IBM Shows Off Web 2.0 Stuff with Lotus Quickr
July 31, 2007 Alex Woodie
When you think of IBM, it’s safe to say that software isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The company’s very name, International Business Machines, conjures images of big honking servers toiling away in a darkened room, processing billions of transactions for the world’s largest companies. But with every successive quarter, IBM becomes more of a software vendor than a hardware maker. As a demonstration of its new business content collaboration software, Lotus Quickr, shows, the company is surprisingly hip to the latest Web 2.0 thing.
Lotus Quickr is a new product designed to allow business users to share their documents and collaborate in the creation of content and its ongoing editing and distribution. By centralizing the storage of content on a Web server (either Domino or WebSphere), and using the latest Web 2.0 distribution techniques, including wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, and podcasts, Quickr helps democratize access to content, provide a secure place on the Web for co-workers to share their thoughts, while freeing users from relying on e-mail, which often becomes too distributed and fragmented for large-scale collaboration.
IBM’s Quickr product manager, Mark Pagnier, recently provided a demonstration of Lotus Quickr and its capabilities. As the demo showed, Quickr excels at simplifying access to the day-to-day content, such as word processing documents, spreadsheets, multimedia presentations, pictures, and other content.
In much the same way that the World Wide Web is primarily navigated with the mouse, users get around Quickr mostly through pointing and clicking. The keyboard is used primarily to name “places” (the core navigational element in Quickr) and “views” (a customized view of a place), and to enter search criteria and add comments. Much of the other work, such as adding content to places or viewing content, is done with the mouse. The product’s main page even has a big bull’s eye that says “Drag desktop files and folders here.” It doesn’t get more obvious than that.
But AJAX also does things that were never done with Win32 development. For example, AJAX allows users to make a scaled-down copy of a file appear in a pop-up window in their browsers when they hover over the file in Quickr. (This is extremely handy when perusing image files or PDFs, but not so good with Word documents sporting 8-point Helvetica.)
AJAX makes the Quickr interface more intuitive and dynamic, Pagnier says. “But you’re not stuck with the Web experience,” he says. Indeed, Quickr also sports integration with Windows Explorer, to allow users to navigate their Quickr places and their views from Windows Explorer’s traditional tree view. “Being able to access places directly from Windows Explorer is very important,” Pagnier says. “We’re doing things you wouldn’t be able to do with Windows Server.” (Not surprisingly, Pagnier is quick to point out any feature that may be lacking in Microsoft‘s main competitor to Quickr, SharePoint Server.)
Integration with Lotus Sametime is another important element of Quickr. In many cases Lotus Quickr version 8 will be deployed alongside Lotus Sametime version 7.5.1, IBM’s solution for real-time communication, which supports e-mail, instant messaging (IM), voice over IP (VoIP), video Web conferencing, and “presence awareness.”
“We’re trying to blur the line between the two types of collaboration, the synchronous (Sametime) and asynchronous (Quickr), so the experience becomes more seamless for users,” Pagnier says. For example, when users begin a Web-based collaboration session using the wiki format, they’ll be able to press a few buttons and presto–they’ll be instantly connected to others via one of Sametime’s supported communication methods.
One of the main focuses of Quickr is to take document-based collaboration out of the realm of e-mail, which is often too discombobulated and disconnected to keep everybody current with the latest version of the shared documents. However, that’s not to say that Quickr has entirely eliminated e-mail from the picture. In fact, Quickr includes e-mail as one of the collaboration and distribution methods available to users.
But instead of implementing a plain vanilla version of e-mail support in Quickr, IBM was smart enough to make Web 2.0 part of the e-mail equation. So instead of providing a way to send files as e-mail attachments–thereby restarting the whole nasty versioning crisis you were trying to get away from in the first place–IBM decided to give users the option of sending links to the files’ secure home on the Web servers, instead. When users call Quickr’s e-mail feature, the product actually asks the user whether they’d like to send the file or the URL link–a very good use of code. In the coming months, Quickr is due to get better support for Microsoft Outlook, as well, which should improve the product’s e-mail support even more.
Quickr also provides something for the systems administrators, who are rightfully wary of adding more products that they must support. Because Quickr stores its files in a relational database and uses LDAP to secure access to its content, the software doesn’t exacerbate the spread of unstructured data and compound the problem of managing and securing access to that data.
According to Pagnier, 80 percent of the content of the world is unstructured content stored on Novell and Windows file servers and Windows desktops. Quickr can actually help in two ways, by providing structure to new content, and by providing a way to add an element of structure to previously unstructured data. “Customers want to do away with using Windows file server, which are less secure and have more redundancy,” Pagnier says. “They may already have content in another system, and so they could consolidate data using Quickr. Quickr can point to those documents, assuming they’re URL addressable.”
By all appearances, IBM is headed down the right track with Lotus Quickr. Even its name shows an improvement over the notoriously non-intuitive names of IBM’s past. (Thank heavens they didn’t call it “Basic Content Services for the Web with AJAX Technology, Lotus and WebSphere Editions.”) Whereas some of IBM’s software has developed a reputation for being heavy and non-intuitive to use, Quickr is as easy to use as MySpace, the popular social networking Web site, which is what its designers were after.