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Volume 8, Number 12 -- March 25, 2008

IBM Places Mobile Computing, Composite Apps on UC Pedestal

Published: March 25, 2008

by Dan Burger

Using a flurry of announcements last week, IBM kept the spotlight on collaborative software, mobile computing, unified communications, and its Lotus software division. Mixed in with product achievements such as bringing desktop-style applications to mobile phones and adding on-demand video and IP telephony features to Lotus Sametime were predictions of how unified communications (UC) would reshape the business world and details of additional investments Big Blue is making in UC technology.

To emphasize what he sees as product differentiation between unified communications coming from IBM compared to UC products on the Microsoft runway, Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM Lotus software, made a few workplace predictions while he had the media's attention at the VoiceCon conference last week. Cubicle walls will be broken down as mobile computing unleashes workers from their desks and desktop PCs and phones, he predicted. Integrating business processes with the new mobile workforce will provide great advantages to organizations that move forward first, he continued. Interoperability will be the highest of priorities.

Anyone who reads between the lines can interpret IBM's intention of labeling Microsoft as proprietary. It's also easy to read IBM's intent to distinguish itself as creating interoperability and leading the way for future mobile workforces. Believe what you will, but watch your step. The background noise you hear is the incessant rumble of the marketing machinery.

Don't be Late to Integrate

Lotus Expeditor, IBM's desktop client integration framework, is the key ingredient in developing a variety of client and server applications that are often referred to as business mashups or composite applications. An example might be a blend of Web services such as news feeds, weather reports, maps, or traffic conditions, with enterprise content and services from databases, spreadsheets, and documents. What's import though is that Expeditor is used to extend these composite apps to desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.

For what it's worth, Lotus has a history of enterprise-level application development that archrival Microsoft can't match. If you're IBM, it's worth a lot. It gets a lot of ink in the Lotus marketing materials. IBM executives talk it up as much as possible. The connotation is that Lotus, from a business application perspective, is battle tested and Microsoft's fruit is still a bit green. There's something to this, but it's also worth noting that Lotus software has changed considerably during the last few years. Many of its customers are not happy about the changes. On the other side of the camp, many are saying that change was long overdue.

Development of Mobile Apps

Lotus is showing off its application development capabilities with Expeditor, which allows developers to move applications to the mobile environment. Expeditor arrived in August 2007 and included support for Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime collaboration software from the start. It is also compatible with Lotus Symphony, IBM's no-charge suite of office productivity software programs that rival Microsoft's Office suite.

Last week at the EclipseCon conference in Santa Clara, California, IBM demonstrated the new Expeditor 6.1.2 software that enables mobile application developers to create applications and services that combine information from multiple sources. The demonstration included mobile phone users simultaneously accessing desktop-style applications related to social networking, composite applications, and other business applications. Eclipse technology is behind the embedded Rich Client Platform (eRCP) application model, which allows applications to be created to span desktop and mobile devices.

IBM and Sprint are hand-in-hand on this beta-release software called Titan, which allows developers, for the first time, to move business applications from the desktop to most Windows Mobile 6 smartphones available from Sprint. Titan is based on Expeditor software.

The beta version of Sprint Titan is available for download at this link.

Early reports indicate developers will use Titan to create CRM and sales force automation applications. Titan made its debut at the Sprint Application Developers Conference in December.

Video Conferencing: Will It Reduce Travel?

Another piece of unified communications pie was dished out last week when the Lotus Sametime environment has gained live broadcast and on-demand digital video content capabilities that are expected to help organizations reduce travel expenses through video conferencing. With this technology, users can view live video around the globe or view stored content from an organizationís resource library.

This comes by way of a plug-in designed and developed by VBrick Systems. VBrick also offers appliances, an EtherneTV Portal Server, for instance, and includes a feature to automatically open video files in a selected video player. For example, users can watch CNN video streams in the Windows Media Player and older, on-demand programming in MPEG-2. Another option, for Linux and Mac users, would be to launch QuickTime for MPEG-4 video files.

The video plug-in will become available in April 2008 and support MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and Windows Media.

IP Telephony and the Mobile Worker

Truly unified communications depends on IP telephony as a component. To bring that component into the Lotus Sametime environment, IBM turned to ShoreTel, a company that specializes in integrating voice, data, and messaging communications with business processes, particularly in the small to mid size business (SMB) demographic.

Planned for availability later this year, the Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony offering will help users manage telephone calls from within the Lotus Sametime client. With Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony software, users can route calls to various devices and set rules on how to handle calls based on their status. For example, a user could select to have all calls routed to a mobile device when their calendar shows they are in a meeting.

Accolades and New Features for Sametime

It was also announced last week that that Lotus Sametime software was named the 2007 Product of the Year by Unified Communications magazine. It was cited for having "a wide range of innovations that can change the way people work together" and also for combining software, services, hardware, and a host of third-party solutions.

Later this month, IBM is expected to release Lotus Sametime Advanced, which will offer real-time community tools that make it easier to find information and share expertise in real time with groups of people.

It will feature persistent chat designed for use on a specific topic with a related community of people and also allow users to start a screen- or application-sharing session that will permit other participants to make changes to documents.

IBM Devotes $1 Billion to Unified Communications

Earlier this month IBM announced it was investing $1 billion in its UC efforts during the next three years. Although not specifically accounting for where or how the money would be spent, executives emphasized the importance of creating software to serve a more mobile workforce and provide those workers with remote access to business applications. Also referenced was expanded research and development on "a growing number" of social and collaborative software projects. The project areas included computer-mediated communication, interactive visualization, virtual worlds, and accessibility.

During the press conference highlighting the investment, IBM promised to bring its unified communications offerings to popular mobile devices marketed by Sprint-Nextel, (noted above) RIM, Apple, and Symbian.


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