Lotus collaboration suite blossoms
Anytime, any place, anywhere – except Seattle
Lotusphere Confidence is brimming at this year's Lotusphere conference, with a belief that the IBM Lotus collaboration products are bouncing back against Microsoft.
At the conference, in Orlando, Florida, Lotus general manager Mike Rhodin said: "Our growth was in double digits last year [10 per cent] and the market only grew by about four per cent. So we must be stealing market share from someone.”
Actual market analyst figures will not be available for a month or two.
The only independent comment came from a Gartner analyst when he prefaced a question with congratulations to Lotus on its improved performance last year – Gartner’s official evaluation of the collaborative software market is not due until June.
Rhodin kicked off the show by dispelling rumours that a disruptive change will come with upcoming releases of Notes and Domino products next year. "For the record, there is no architectural shift involved, it is pure growth with no regression. There will be continued support for all Notes applications.”
The release he referred to is codenamed Hannover and will become Version 8 of Notes “sometime in 2007”. The planned decoupling of the Notes client from its Domino server when Hannover was announced last year initiated rumours that Domino was on the chopping block. Not so. Evidently, the imaginatively codenamed Domino “Next” is in preparation and should be released at the same time as Hannover.
Lotus has been ignoring its Apple Macintosh release schedule, but this will be addressed with Notes Version 7.02 for both the PowerPC and forthcoming Intel versions of the Mac in the autumn. The Mac version will only support the FireFox browser because required features are lacking in Apple’s own Safari browser. “Apple has been promising to do something about this – but we’re still waiting,” commented Rhodin.
Linux users will still have to wait for Hannover’s release to get their Notes client, but a plug-in for Notes is provided by IBM Workplace 2.6 which shipped on January 17.
The positioning of the Workplace suite, all IBM-badged products, among the Lotus releases is an indicator of the future. Rhodin points out that as part of IBM, Lotus can draw on the IBM software inventory to enhance and extend the reach of his own division’s products. Workplace is rapidly becoming IBM’s primary interface because it launches applications on their native server, rather like a software thin client. So Linux users can access Windows applications and vice versa.
A recent project with the Chinese Government underlines this as there was a need to tie together data centre applications at the country’s banks, customs offices, foreign trade organisations, tax departments and other authorities. The China E-Ports initiative was handed over to IBM, and Workplace not only provides the glue to tie these disparate systems together, but also adds a standardised layer of security and encryption.
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.®