Documentum Webtop Musings

Posted by sroth

Webtop has been Documentum’s flagship user interface (UI) since its introduction in Documentum v5 (circa 2003) and has an enormous worldwide install base. It’s built upon solid (though dated) technology, methodology, and standards. It’s also built upon/with a solid API (the WDK), which allows developers to do ANYTHING with Webtop – including replacing it completely with a custom UI.

One of my favorite features of Webtop is that it does EVERYTHING. In fact, this is often the reason many end users (i.e., customers) don’t like it – it’s overwhelming. More often than not, we disable and hide capabilities and features in Webtop to make it more palatable for end users.

So, with all of this capability and installed user-base, you’d think EMC would enhance/upgrade/extend their flagship UI, right? Instead, they end-of-life it (Support for v6.7 SP2 ends April 2015. This was recently extended to Dec 2018 with the release of Webtop v6.8.) and are replacing it with one of two new clients: D2 or xCP.Worse, they provide no clear technical migration path from Webtop to either D2 or xCP and provide no clear criteria to choose one client over the other.

I know, I’ve heard the same guidelines that you have: if the application is “document-centric” it should move to D2; if the application is “process-centric” it should move to xCP. Well, it’s never that easy. Many of our customers have applications they target for development of D2 (or xCP) because it meets one of these guidelines. However, once it is deployed, they started looking at the next (and the next) application to convert/rewrite/develop.

Often these next applications contain elements better suited for the other platform. Now they have a problem: they want to build all of their applications on the same platform to minimize maintenance and maximize their investment, but they are stuck trying to force-fit an application’s requirements into a platform’s misaligned capabilities (or lack of capabilities). If they had remained with Webtop, they could achieve both types of applications (i.e., document-centric and process-centric) on a single platform. Of course, you lose the “no code” configurability of D2 and xCP and trade it in for full-blown Java development with Webtop.

As I mentioned before, out-of-the-box, Webtop does EVERYTHING. The thing that gripes me the most about xCP and D2 is that out-of-the-box they do NOTHING. Nothing! After installing the client you still have a long road ahead of you just to see your cabinets and folders, and create a few objects in the Docbase.

Out-of-the-box, Webtop works. Why doesn’t EMC invest in “Web 2.0-ifying” Webtop? They could rebuild it on Spring, using jSON and Ajax, DFS, REST, or whatever the framework de jour is. And, provide a migration path from the “classic” Webtop to this new creation. Many of these technologies provide the “configuration” conveniences they are striving for in D2 and xCP.

For example, look at what Armedia is doing with its ArkCase Management System. ArkCase is repository neutral and offers a UI that is elegant, responsive, and highly configurable while using current Web 2.0 technologies to achieve the highest level of re-usability and abstraction. Or take a look at CARA by Generis. CARA is a Webtop/D2 alternative and is gaining rapid acceptance for its elegance, flexibility, ease of use, and adaptability. Are these examples of what Webtop should be, could be?

Come on EMC, revive Webtop and restore it to its flagship status. Don’t just limp it along with periodic maintenance releases and force your user base onto D2 or xCP when they don’t need to or want to.

Comments

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  • Amen – but you’re preaching to the choir (Documentum customers), I think. EMC themselves, well… they’re not hearing it. Not one little bit.

    I think the answer is legitimately two-pronged.

    1. Updating/modernizing Webtop WOULD be hard… gotta give ’em that one. That’s if you’re talking a full modernization, moving away from framesets, ajaxifying quite a bit more, updating all the CSS, etc., while still trying to maintain some semblance of backwards compatibility with the WDK. It wouldn’t be easy, at all; I suppose anything’s POSSIBLE, but I suspect there might be fundamental underlying issues with the WDK architecture itself that would prevent a truly full & thorough modernization.

    That being said, what COULD be done – and much more easily – is a partial modernization/optimization. HTML5, CSS3, moving some of the JS to jquery, switching to .NET UCF and/or allowing flash for uploading instead of forcing users to choose from vanilla HTML uploads or the Java UCF, which instantiates slowly and causes enterprise desktop woes. This would all be doable, along with modest feature enhancements here and there. But reason #2 almost assures it’s never going to happen…. unless EMC open-sourced Webtop…

    2. They’ve switched from an engineering-driven culture to a sales-driven culture, and foisting D2 upon the masses quite simply translates to more $$$$. This is sad but true… folks over at TSG group have implied as much… rather take the high road and try to improve the product that many of their customers have built business around, they’ve bought an OEM product, gutted it, and are repackaging it as the NEXT BIG THING. It’s a little transparent…

    Also, if D2 were really the NEXT BIG THING, would the entire admin config section REALLY be implemented as a gigantic ACTIVEX control, of all things? That’s seriously Web 1.0, even if the user interface itself is more modern.

    The responsible thing to do in this situation, if Webtop is truly being abandoned, is to open-source. The next most responsible thing to do is to at least have a team working on a partial modernization. EMC has chosen option 3 – to release “6.8” as a final version and hope that customers see the “writing on the wall” and start shelling out cash for D2…

  • I can’t possibly express how much I agree with everything in this article. I see the changes at EMC to be an opportunity for a course correction with respect for Webtop. However, to me, it isn’t so much about the specific tool but that they provide a supported upgrade path.

    We are losing our market share here to other systems and are actually on the road to complete migration from Documentum to other tools (in most cases, SharePoint), due to the way EMC IIG has been focusing on keeping shareholders happy at the expense of the customers.

    I think a large part of our problem has been that we can’t demo a new Documentum client to our stakeholders and show them what we can do. They have no interest in purchasing a new client, they expect (rightfully, in my opinion) an upgrade path when a new client is developed. That is why we pay so much in maintenance costs.

    D2 does not seem to be it, so where is it? A Web 2.0 version of Webtop is that missing link that we need to keep everything together. I only fear that even if they decided to correct this oversight today, would it be too little, too late?

  • I can’t possibly express how much I agree with everything in this article. I see the changes at EMC to be an opportunity for a course correction with respect for Webtop. However, to me, it isn’t so much about the specific tool but that they provide a supported upgrade path.

    We are losing our market share here to other systems and are actually on the road to complete migration from Documentum to other tools (in most cases, SharePoint), due to the way EMC IIG has been focusing on keeping shareholders happy at the expense of the customers.

    I think a large part of our problem has been that we can’t demo a new Documentum client to our stakeholders and show them what we can do. They have no interest in purchasing a new client, they expect (rightfully, in my opinion) an upgrade path when a new client is developed. That is why we pay so much in maintenance costs.

    D2 does not seem to be it, so where is it? A Web 2.0 version of Webtop is that missing link that we need to keep everything together. I only fear that even if they decided to correct this oversight today, would it be too little, too late?

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