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IBM to support iPhone, Macs with new software

IBM is making moves to support iPhones and Mac OS. Has the world gone topsy-turvy, or is this the consumerization of IT in action?

Alistair Rennie, GM Lotus Software
Alistair Rennie, GM Lotus Software

IBM is trying to reach more Mac and iPhone users, as well as making the enterprise more social.

Big Blue is expected to announce Thursday at Macworld San Francisco that it will soon be delivering its enterprise social platform, Lotus Connections, and Lotus Quickr team collaboration package for use with the iPhone and Mac.

Organizations can "now use IBM software for enterprise social networking, instant messaging, and securely encrypted e-mail and collaborative applications with the iPhone and Mac," said Alistair Rennie, general manager of IBM Lotus software.

Lest you think this is a "hell has frozen over" moment, Rennie said the motivation behind the efforts to expand the IBM software user base to Apple products is part of the continuum of an on-going trend toward the consumerization of IT.

In addition to lifestyle changes where staff are expected to be "always-on," this consumerization trend is also heavily rooted in mobility. Mobile was once considered an add-on to the desktop, but analysts estimate that mobile devices will exceed personal computers by 2013 with global shipments of mobile devices growing 46 percent to more than 250 million in 2010.

Rennie asserted that IBM needs to be able to support multiple platforms as consumer technology drives IT requirements. People want to use their iPhone or other device at home or on the road and still be able to do all the things they need to for work.

Similarly, the ways that users collaborate on projects are in a constant state of flux. In some cases, the devices are becoming more specialized, but the bigger trend is to see common smartphones--BlackBerrys, iPhones, etc.--running applications designed to specifically support collaboration tools.

Rennie said IBM intends to support the iPad with the notion that every enterprise user will eventually have multiple devices that they use at various times of the day. The main challenge is ensuring that enterprise level security methods such as encrypted email is available on the mobile devices.

To that end, IBM also launched an iPhone application for Lotus Notes that claims to be the first to support securely encrypted mail on the device.

In many ways, IBM's entrance into the consumer space is the opposite spectrum of Google and Microsoft, both of which are heavily dependent on consumers for product adoption (though Microsoft clearly straddles many different customer segments.)

IBM's efforts to support Apple alters the longtime business IT approach focus, which, according to Rennie, is appropriate for both the market and the way that user consume these types of social software.

In addition to the iPhone software, IBM will also be showcasing the latest version of Lotus Symphony 3.0, IBM's free Microsoft office alternative. Based on OpenOffice, Lotus Symphony 3.0 has support for many of the features that users have complained about, such as macros in Excel. According to Rennie, it can provide a complete alternative to MS Office and remains free of charge

As for whether this move would raise Microsoft's hackles, Rennie said this offering is not so much anti-Microsoft, rather that it's "pro-customer around open environments."

Microsoft probably doesn't love that its customers have a choice, but realistically it needs to accept that customers like having choices and innovate its own products rather than complain about others coming into its territory.