support for micro version of the database, transaction and messaging across 20+ operating environments. This is a fascinating announcement because it has to be seen as IBM going head-to-head with Microsoft to win the corporate user interface. For the enterprises who buy into IBM's strategy, Microsoft will become the supplier of one of the possible operating systems, and a supplier of some productivity applications.
I expect to see more initiatives from the Java community this year which will directly take on Microsoft and provide an open alternative. Microsoft and the .NET community will react. So let battle commence.