IBM Mobilizes Productivity Suite
By Carlo Longino, Wed May 12 15:00:00 GMT 2004

In a direct attack on Microsoft Office, IBM unveiled a server-based bundle of applications that can be accessed on a range of devices from desktop PCs down to mobile phones.

IBM's new Lotus Workplace Client technology offers e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet and database products to companies, running them from a central server rather than each desktop PC. Since they're on a server, they can be accessed from nearly any type of device via IBM middleware. It's a thin-client approach that isn't new -- Sun and Oracle tried it in the '90s with little success -- but is well-suited to the mobile environment.

Mobile devices running on OSes like Palm or Symbian can run IBM's middleware client, then access the applications through the Web. Workers don't have to remain connected constantly to use the applications. They can connect, sync up with the server to get the latest software and other data they need, complete their work on the device, then connect later and sync again.

It's an agressive play by IBM, which says it isn't aiming to replace Microsoft Office, though the new software will undoubtedly be attractive to enterprises because of its low cost ($2 per user per month) and the easy administration it allows. It's also a device-agnostic platform, so companies can use it with existing Windows boxes, as well as Macs or Linux machines.

It's that device independence that makes it so valuable for mobile devices. Mobile data access is a market of growing importance, and delivering a consistent user experience across multiple platforms will be key. It's also an area Microsoft hasn't yet taken Office in any great way, and gives IBM a significant head start over the next version of Windows, dubbed Longhorn, and the Office updates that will follow its release.