Notes On Lotusphere: IBM Looks At The Future Of Computing - InformationWeek

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1/31/2007
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Notes On Lotusphere: IBM Looks At The Future Of Computing

The recent conference showcased emerging products like the Malibu Personal Productivity Assistant, a contextual collaboration tool built in Eclipse, and a PC-mobile shared chat environment.

[This article reprises David DeJean's on-scene, colorful, opinionated reports from Lotusphere, originally published on InformationWeek.com's blog.]

The best things about the IBM Lotusphere conference, which was held recently (Jan. 21 " 25) in Orlando, Fla., are the glimpses it gives you of the future of computing.

The various IBM Research labs send representatives who staff a room filled with demo pedestals -- two dozen this year -- where creators show off their projects. This year, as usual, several projects look like good prospects to become future products, and IBM Lotus has even put one up on the Web so you can get a look at it even though you're not at the conference.

The IBM Research projects presented at Lotusphere have always revolved around improving the computer user's lot -- e-mail in-boxes that presented threaded responses showed up at Lotusphere long before they appeared in Gmail, for example. Increasingly these projects are showing up in Lotus products, as well: the newly announced IBM Lotus Connections and IBM Lotus Quickr have obvious ancestors that first surfaced in the labs.

This morning [Jan. 23] I looked around the Research pedestals and placed some mental bets on the ideas and technologies most likely to show up in shipping products. I liked three in particular:

  • "Malibu Personal Productivity Assistant" breaks down the boundaries between the applications you use everyday so you can use the objects you work with to organize the work you do. It presents views, or lists of items, of several types. You might see your e-mails, some bookmarks, recently edited documents, and a tasklist. Selecting a task from the list will reorder the other views to show the objects most relevant to the task. Malibu will also filter the views based on whatever you're working on: if you have a PowerPoint presentation titled "NewGizmo Presentation for Sales Force" open on your desktop, Malibu will show you e-mails about NewGizmo, or messages from the sales staff, and related tasks. You can drag and drop an e-mail to create a new task or add it to an existing task's components.

  • "From Tagging to Presenting in Eclipse" presents a contextual collaboration tool for software developers that has obvious application for anyone who does Web conferences. It's a tool built in Eclipse, the development environment. A software developer would bookmark resources and tag them to create interactive presentations that blur the division between static PowerPoint-like pages and shared-screen editing applications. If you've ever done a presentation that's been chopped up in order to switch back and forth to a demo -- or suffered through one -- you'll immediately recognize the value of smoothly combining them.

  • "Supporting Multi-Device Services in a Personal Information Environment," despite its boring name, is perhaps the most exciting of all. Built on top of the Jabber XMPP protocol for IM and presence, it effectively makes all your PCs and mobile devices participants in a shared chat where speak your to-do lists and e-mails and files to each other. You open and update lists created on a PC on your cell phone, for example, or sync files across all the PCs you use so you don't need to carry a USB drive from machine to machine. It uses Web connectivity to give you access to services and resources across multiple devices. It's so advanced it doesn't even have a name yet, but you want it. Trust me.

One Research labs project you can get a look at is called "Many Eyes." It's an experimental Web site that aims to let people have online conversations about data, according to Matt McKeon, who presented it at Lotusphere. At the Many Eyes Web site you can upload data, create visualizations of datasets, and join contextual discussions.

IBM has launched "Many Eyes" as a "public alpha" that shows off its commitment to social software.

There are several sample datasets already uploaded to the site, and you can apply 14 different visualizations that range from prosaic pie charts to exotic treemaps. (A treemap is hard to explain. Here's one that compares auto mileage by make:

This thumbnail is one of the many features of the site: click on a button labeled "Blog This" and Many Eyes writes the HTML for you to copy into your own page.)

Try "Many Eyes" out. It looks like the future.

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