What’s been going on? Why so quiet?

Well, this week I have mostly been playing with IBM Workplace Collaboration Services (“WCS”, formerly “Lotus Workplace”, formerly “IBM Lotus Workplace Offerings For Extreme Collaboration-Mungous Derring-Do Dude” **). On Tuesday night m’self and John Barrow winged down to Hursley, near Winchester on the south coast, where IBM have an Innovation Centre. I last visited in October, when we checked out Lotus Workplace 2.0. Well, things have come on leaps and bounds since then. WCS v2.5 (released just yesterday!) is quite a proposition: DoesNotWorkplace has definitely started to work. Yes, inital page loads are very slow due to compilation issues, but you can get around this if you try hard enough (batch JSP pre-compiling is an option with WebSphere).

Wednesday’s class took us through the offering, and the labs entailed installing WCS, then playing with it. The WCS installation took us a shade under 40 minutes, with no pain whatsoever. A few clicks, grab a coffee, look out the window at the lovely Hursley campus, and you’re done. I was, frankly, amazed. IBM have picked up a lot since WP 2.0, much of it from the Workplace Services Express (WSE) package, which built on WP 2.0 a great deal. If I can run this installation, you can too. Trust me…

So anyway, once we had WCS up and running, it was time to play. It is here that I have a shameful tale to tell:

Part of the work on Wednesday entailed starting and stopping the services related to Workplace, namely Cloudscape (the database), WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Portal Server and Workplace. These stop-start routines are easily fired up via batch files in Windoze (shell scripts in UN*X / Linux). Well. Yesterday I learned — how I missed this before, I’ll never know — that clicking in to an active MS-DOS command window (in Win2k at least) means that it won’t update itself when things change. Things may well be happening, but you won’t know it. As a result of my pathetic fumbling, John and I sat there for far longer than we should have, waiting for Workplace to start up, when it was already ready, screaming at us to begin. Tsk.

I am a doofus. But in my defence, I’m used to on OS X, which doesn’t indulge in any of that kind of dumb-arse behaviour… Ahem.

Moving swiftly on: Thursday was the brain-flexing day. There was lots of talk about service oriented architecture, EJBs, plain ole’ Java beans, portlets, templates and Volker’s fabled NoteBoard application. Well, this was interesting stuff. We looked into setting up and running web services, and even played with the managed client (I crashed Activity Explorer!) Setting up the NoteBoard application was amazing: at first we relied on in-memory objects for persistence. But then, by tweaking a few bits and pieces in the n-tier application’s set-up, we were able to switch the persistence layer to Domino! We even set up a simple Java class to update Domino’s Access Control List (ACL), mapping Workplace “roles” to Domino ACL entries. This stuff was very smooth, and worked brilliantly. The code choked once when I added an a NotesBoard entry in Domino (rather than via the portlet), but the NoteBoard Team Space application recovered, and in any case wasn’t designed to be “two-way” between Domino and Workplace.

Today we moved on to another (related) course, a one-day session on the managed (formerly “rich”) client. The provisioning and installation of the client is pretty straightforward, and it looks very smart. The integration with Workplace’s offerings is smooth, and overall I’m most impressed. There’s still stuff to be done here, of course, but when you consider what the managed client can already do, it’s pretty mind-blowing. The client is coming over the next few weeks as there are still a couple of wrinkles to iron out. We played with it a lot today, fiddling with the in-built editors for spreadsheets, presentations and word processing, building simple Eclipse plug-ins, building very simple Rich Client Platform applications, and so on and so forth. We found ourlseves wanting to start using the client on a daily basis already, which I would say is a good sign. The integration with the Workplace document manager is really nifty (you can detach email attachments directly to a store, drag and drop works between the client and the underlying operating system, etc.), and Activity Explorer is really going to be a hit, no question.

I’ll probably talk more about all this stuff, but for now I would say that this stuff is starting to really mature. To my mind, Workplace v1 was an early alpha. Version 2 was a beta. 2.5 is the first real stab at making a go of it, and it does extremely well. So I expect 3.0 to totally rock.

** - I made this one up.

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I’m a software architect / developer / general IT wrangler specialising in web, mobile web and middleware using things like node.js, Java, C#, PHP, HTML5 and more.

Best described as a simpleton, but kindly. You can read more here.