IBM gearing up to tie together collaboration pieces

New development tools planned for users and to ease Web app development

IBM next week will spend less time at its annual Lotusphere conference introducing new products and more time upgrading and aligning the pieces of its current software portfolio with real-time communications, collaboration, social networking and composite applications.

IBM next week will spend less time at its annual Lotusphere conference introducing new products and more time upgrading and aligning the pieces of its current software portfolio with real-time communications, collaboration, social networking and composite applications.

The company's annual Lotusphere show in Orlando (Jan. 21-24), which has been attracting more and more attendees over the past few years after several smaller editions, will focus on educating users on 2007's glut of new products.

The intent is to show users how Notes/Domino, especially the 8.0 version released in August, and Sametime 8.0 (shipped in December) integrate with software and Web 2.0 tools IBM pumped out in 2007 including, Lotus Quickr (file sharing/team spaces), Lotus Connections (social networking) and Lotus Symphony (text editor/spreadsheet/graphics).

Pushing the portfolioIBM/Lotus last year set its communications and collaboration table with the release of Notes 8, Sametime 8, Connections, Symphony and a handful of other software. This year, it is time to get Notes users to come to the table, and non-Notes users to come take a look.
IBM/Lotus portfolioWhat is itWhat's to learnAvailability
Lotus Notes/Domino 8Latest version, new open frame-work client key to integrating other applications with Notes.Best of both worlds, the old Notes applications and the ability to run software components.Shipped August 2008
Lotus SametimeReal-time communications platform that shares client framework with Notes based on Lotus Expeditor and Eclipse.

More versions coming that include integration with PBXs and IBM productivity applications.

Now. Advanced version in early 2008; Unified Telephony version, Symphony integration midyear
Lotus ConnectionsIntegrated bundle of social networking tools that works with Notes/Sametime client.New versions of tools released last year.Early 2008
Lotus QuickrFile sharing and team workspace software.New connector for Notes 8, Microsoft Outlook; and Quickr Content Integrator for moving files between servers.Quickr 8.1 slated for release in January
Lotus SymphonyProductivity applications.How they integrate with Notes, Sametime and social networking tools.Beta now. Enterprise version in 2008
Development toolsIBM's palette of tools for rapid applications development.Lotus Designer headed for Eclipse framework; new tools for composite application develop-ment and for users to assemble pre-built components.Slated to be delivered with LotusNotes/Dom-ino 8.5 by midyear

In addition, IBM plans to upgrade and plug holes in its development tools lineup, including introduction of a version of Domino Designer based on Eclipse, and new tools to ease Web application development and a series of simple tools based on platforms such as portal to aid users in stitching together pre-built software components.

And IBM plans to introduce APIs that will let developers more easily integrate Lotus Symphony productivity applications into the rest of the Lotus software portfolio much the same way Microsoft has tied Office to its communications and collaboration platform.

Experts say IBM's challenge will be not only to educate and entice Notes users but also to clarify its strategy in order to win over users beyond its traditional Notes user base now pegged at 135 million.

“I think IBM's direction is correct,” says Karen Hobert, an analyst with the Burton Group. “They are looking at opening up the development tools and opening up things for cross-platform compatibility, and giving easy-to-use tools to end users to create ad hoc applications. But my problem with all this is how it is being articulated. It is still confusing.”

Hobert says IBM will have to clarify the message because it does not have time to stumble like in the past.

“People who do not understand Notes are strictly looking at it from the position of ‘I need collaboration software’ and saying let's look at IBM,” she said. “Those people are also looking at other vendors, and it is harder for them to see IBM’s big picture. The Notes people get it, but I think everything that IBM is doing is still an install-base play.”

Reaching beyond the installed base is more critical now because IBM is not only lined up against traditional rival Microsoft, but also against Cisco, Google, Oracle, Sun and others in the broad area of unified communications (Learn more about Unified Communication products from our Buyer's Guide.)

Hobert's assessment that the clock is ticking for all these vendors is evidenced by a recent Network World survey conducted among 245 members of its Technology Opinion Panel that showed 85% view collaboration technologies as “important” or “somewhat important” to their future productivity goals.

So while IBM focused on the user interface in 2007 built around its common Lotus Expeditor and Eclipse frameworks, 2008 is about tying everything together on the back end.

In fact, the Lotusphere track titled “Planning and Managing Your Collaboration Infrastructure” holds far more sessions than any other track at the conference and includes sessions on how to roll out, integrate and exploit new software and platform upgrades.

While Notes users have been patient and faithful over many IBM product undulations, including the most recently failed

Workplace strategy, IBM wants to create the same feeling with the world outside Notes. One subtle change to help the non-Notes users grasp the message is that IBM is dropping its “composite application” term in favor of the popular Web 2.0 terms "mashup" and "widgets."

But a bigger shift will be the addition of new rapid application development tools that are more focused on building Web 2.0 components and helping users create mashups using those components and components from other vendors.

Those new tools are expected to ship with Notes/Domino 8.5 in the middle of 2008. In addition, IBM plans to use Lotusphere to recruit 8.5 beta testers.

“8.5 is supposed to bring us a whole bunch more development tools like Designer in Eclipse and easier ways to build composite applications and Web apps,” says Bruce Elgort, president of Elguji Software and a long-time Notes developer who is hosting Lotusphere sessions on templates and UI design. “We’ll also see tools in 8.5 that support Java script frameworks such as JQuery and Dojo.”

Elgort says one important thing to highlight is that IBM is continuing to extend the Notes/Domino platform without destroying it.

Part of that extension is happening with Sametime. Version 8.0, which was introduced last year, but two new versions will come in 2008, with an Advanced version that includes additional features such as persistent chat. In mid-2008, the company will ship Sametime Unified Telephony, a middleware platform that integrates Sametime VoIP call features with multiple PBXs.

Also in mid-2008, the company plans to integrate Sametime 8 with its new Lotus Symphony suite of productivity applications.Microsoft failed to win ISO certification for its Office OpenXML format, are key to helping spread IBM collaboration tools beyond the Notes user base.

Those open source productivity applications, introduced last year after

At Lotusphere, IBM will introduce a series of APIs for making Symphony the front end to custom productivity applications built off any number of back-end systems.

While no one at IBM thinks it can do any more than chip pieces off Office's dominance, IBM was encouraged by the fact that two Symphony development classes at Lotusphere sold out quickly, as did a third that was added.

IBM also plans to offer support services for Symphony sometime in 2008.

IBM also plans to introduce upgrades to its line of Lotus Connections social networking components and to show off more work from the IBM Research lab that created them, including Beehives, a socialization and sharing application, and team-building applications based on a 3-D virtual world.

“IBM's task for 2008 is to educate the market, to demonstrate that its products can happily co-exist with other vendors' products,” says Erica Driver, an analyst with Forrester Research. “It needs to communicate the message by focusing on modern technology, what's next with Web 2.0, and focusing on community software and social software. Those things differentiate the large collaboration platform vendors.” (Learn more about competitive collaboration products from our Collaboration Buyer's Guide.)

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