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IBM attempts Google Vulcan death grip

The future of Notes is Wave

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Another Lotusphere is behind us, with news for IBM's business hivemind and collaboration software aplenty. But why does Big Blue host its shindig way over in Orlando, Florida, when it's easier to peek at Google's portfolio on the other coast?

Lotusphere 2010 was a bit unusual in that it didn't completely revolve around the next release of Lotus Notes. IBM instead took the tack of presenting a broader vision of its future collaboration portfolio.

IBM's big fat announcement for Lotusphere 2010 was its new "blueprint for the future," dubbed Project Vulcan. Big Blue was rather fuzzy about specific features and functions to expect from Vulcan, but it appears the Lotus blueprint for the future takes generous crib notes from the Google Chocolate Factory.

And it doesn't end there.

Project Vulcan is described as combining email, calendars, profiles, instant messaging, and to-do lists. A very Google Wave-esque notion indeed. But IBM says Vulcan will bind it all together with social analytics technology that provides recommendations and filter relevant content - which could make the relative madness that is Google Wave more palatable to an enterprise environment.

IBM also promises Vulcan will help blend its cloud and on-premise collaboration products, which IBM no doubt sees as crucial to fighting Microsoft's Exchange and SharePoint.

But there's additional shades of Google in Vulcan with the notion of moving IBM's Lotus portfolio towards open standards and a more "loosely-coupled" framework on the back end.

"This makes sense in an increasingly-expected hybrid environment, and will simplify deployment and adoption of collaboration and productivity within your organization," Lotus software chief of product management Ed Brill blogged. "Web services, xPages, HTML5, RESTful APIs, will all be tools in pushing Project Vulcan forward."

Brill teases that Notes will start to become "Vulcanized" after 8.5.2 and start to appear in 2011- but he also says the project represents the future of IBM's entire Lotus product portfolio.

Even the way IBM plans to show off future tools for Lotus now is taking a page from Google. IBM unveiled a new pipeline for demonstrating Lotus technologies still in pre-production called LotusLive Labs. If that ain't inspired by Google Labs, I'll eat my hat.

IBM said it plans to serve a beta development environment of Vulcan in the second half of 2010 on LotusLive Labs. Several smaller previews like a conference schedule organizer, a presentation transcription tool, and application mash-up software are already in the LotusLive Labs barrel.

Of course, there's no real shame in following Google with vows of an open architecture - or even serving up a social media mish-mash as the future of business collaboration tools. IBM has been hard at work trying to shed the legacy image of its Lotus brand and releasing cleaner builds of its in-house fare alone won't cut it.

But two questions must be addressed in the days ahead. First, is the matter of whether IBM can actually live up to its promises to create a open and more developer-friendly platform than Microsoft. Microsoft might have the partner and developer ecosystem, but the Exchange and SharePoint code is not open. Big Blue is a major advocate and contributor to open source, so there's definitely hope for it there.

The next is IBM's direction itself. Google scored itself a lot of buzz with the introduction of its permissions-light Google Wave last year, but now many are scratching their heads wondering exactly what to do with it. To be fair, Wave is still at an unstable, preview stage, but Google has seemed satisfied thus far just hoping the platform will evolve naturally as a tool for enterprises once companies like Novell and Salesforce.com have a chance to game around with it.

IBM needs to shore in the free-love attitude of Google's to show some actual value and maturity in the idea. Big Blue may be following Google's lead in the collaboration space, but it must show the world that in the end, it's not too Googly. ®

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