IBM plans richer web apps

First look at IBM's plans for rich client

The web browser is wonderful for the publication of information, but as a data entry environment or software development platform it leaves a great deal to be desired.

Because of the shortcomings of HTML and JavaScript, we now take for granted that different skill sets are needed for developing web sites and business applications. Products and technologies such as ASP.NET, JSP and ColdFusion help the developer produce business applications for the web, but after spending large sums of money on developing mediocre business systems many businesses are now looking for other ways of developing rich business applications for deployment across the web.

In brief, the goal is to have a secure centrally managed environment that provides users on many platforms and devices with a high-quality experience. There are a number of contenders, some of which run within the browser while others run independently of the browser and just use the internet as a transport mechanism.

In order to operate in this space, IBM has released two related technologies, the IBM Workplace Client Technology (WCT) and Workplace Client Technology Micro-edition (WCTME). WCT is based on the J2SE and is targeted at the desktop or laptop while WCTME is based on J2ME and will run on Java-powered phones, PDAs, embedded devices and some desktop browsers.

WCTME has a number of primary components that broadly cover saving local data, sending and receiving data and deploying applications.

Local data is stored within DB2e which is a lightweight native Java SQL database. Data transfer is accomplished by MQe, a simple reliable message delivery mechanism. Finally, Service Management Framework is a mechanism for installing, uninstalling, starting, stopping and updating applications across a network. Like much of IBM’s technology, this is based on open standards and in this case the standard is OSGI. While OSGI provides the network plumbing, Eclipse 3.0 provides the application harness to run your applications.

According to Jim Colson, distinguished engineer of the pervasive computing division of IBM Software, “Eclipse 3.0 is built as a set of OSGI bundles and that is what makes Eclipse 3.0 so critical to us. That is what makes Eclipse enabled as a runtime environment and not just a tooling platform.”

In essence, the Eclipse platform has now been reengineered to provide core presentation and integration services on the client and to be easily deployable across an intermittently connected network. This positions WCTME as a pervasive alternative runtime environment to both .NET and the browser.

The most compelling reason to use WCTME is that from day one it has been designed as a server-managed infrastructure using open systems. In reviewing our goal “to have a secure centrally managed environment that provides users on many platforms and devices with a high-quality experience”, it is clear that the WCTME is a good fit.

The Lotus Workplace solution is to be released in the next month. The Rich Client version is merely a number of OSGI bundles integrated into the IBM Workplace client.

The competition is just warming up for post-HTML application deployment. It still remains to be seen what the memory and bandwidth requirements are and how tightly coupled the WCTME is to the Websphere Application Server.

The Workplace Client Technology is looking like a very cleanly designed runtime environment and IBM’s use of the open source movement with Eclipse is providing much traction which may yet challenge Microsoft in the medium term.

Reynolds, an independent software consultant in Auckland, travelled to DeveloperWorks courtesy of IBM.

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