IBM is hoping to weaken Microsoft's grip on the operating-system (OS) market by offering a lower-cost thin-client alternative to its Windows suite.
Big Blue's Workplace Client, which is based on existing Lotus Workplace technology and runs WebSphere middleware, is designed to create a hub for delivering enterprise-scale applications to PCs and PDAs from centrally managed servers.
Data held at the server and client is synchronised when the user is online, and users can work on- or offline.
The underlying technology is based on the open-source Eclipse development framework, and the Micro-Addition allows for future development for more devices.
IBM said the new software allows firms to use a variety of client devices to collaborate with others and access and manage key business information and applications whenever and wherever needed.
The vendor claimed that because of the piecemeal construction, firms can roll out the software for some employees while retaining Microsoft Windows/Office for others.
Pam Stanford, director of on-demand Workplace solutions at IBM, said: "We are working with ISVs to embed this technology in applications, and with customers from every industry vertical to run pilots. We expect to see results by the fourth quarter."
Mike Owen-Lloyd, sales manager at Lotus reseller Altis, welcomed the technology, saying it will allow IBM partners to offer a real alternative to Windows and will mean users will not have to rip and replace their existing client systems.
"Anything that breaks Microsoft's stranglehold in the long term is a good thing for the market in general. At the moment companies are investing a lot of money in an operating system and getting very little in return.
I'm sure they would be happy to have 20 per cent of the features of Windows for 50 per cent of the price," he said.
"Obviously for partners selling Microsoft licensing this will be a threat, but if it means firms are not overly dependent on a single OS, it can only be a good thing."
Workplace is initially available in Windows and Linux versions, with a Mac version scheduled for later this year. It is interoperable with most Eclipse-supported embedded devices, such as those running the Symbian operating system.
However, David Cearley, senior vice-president of research at analyst Meta Group, warned that IBM still has to execute its plan for a next-generation rich client. "It still has to attract embedded devices, OEMs and ISVs into supporting Workplace on their products," he said.
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