At the LinuxWorld Expo this week in San Francisco, Steve Mills, senior VP of Software at IBM, discussed the company's emerging Workplace application framework. He focused on manageability issues as key to the success of Workplace running on Linux clients. Mills indicated that Windows-to-Linux conversion on the desktop today does not make much sense from a productivity standpoint, but that enhanced workflow software running on Linux could be a different matter.
In fact, Workplace could be a central part of a long-discussed move by Linux from the server to the desktop. At LinuxWorld, IBM announced a version of Workplace running on the Red Hat Linux server platform. From such a server, Workplace can be delivered to a variety of clients including Web browsers, mobile devices, Windows and Linux. These clients are efficiently managed, Mills said, from the server side.
IT management's view on moving to Linux clients will be based, according to Mills, on a different set of traits than those involved with gauging moves to Linux on servers. There, IT managers could change out individual boxes, while the clients could remain the same. The servers take some effort to set up, but then require relatively little human touch once they are running.
"The simple logical substitution of running Linux on less expensive hardware does not play out on the client," Mills said. "Businesses don't look at the client and say they want to make a 100 percent crossover from client to client, unless I can do something to improve the workflow and lower the cost of execution and the cost of ownership. Some of the simple models that drove server adoption will not drive client adoption."
A disproportionate number of workers are using the clients in retail, call centers and claims processing, which are task-driven jobs, as contasted to personal production, project management or creative-thinking kinds of applications. So the key, Mills said, is to focus on outfitting the first group of people to improve workflow and save money. "You need to go after what improves operating characteristics and improves IT infrastructure costs in the process," he said.
This, Mills said, is a key thrust of Workplace, which can offer workers a consistent productivity environment, and which can be accessed from a PC, laptop or mobile device. "Workplace capabilities take the richness out of the client and provide the user productivity tools in a way that provides good performance, low latency and managed in a controlled way," he added.
For example, Workplace allows people to manage tasks, edit documents and send e-mail, in a secure insulated container outside the scope of the traditional operating system. Users can open up and edit documents in more than 200 different formats without having to load any additional software on the native client. Since new items are stored in a secure encrypted format, they are also less prone to viruses.
Workplace will also feature a Lotus-designed Activity Explorer, which provides a new way to manage activities. For example, instead of attaching documents to an email, the Activity Manager will let you attach your e-mails to the document-related activity, so that you can track all of your conversations around it. The color of a sent e-mail changes to green when your co-worker is viewing the document, enabling you to launch a chat session to discuss it in real-time.
IBM claims that, overall, the Workplace environment will offer a dramatic reduction in the cost of doing business. Mills said, "We are seeing a 40- to 60-percent improvement in the total cost of user productivity."
The Linux industry is at a juncture, Mills said. Even though open-source Linux software is considerably cheaper (if not free), the real issue is the cost of labor, he said, and Linux shows favorable results there. According to Mills, independent studies have consistently shown a cost advantage in terms of deploying and maintaining the computing environment for Linux.
George Lawton is a freelance writer based in Brisbane, Calif.