Don't wet your pants yet

by Volker Weber

There seems to be a competition out there about who can install Workplace Services Express 2.0 (WSE) in 30 minutes or less. Everyone seems to be excited on how fast this works and how cool it looks.

I think it's time to step back and take a look at the big picture.

WSE is WebSphere portal with a bunch of collaboration portlets thrown in. It uses Cloudscape instead of DB2, runs on a single machine with a whole lot of RAM (2 gig minimum) and does not contain the Workplace Client Technology (WCT). In case you never worked in a portal environment, go to Bruce's site and take a look. Every single click will result in a full round trip to the server. I don't know about you, but I cannot get any real work done in a portal environment. It is nice for information purposes, but not to get any work done.

How do you develop for a portal? You write portlets. IBM has announced Workplace Designer who will make this much more Domino-like once it gets available. But don't let yourself be fooled, because portlets is all you will get. And this may not be what you are expecting.

IBM has also announced Workplace Collaboration Services 2.5 (WCS). You can license this on a per processor basis. WCT will be available for WCS, but you need to buy additional licenses per user. Hopefully WSE 2.5 will also make WCT available for you in the not too distant future.

If you want to develop WCT applications, you are not writing portlets. You will be writing Eclipse plugins. The Eclipse workbench is a good tool to do that. Or you buy the Rational Application Developer. Both tools require you to write some serious Java code. You want your application to work both in WCT and on WSE? You will need a portlet and a plugin. If you write your portlet with Workplace Designer there currently is no way to transfer that application into WCT. I trust IBM will resolve this as well.

I don't want to sound too negative, but a 30 minute install right now does not give you a lot more than a pretty face and a slow portal.


I asked specifically in a session if Rich Client was to be included in Workplace Services Express and was told that yes it would. This was in a session by the way. Granted, the speakers seemed unsure of the answer at first, but after commiserating, they said that indeed Rich Client would be supported in WSE 2.5.

I have yet to see true documentation on the matter however. Anyone care to offer proof one way or the other? If it will NOT allow Rich Client, that's a definite deal-breaker for me.

John Roling, 2005-02-11

I agree with your analysis 100%

my article

Alan Bell, 2005-02-11

Thank you. Well said although I think that the Workplace stuff has potential to become a CTOs most beloved baby. The fact that it looks pretty and the IBM message that you can just portalize everything is a strong one.

Henning Heinz, 2005-02-11

I'm afraid Notes and Domino style development is getting phased out. Get ready for the architecture heavy world of IBM.

Damien Katz, 2005-02-11

Well, for those that think the glass is 1/2 full, that is better than a 30 hour install and a slow portal...

Tony S Lee, 2005-02-12

First there was the trend to "web-enable" all applications, now it is "portalize". Both trends use assumtions that are never really questioned:

IT likes it because it means 0 deplyment to users desks
Management likes it because it looks like all information is now in one place (Sure replacing a folder hierarchy on a harddrive with more flexible bookmarks IS an improvement).
Users think they like it, because web is so easy. However moving an complex application onto a minimalistic UI doesn't take away complexity.

Where does it backfire:
Application development time: WebUI development is much more painful than GUI layout. Painful for the developer to make it responsive and/or the user to use (see the full round-trip issue).
So all the bigwigs realized, that once Deployment has been resolved, Client UI applications will be back. Our contenders are:
- Microsoft: .NET Start from URL
- Sun: Java Webstart
- IBM: Eclipse RCP
- Mozilla: XUL / xForms
- Macromedia: Flash
They all suffer, that their frameworks have not reached the needed penetration or acceptance. But that will change. Expect 12 month down the road the rennesance of the RichClients.
My 2c
:-) stw

Stephan H. Wissel, 2005-02-12

Portals for information workers are a dead end, it's no different than all those DOS portals that existed before Windows. If you're filling in insurance claims forms then a portal will suit you fine, but that is no longer the larger proportion of the market.

In my day to day work, I am cutting and pasting and switching between applications constantly, I am an Alt-Tab junky. I don't believe that Workplace Portal supports the idea of multiple windows open doing different things. I few years ago, when Windows was jsut starting, portals were a nice idea as people had trouble understanding the idea of multiple apps running at the same time with some behind each other, but those times have changed, 3 year olds now know how to switch between their different ABC games and space invaders.

The Rich Client is a different story, this will allow multiple windows and I beleive multiple apps at the same time, and the idea of being able to push this down to peoples desktops without interaction is also a big plus.

The problem is going to be Office. You need filters with 100% bidrectional support, with no gotchas and every possible feature that someone has saved in a file working, without that, people will never move form Office. Plugins won't cut it, customers fear getting a word file from a customer or partner that doesn't look like the way it did when they sent it, or the excel model they sent doesn't have a working macro.

If Portals were where people lived and worked, then the Notes Workspace would never be replaced by so many/people and companies, Outlooks Outlook Today view would never be switched to the inbox, and all the portal offerings over the years would be running on peoples machines today.

When I was at IBM, we had a charatcer based portal, it was called PROFS or NOSS depending on your country. Cnetrally hosted mainframes,client access to other apps, weather, file stores, forum, mail etc. deja vu...

Carl Tyler, 2005-02-13

I'm with Carl on this, and you as it happens Volker. Portals are great for viewing things and getting info in content, but no use when you actually want to 'do' something.

Tony Cocks, 2005-02-14

The discussion about pros and cons of portals is valid (and addresses some of my own disbelief in this area). But I think we will just have to wait and see (or "be part of the progress" and see).

I think the hype "installing in 30 minutes" comes from the experience with the former versions of Lotus Workplace (at least our own experience): We participated in the "Workplace Bootcamps" events (several times), and it took us 2 full days (!) to install Lotus Workplace.
Furthermore: The likelihood of success (i.e. a running system) improved from 50 % to 80 % during those events.
(In other words: you installed 2 full days with support from experienced people from IBM, and when you switched on the security, there was a pretty good chance that you would never be able to access the Workplace again....).

So 30 Minutes with a 100 % success chance is way better than everything before. That's really an improvement: This version *can* be used in a productive environment.

Second thought:
WSE is meant to be a competitor to Microsoft Sharepoint (which also generates a lot of hype in the market, from our experience). It's targeted for SMB and/or departmental usage, especially in a distributed and/or extranet environment. And I believe that you can successfuly use it in this area (better than Lotus Domino, which is to complex to set up and administer for small entities). Using a rich client would have advantages for performance and functionality - but you can't alway deploy and administer rich clients in all usage scenarios.

Nevertheless I'm still a Domino application developer and architect, and will keep on doing this for the time being. But the future looks promising in the Workplace area also.

Hans-Peter Kuessner, 2005-02-14

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