I had a very interesting phone call yesterday with an IBMer named Jim Colson. Jim actually is the chief architect responsible for the Workplace Client Technology platform, and he'd contacted me after seeing my earlier post complaining that WCT wasn't generally available to tell me that it is available. Clearly there was a disconnect if it appeared that two different parts of IBM were telling me two different things, so I was eager to get the lowdown.
Jim explained that WCT is a client middleware platform, which includes a wide range of technologies (including a managed client container, access technologies such as messaging, distributed business logic, data synchronization, and interaction technologies such as Embedded ViaVoice, and other presentation services including browser based and widget based interfaces from Eclipse). These technologies can be used to build applications on various types of embedded, mobile, desktop, laptop, and server devices. The underlying technology has been in development for about 7 years; and has been deployed in a wide range of solutions such as cars from Honda, Nokia mobile phones, laptops and tablets with Nissay, and a wide range of line-of-business apps.
WCT is currently available to customers in a variety of forms. It's already built into a number of other products, and the WCT Micro Edition SDK offers a freely downloadable set of WCT components that can be used to evaluate WCT as an app dev platform. (To be perfectly unambiguous: the SDK is for production use, but you can download it to play with.)
WCT supports building deployable assemblies of components-- think of them as packaged runtimes-- to support particular applications. The Enterprise Offering (more properly, the Workplace Client Technology, Micro Edition Enterprise Offering, or WCTME-EO) bundles the most commonly required components and middleware services for desktop and laptop-class devices into a single deployable bundle. So, mea culpa: WCTME-EO and the WCT SDK are both generally available and widely used, my earlier claims notwithstanding. Thanks Jim!
Still with me? OK, back to my previous post. Among other WCT customers, Lotus is using the WCT platform to build their own client, the Workplace Client Technology, Rich Edition. This is the actual client middle platform that I've been trying to get, and it is not generally available-- at least according to my IBM sales rep and the Lotus WCT Project Office. That's supposed to change with the release of Lotus Workplace Messaging 2.5 and Lotus Workplace Documents 2.5.
To put this in more familiar terms, my earlier post was roughly equivalent to complaining that Microsoft wouldn't let me have the .NET Framework (which is freely available and widely deployed, and for which beta/preview versions exist) when what I really wanted was Office. You can argue over whether Lotus is being forthright about exactly who can get their WCT-based clients, and under what circumstances, but the bottom line is that WCT itself is available, and that's what Jim was trying to help me understand. Now I know what specific term to use next time I complain to Ed Brill.
Since my earlier posts on Workplace, I've been struggling with a problem: IBM won't sell me licenses for the Workplace Rich Client (echoes of "The Soup Nazi"...) After the earlier pricing misfire, I got another email from my sales rep, invoking the mighty power of the Workplace Client Technology Project Office:
The Workplace Client Technology Project Office has as its mission the job of implementing the Workplace Client Technology into customers environments in a controlled and measured manner and they are running pilot programs for customers. They have asked the following questions be answered in order to be considered for this piloting. We need to ensure the customer has
1. gained a thorough understanding of the technology
2. applied that understanding to real, known business pain(s) in their organization
3. high level sponsorship within their account that will consider making this technology part of their architectural strategy moving forward
Upon completion of this pre-qualification process, the Project Office can then select customers to pilot the software. Once the customer is accepted into the pilot program, we provide the customer information to download software from Passport Advantage.
We went back and forth a few times, as I sought to reassure my sales rep that I wasn't about to start madly deploying WCT in my Fortune 100 clients without any succor from the Project Office. That didn't help; the Project Office then wanted to know why we were an MS partner, how much Notes application development we did, and what IBM products we currently had deployed. I then sent a more detailed response that explained what we do (including an explanation of how we do capability assessments and product evaluations) and why we wanted the software. I haven't heard back from the project office yet (or from my sales rep, for that matter), although this might be due to the holidays.
Why is IBM being so tight with this technology? Sure, it might just be a matter of risk management; they don't want customers to have bad experiences with the product. That's understandable, although I note that Microsoft and Oracle (among others) restrict access to beta versions of their product, not the released versions. (As a side note, I find it a little offensive that IBM expects me to audition to gain the right to buy their product, but maybe that's just me. At least there's no swimsuit competition).
