Workplace: Advancing the State of the Art

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by Miles Barel and Jeri Dube

"Reprinted from Innovations, Issue 2, 1994, IBM Corp"

Workplace, the delivery vehicle for OS/2 on the PowerPC, is IBM's scalable architecture that delivers a multitude of different operating system products to satisfy specific market needs such as different size systems and different operating environments. With OS/2 for PowerPC, it combines all the technical innovations and advantages of OS/2 with the market excitement and the technical breakthroughs of the PowerPC.

New Opportunities for Developers

The PowerPC creates new opportunities for developers to increase the use and function of their applications. Because the PowerPC and Workplace have HUMAN-CENTERED functionality as standard, developers can rely on these features being there, and, therefore can make their applications more competitive.

Based on RISC technology, the PowerPC offers increased performance over traditional PCs. Software developers can now incorporate new, complex algorithms that were previously impractical. For example, these algorithms can be used for voice and handwriting recognition and incorporation of multimedia information, without requiring investment in additional special purpose hardware. Therefore, developers will use this technology to design easier-to-use applications because these technologies will be accessible to all PowerPC users. Furthermore, this power can be harnessed to improve the performance of all applications, enabling more to be accomplished in less time. Finally, the PowerPC's power management capabilities enable these powerful systems to be deployed in a mobile environment without many of the inconveniences currently associated with mobile computing.

Why Not Just Port OS/2 to the PowerPC?

All of the well-known benefits of OS/2 and the PowerPC are further enhanced by the new IBM Microkernel-based architecture, known as Workplace. Workplace offers many new benefits to the users of its operating systems.

Greater accessibility to applications

The utility of an operating system is controlled by the applications that it can support. Therefore, users can select the best set of applications available in the marketplace, rather than just the applications developed for a single operating system.

The IBM Microkernel-based architecture, over time, will provide access to an even greater set of applications on a single system. In the future, you may be able to run Taligent, AIX, OS/400, and other applications, along with those applications you already run today. As a result, users will have even more freedom to choose the best applications to solve their problems. Customers will not have to compromise on their choice of secondary applications because these applications were not written for the same environment as other applications required.

Portability means more choices

Not only does the Workplace architecture give you the freedom to select from a broader set of applications, but it also delivers more freedom in your choice of hardware. This architecture is designed to be portable across many hardware platforms. Only the microkernel must be ported to different platforms. Once this is complete, the operating systems, services, and applications need only be recompiled to run on the different processor architectures.

This portability is not limited to similar architectures. The IBM Microkernel is designed to be scalable, from the largest massively parallel supercomputers down to handheld portable devices (PDAs) and embedded processors. This portability will enable users to access applications across multiple classes of systems. For example, the productivity applications most frequently associated with personal computers will become available to users of both workstations and minicomputers. Also advanced workstation applications will become accessible to the personal computer user.

Software developers also benefit from portability and scalability because their applications extend out of a single environment. The total market opportunity for an application grows with the number of hardware platforms on which the application can run. Therefore, Workplace can broaden the market for an application without any additional development or invention.

More Than Portability and Scalability

To master the requirements for the operating system of the future, providing portability and scalability is necessary, but not sufficient. Workplace is designed for the faster, widespread incorporation of new technologies. As advances in communications and computer power are made, applications need to be developed that exploit these advances. Application development has increased in complexity to such a point that it is extremely expensive to develop applications. Workplace incorporates object technology and offers system openness and modularity to ease the burden of application development, so applications deliver more function to users and make money for their developers.

Advanced applications through object technology

Object technologies will lead to a new generation of highly complex applications, as developers are relieved from the complexity of integration and interoperability and can, therefore, focus on their areas of expertise. This implies that experts in various fields will address the problem they're working to solve, rather than the mechanics of the solution. A new breed of technicians will quickly assemble applications from object components. Moving application creation closer to the end user, in this way, results in solutions that more completely meet the user's needs.

Workplace with System Object Model (SOM), Distributed System Object Model (DSOM), OpenDoc, and Taligent frameworks will be the best, most exploitive offering of object-oriented technologies. Using these fundamental pieces of Workplace, developers can assemble applications as opposed to the outmoded methods of application development. Through SOM and DSOM, objects can be shared from different languages and even different platforms. Frameworks and class libraries also add sources of objects from which an application developer can choose. Objects facilitate the reduction of application development cycle time through the reuse of previously developed and tested components. All this leads to better applications being available faster and cheaper while making more profit for their developers.

Modular design, flexible implementation

In a monolithic system, if a solution needs to be upgraded, a single change may place the entire system at risk. As a result of the modular Workplace architecture, system components can be exchanged and upgraded to allow users to pick and choose the best technologies that meet their requirements, without disturbing the parts of the system that don't need to be changed. An additional benefit of Workplace is that modularity implies shared system function and shared system code. The result of this sharing is lower purchase and maintenance costs.

From the developer's perspective, operating system services and extensions need to be written only once, so they will be able to support multiple operating system environments with a single investment. Consequently, a larger set of services will be available for applications to use, making them richer in features and functions, and therefore, more competitive.

Benefits of Open Standards

When the computer industry begins working in a cooperative way, both the end user and the developer benefit. The advantages of standards are apparent in three areas: interoperability, user interface, and application program interface.

Standards encourage an environment for interoperability. The end user can combine the products and services of multiple vendors into optimal solutions. In an open environment, users are free to grow with the best technologies available to create their solutions. As an example, consider the two leading technologies for creating compound documents: OpenDoc and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE). OpenDoc allows document components to be derived from many different systems distributed throughout a computer network. OLE, on the other hand, supports only the integration of similar components.

As industry players converge on a standard desktop, wide varieties of systems become familiar to individual users. No longer will training be necessary for the use of each system because they will all look and feel very much the same. This enables users to move between different systems based on location, need and responsibilities.

Developers can benefit from using a single API set on multiple platforms. Development organizations only require a single set of skills to address a large variety of platforms. Equally significant is that less code needs to be developed and maintained to support these platforms. Once again, developers can spend more time enhancing solutions rather than worrying about the mechanics of programming a particular solution.

Advancing the State of the Art

Workplace has been designed as a unification platform to drive ease of use for its users, efficiency for the developers who program to its interfaces, and financial benefit to companies who invest in it. Workplace, while setting the stage for the future, enables OS/2 customers and investors to continue reaping the benefits of OS/2. These benefits range from giving users more choices in setting up their environment to making better use of their computers with more advanced, easier-to-user applications. More complete solutions are accessible and more affordable.

From the developer's point of view, Workplace provides an environment in which they can develop more competitive applications for less money and bring them to a broader market faster.

Workplace offers the advantages that will enable both users and developers to advance the state of the art of computing - and just possibly make our wildest dreams come true!

Reprint Courtesy of International Business Machines Corporation, © International Business Machines Corporation