GRAPEVINE, Texas -- IBM said Monday a new set of tools will enable developers with almost any level of expertise -- from experienced programmers to line-of-business managers -- to create customized business applications as add-ons for its Lotus Workplace platform.
During the Rational Software Development User Conference this week, IBM executives said the tools are designed to suit a broad range of skill sets and business needs for independent software vendors and corporate developers.
"It's no longer a one-size fits all approach," said Scott Hebner, director of marketing for IBM's WebSphere Software.
For example, an automotive software provider could customize Workplace applications for salespeople in the field who are required to use a handheld computer.
Workplace is a set of customizable online work collaboration products from IBM's Lotus division. The products consist of Workplace Messaging, Workplace Team Collaboration, Workplace Collaborative Learning, and Workplace Web Content Management. Workplace is IBM's alternative to Microsoft's Office desktop software. The next version of Workplace is expected to be released later this month.
The customizable add-on tools are part of IBM's recently announced Software Development Platform, which is intended to bring all the IBM Rational developer's tools under the Eclipse umbrella.
By building off the Eclipse open source platform, IBM has a "unifying platform" that can focus on skill sets, middleware, XML, DB2 and others, Hebner said.
For the expert developer or user with a need for complex business applications, the Workplace portfolio contains Workplace Designer, which contains a visual scripting tool used for building standalone business applications. It requires less Java experience than the existing WebSphere Studio. Workplace Designer, set to be officially released in late 2004, can also be used to complement the second of the four toolset offerings, Workplace Builder.
Hebner said that the Workplace Builder tool is aimed at line-of-business users and customers with limited experience in application development. Users are able to save applications as reusable templates. Builder is slated for release in Q3 2004.
Rounding out the quartet of tool sets are the Workplace API Toolkit and the WebSphere Studio Device Developer (WSDD) 5.7.
According to Hebner, WSDD 5.7 will allow developers to create applications on more than laptops and the desktop, extending their range into mobile devices, cell phones and smart phones, and allowing the applications to run in both connected and disconnected environments. WSDD 5.7 will be available at the end of this month.
The API Toolkit provides independent software vendors, developers and business partners with sample code, documentation and APIs and service provider interfaces designed to deeply integrate the customer in the Workplace environment. The expected release date issued by IBM is Q3 2004, with a follow-up release of a Workplace client toolkit for late 2004.
No need to 'rip and replace'
Mike Devlin, general manager of the Rational software group, said the standard development approach was to assume that all customers were using some sort of legacy or "legacy mix" system, so that they would not have to adopt the "rip and replace" approach necessary with some competitors.
Arif Padaria, senior associate with German- and Boston-based Techno Venture Management, felt the new tools were "exciting," because it showed IBM was continuing its bid into the on-demand realm.
Padaria said the "all-encompassing" approach by IBM and Rational was very positive to see in an industry dominated by a few software giants.
But one UK-based IT manager, who did not want to be identified, was a bit more guarded in his response, saying big software companies like IBM have been making announcements concerning "new releases" for varied skill sets for years without much results.
He said he would like to see a more customer-oriented, robust approach to software development taken by Big Blue, without all the "bells and whistles." However, he did say that the customer-driven approach was a good start to squelching his criticism.
Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Jack Loftus, News Writer