IMHO, IBM's overdoing it, because this approach ("we have a 'game-changing technology' but we won't let you have so you can start gaining an understanding of it") is not exactly going to speed their product's adoption. The WCT information page says that you need to contact your sales rep if you want to pilot or deploy the product, but it doesn't mention the fact that the Project Office is liable to tell you to go pound sand unless you survive their evaluation process. In fairness, that result is alluded to here, but I would be happier to see a forthright acknowledgement.
So, for now the answer I'm giving my customers is simple: "WCT is not generally available to customers, although neither IBM nor press reports have made this explicit. Draw your own conclusions about what that says of its deployment readiness and maturity. I can't comment because I haven't been able to work with it." I am hopeful that the strictures on WCT will loosen somewhat when 2.5 ships, but we'll have to wait and see.
I've decided that it would be a good idea for me to learn more about Workplace, if only so I have a better understanding of what it is and does. When customers ask me whether a solution is appropriate, I can't give a good answer if I don't have that knowledge. Accordingly, I decided to set up a sandbox and play; the new "Workplace" category here on the blog will contain sporadic reports of what I find and learn along the way. My experience so far has been pretty poor.
Problem #1: IBM doesn't offer evaluation versions. Microsoft, of course, freely distributes 120-day trials of Windows, Exchange, SQL Server, and so on; heck, even Oracle (motto: Worst Messaging Software Ever!) has trial versions of OCS. So, that meant I had to buy the licenses.
Problem #2: to buy IBM, you must call IBM. Well, not quite, but close. If I wanted a retail copy of Exchange, I could just go order it from any number of online resellers, or I could contact a local partner, or I could buy it right from MS. Workplace isn't like that. I started by calling four IBM business partners listed in this directory. I called all of them the day before Thanksgiving, leaving a detailed message explaining what I wanted. I got two return calls within two weeks, both of which wanted to know how many licenses of Domino I wanted. After I explained, both promised to get back to me within a day or two; neither did. So, I used the "call me" button on IBM's site and got a call the next day from a gentleman who wanted to explain why Workplace was the best thing since toothpaste in a tube. Once he understood that all I wanted was to buy it, he promised to connect me with a sales rep. Two weeks later, and after an email to a rep who had previously sent me a price quote for other software, I got a call.
Problem #3: get it in writing. The rep quoted me a per-CAL price for Workplace Messaging ($14.50, 50% off the normal price), Workplace Documents, and Workplace Team Collaboration (I don't remember their license costs offhand). She also quoted me a price of $24/seat for Workplace Rich Client. This was a substantial discount off the $129/seat list price, so I was excited... right up until my rep emailed me, after I'd already bought the server licenses, to say that her pricer had "denied" that special price and that I'd have to pay list. Oh well. The rep made an honest mistake, and these things happen in all kinds of sales environments (well, except for airlines, where intentionally deceptive pricing is a way of life.. but I digress).
Problem #4: your Passport is no good here. When you buy Workplace, you automatically get (or pay for, depending on how you look at it) 12 months of support. You access this support, and download the bits you've paid for, via the IBM Passport Advantage web site. This is a nice touch; MS only offers downloads for volume license customers. Unfortunately, when I logged in to the site, it showed that I had purchased a total of 0 licenses, so I couldn't actually download anything. "No problem," I thought. "I'll just call the handy 24-7 Passport support line". After 20 minutes on the phone (9am Saturday morning, mind you), the phone rep was unable to locate my licenses. He promised to call me back in "15 or 20 minutes." Apparently time is measured differently in his local region, 'cause I'm still waiting.
So, I can't talk about any other aspects of Workplace because I can't install it yet. On the other hand, IBM offered to accept a net-30 purchase order, so at least they don't actually have my money yet. Stay tuned for further developments.
Update: after a lengthy call on Monday to Passport support, we discovered that there were no licenses actually attached to my account yet because the order hadn't been generated. Apparently there is some double-secret approval process that has to take place before I get the bits but after I get the message saying "you've got bits".
Update: two interesting things happened today. First, this post made Network World; second, the Passport support folks called me back to tell me that my account was fixed. I am now downloading the first of the 31 components that the site seems to think I need to install Workplace Messaging. No connection is implied, since the support tech I spoke with yesterday was very helpful and courteous, and would have undoubtedly have solved the problem anyway.