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Ray Ozzie's return to Lotusphere after eight years was a great photo op. It showed continuity from the Lotus Notes past to the IBM Workplace future, several observers said.
For one thing, Ozzie believes that the centrally controlled computing model that is returning with a vengeance due to compliance and regulatory issues, may alienate young people entering the workforce.
Citing his own children, Ozzie said younger PC jockeys are used to downloading what they want and need and using it at will. They also reject some of the tools their parents and older siblings relied on.
They have "given up on e-mail. E-mail is dead," Ozzie said speaking in Orlando Tuesday at Lotusphere 2005 during a Future Of Notes panel . "They use instant messaging as their e-mail mechanism. They leave their computers on" and people wanting to contact them send IM, Ozzie said. "E-mail is where you get messages from people you don't want to talk to [like] teachers and parents."
These newer PC users are Web savvy, and "extremely pragmatic," he said. "When they want to talk long distance, they download Skype. People are experimenting with blogs and wikis to get stuff done. There is a very modular approach to assemble tools to do what works," he noted.
IBM's new Workplace model, on the other hand, asserts server-side provisioning and assignment of role-based interfaces to users. Young people entering an IT-controlled shop will not have the leeway they are used to for downloads or even Web surfing. IBM's stock in trade has been to promote a secure, safe, centrally managed environment. That may please IT managers and C-level executives but may not fly with users who want to work as they see fit, with the tools they like.
Ozzie and others at the show said it is not unusual to see a PC user at work running two computers. One is the locked-down corporate standard, the other a laptop lugged in from home, with the user's favorite tools and applications.
The centralized-control vs. free computing argument dates back to the evolution of computing from the glass house where IBM mainframe access was stingily doled out to the PC revolution where cheap hardware and software from many vendors opened up a world of possibilities to users. But the battle is flaring anew amid widespread concern over computer security and spam. Some see Microsoft, with its history of throwing any and all tools onto the desktop as the ideological opposite of IBM's heritage. (Microsoft owns a percentage of Groove.)
New federal regulations surrounding email archiving are prompting a move to legitimize instant messaging for enterprise use by archiving and monitoring it. But many current IM users say that the day their company starts institutionalizing such reforms, is the day they stop using IM.
IBM vice president Mike Rhodin acknowledged the issue. "We have to figure out how to unlock the creativity of end users and power users without breaking the bank of the IT organization," he noted.
Irene Greif, IBM Research's group director of collaborative user experience and a Lotus veteran, said even Notes has evolved from a grassroots tool to one that is more rigidly managed from on high.
"When Notes rolled out at Lotus, anyone who wanted to do a meeting set up a database on the network and did the meeting. Over time, that power devolved to IT and that really changed what technology could do for your organization," she said. "We need to find that balance, give something back to individuals so they can create what they need."
Ozzie, who described his comments as "a little bit contrarian" appeared to be responding to Rhodin's statements.
Information technology professionals, Rhodin had said, "want some control over the viral nature of application deployment. How do you build a consistent infrastructure that's the same and deliver role-based environments without the help desk looking at a cost explosion because they don't know what end users are actually using?"
Groove's software relies on a combination of peer-to-peer and server-based technologies to deliver secure shared work environments. Twenty percent of Groove's users are small businesses and 40 percent are in the government, Ozzie noted. "The vast majority of those who use it are at the edges of organizations that have either no IT or too much IT, where there are multiple companies who must work together all with strong rules but none of which can dictate to each other how to work and yet they need to get things done."
Groove wants to have it both ways. It placates IT pros by providing security but facilitates easy creation of workspaces by authorized users that transcend firewalls. But then so does IBM: Rhodin said the company's job is to unlock the creativity of users "without breaking the bank of the IT organization."
On Monday, Ozzie brought up this issue during his surprise keynote. PC computing, he said, continues to "bifurcate" as the needs of managed enterprises split from those of the non-managed small business or home users.
"So many talented people are trying to answer this question from the Software Group at IBM to smaller innovators such as Groove." Both groups have to deal with what he called "the Petri dish that is the Internet" from which blogs, wiki, and Skype have emerged.
While the tone remained amiable, some attendees characterized the conversation as an "argument." Another likened Ozzie to the cool kid at a staid IBM party.
Ozzie and IBM "have an ideological disagreement," said David Via, vice president of business development at The Wolcott Group, a Fairlawn, Ohio-based Notes partner. "Ray believes innovation happens at the edge. IBM believes it happens at the center." The fact is, Via said, they both are right.