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Version 2.6 of Workplace is also adding new standards and capabilities to its armoury, but some enhancements will not be available till later this year. Currently present is support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF), an open source rival for proprietary document formats, and iCal which provides an open standard for sharing calendar-based schedules from different vendors.

Sometime before the end of June WorkPlace Forms 2.6 will appear. This is a promising new application that presents forms on screen, looking like their paper-based equivalents, but with the added advantages of workflow and automatic insertion of current data. The software is based on the Xforms format that Lotus acquired when it bought PureEdge last year.

An upgrade of Sametime, an collaborative and instant messaging environment, will also be appearing in summer. This is receiving a substantial facelift and will add capabilities to support third-party instant messaging systems and Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony.

Lotus has agreed to allow interoperation between Sametime 7.5 and Yahoo, AOL and Google instant messaging systems. Users will be able to see which of their colleagues are available on all systems and also be able to detect where they are logged on. The location-awareness is based on IP addressing and can be mapped to systems such as Google Maps to graphically display where everyone is.

The integrated IMs service will be provided free to users rather than the fee-based policy that Microsoft currently offers. Not surprisingly, there is no agreement between Lotus and Microsoft on the IM front. Sametime's own text-based IM system has added a quick and easy spell checker, rich text, user photos, a type-ahead search when you're entering a user's name, and multiple language support with a translation capability.

The publishing of APIs may open the way to some innovative third-party add-ins. For compliance and as an aide-memoir, access to archived conversations is included and VoIP support adds voice and vision to the system for teleconferencing with up to five people. It uses the same codec as eBay’s Skype system, which opens the possibility of a future tie-up between the two networks at some future time.

Adam Gartenberg, director of product marketing for the Lotus Real Time Collaboration Group, refused to be drawn too far on this question. “It’s definitely a possibility we will be looking into,” he said.

When it comes to mobility, the company seems to be willing to let others do the work and projects exist with Nokia and its Symbian smart phone operating system, Siemens and RIM Blackberry.

True laptop mobility has been a problem in the past because of the need to access proof of ID information stored on a central server. Now there is a workaround using USB memory sticks. The ID file and other information can be downloaded in an encrypted format and carried around with the laptop.

Lotus still has to prove that it can stand against Microsoft in the long term, but Lotusphere did offer a glimpse of the power its new range of collaborative software is preparing to unleash.®

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