IBM and the Future of the Enterprise Client

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Time was, when you were talking about enterprise client software you were talking about Windows. End of story. One of the major takeaways from Lotusphere this year, however, is that those days are pretty much over. Make no mistake: Windows is still The Platform amongst many platforms. But the days of it being The Only Platform appear to be at an end.

This isn’t exactly a revelation. Google, Salesforce.com and the rest of the SaaS crowd have been pushing this rock up a hill for years. And IBM began this journey itself years ago when it sought to eliminate its dependence on Internet Explorer, and continued with client releases for Mac and – shockingly enough – Linux. Even Ubuntu. Their recent efforts to market alternative desktops in various geographies is likewise indicative of a shift in the client strategy. Away from a Windows centric world towards one more platform agnostic.

Consider what Lotus was talking about last week. Their first iPhone client, the announcement of a future Andoird client (to big applause) and what was termed “a bit bet on HTML5,” in Project Vulcan. And this is IBM, mind you. Not exactly the most aggressive vendor when it comes to pushing the envelope.

If we use IBM’s direction as a proxy for the future enterprise client – just for the sake of argument – what does it all mean? A couple of things, I think.

  1. The enterprise client is going to be heavy on the web (we knew that)
  2. The enterprise client is going to be heavy on HTML 5 (that one’s kind of new)
  3. The enterprise client is, via Android & iPhone builds, going to be more consumer friendly – that’s a genuine surprise
  4. The enterprise client UI is going to depend largely on the hardware form factor
  5. The enterprise client is going to be available to consumers in ways it never has been before

None of this, remember, means that Windows is dead, dying or going away. Windows 7, the release that’s what Vista should have been, seems to be selling just fine. Nor does it mean that Flash or Silverlight based clients are dead ends: they are not.

But IBM’s announcements do paint the landscape as significantly more heterogeneous and less platform centric than it has been in years. And to the extent that IBM’s interests are aligned with the likes of Google and Mozilla around HTML 5, it may even be an open standards based approach.

Either way, the takeaway from Lotusphere from a client perspective is simple: things are getting a lot more interesting.

Disclosure: IBM is a client, as are Adobe (Flash) and Microsoft (Silverlight/Windows).

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