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Friday, May 14, 2004IBM's new Workplace just might succeed where so many earlier attempts have failed: Getting complex software off the desktop.With its new Workplace product, IBM (IBM ) has launched a frontal attack on Microsoft's (MSFT ) dominance of the desktop, but you can expect to hear Gates & Co. repeatedly shrug off the assault as the latest in a long line of blanks fired at the world's most successful software company. Don't believe it. IBM's move could actually prove to be the biggest threat to Microsoft's hammerlock on PC software since IBM was pushing its own competing operating system, OS/2, from 1987 through 1996.In a nutshell, Workplace takes Microsoft Office and moves it to a server.IBM has been pushing the concepts behind Workplace for several years, calling it "utility computing" and rolling out these capabilities in a more limited fashion.The model's attraction is clear. Workplace administrators will need to service only a single machine, the server that houses the software. The only thing users need to run Workplace is stripped-down software installed on their PCs and a fast connection to a corporate network or the Internet. By extension, users don't have to worry about complicated software upgrades or installations, let alone the constant problems that come from conflicts between different programs installed on desktop PCs.In the past, too, attempts at network computing on desktops didn't work because broadband Internet connectivity wasn't ubiquitous. The link back to the network data center -- where software like Workplace runs -- was slower than the Lincoln Tunnel coming back into Manhattan after a holiday weekend.Now the growth of wireless broadband networks has made speedy access common in business environments such as convention centers, airports, and hotels, which allows applications such as Workplace to appeal to workers on the go. And a new wave of wireless data services that run at close to broadband speeds could soon make high-velocity connectivity nearly ubiquitous in major cities and for large swathes of the world.The world has changed, and IBM may finally have reached a point where Redmond's desktop chokehold might prove more choke than hold.
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