Lotus sets social networking tools, collaboration updates as focus for '07

Microsoft, taking its annual dig at rival IBM/Lotus, announced Monday a set of free tools it plans to ship in February to help customers migrate from Notes/Domino.

ORLANDO -- IBM/Lotus opened its annual Lotusphere conference Monday saying its focus going into 2007 would be on the user and to prove the commitment the company unveiled new social-networking and content collaboration tools, and an upgrade to its real-time communications server.

“The end user, that is the part we are spending the most time on today,” said Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM/Lotus kicking off a two-hour keynote that featured a handful of announcements, demos and a guest appearance by astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon.

Armstrong outlined the history of the U.S. space program and his own efforts to use space exploration to help understand the world and universe.

Lotus on a smaller scale hoped to have the same dramatic impact on its end user population and the collaboration software it has been providing for years.

“We are going to make the end user the hallmark of Lotus,” Rhodin said. “We have concluded that Web 2.0 has relevance to you.

The tools just have to be made ready for business.” Rhodin said readiness includes adding such controls as security and directory integration.

Rhodin and a parade of Lotus executives then went through a list of announcements including Lotus Connections, a bundle of new social-networking tools, Quickr, a content-management platform, news on Notes/Domino 8 including a planned public beta in February, Sametime 7.5.1 slated to ship before the end of June with new video capabilities and platform support, WebSphere Portal Express 6.0 and a programming model not formerly named that cuts across platforms.

“We are seeing the largest expansion of our software portfolio,” Rhodin said later at a press conference. “It is a dramatic expansion in capabilities, better integration and seamless connectivity.”

At the press conference, Rhodin also confirmed the death of the Workplace platform that Lotus has been using over the past year in an attempt to bring together the Notes/Domino and WebSphere platform.

“The one thing that you told us, the analysts told us, is that we were confusing the hell out of [users] between Workplace and portal, so we listened and made it one thing,” Rhodin said. “ A lot of Web stuff in our products was invented by the Workplace team, and it has been harvested and folded into new products and it is bringing new life to our core brands.”

Some of that product is in Lotus Connections, which was formerly code-named Ventura.

The platform features a collection of social networking tools IBM has used internally over the years, including a bookmark-sharing application called Dogear that was the darling of last year’s Lotusphere IBM Innovation Lab, which shows off emerging technologies.

Connections, slated for release before the end of June, also lets users share workflow-supported lists of current activities work in well-defined online communities and create a hyperlinked blogging environment.

The software is designed to help users' relationships grow based on a blending of work being done within formal applications or activities such as blogging and bookmarking.

IBM/Lotus plans to release Connections as a suite under its somewhat vague activity-centric computing model. Connections pulls together IBM’s BluePages, a user directory for profiles; Dogear, a bookmark-sharing application; Activities, a sophisticated to-do list; Communities, for pulling together groups of users; and Roller, a blog server developed within the Apache Software Foundation.

BluePages has been used inside IBM for years; Dogear has also turned up recently inside IBM and was featured last year in the IBM Innovation Lab at Lotusphere.

Such major vendors as IBM, Microsoft, Google and Yahoo are trying to refine consumer based social-networking tools that are popular online such as blogs, wikis and syndication feeds into corporate collaboration software. The effort is much like instant messaging was cultivated over the years from teen-cult status into a corporate tool for real-time voice and video.

Connections will not only feature search and syndication tools, such as RSS and Atom, but will include integration with directory and security technology on both the Notes/Domino and WebSphere platform.

In addition, IBM Lotus Quickr was unveiled, a platform that combines Lotus QuickPlace and Domino Document Manager and formerly code-named Geneva. Lotus is calling the software “a Web 2.0 collaborative content platform.”

It plans to release a personal Quickr version and a Standard version before the end of June.

Quickr combines team work spaces with document management. In its initial development, it will support Lotus NSF and Java Content Repositories and incorporate IBM workflow technology. In the future, IBM/Lotus plan to add support for IBM repositories such as DB2 and non-IBM platforms such as Microsoft’s SharePoint Server.

In addition, users will be able to access Geneva from a number of interfaces, including Notes, Sametime, portals, Microsoft’s Windows and Office and other stand-alone clients.

IBM/Lotus is trying to change the way organizations communicate, share the data they generate and collect, as well as analyze information and work patterns to help refine and improve collaboration.

In addition to the Lotusphere in Orlando, the conference this year includes a Lotusphere Complex in Second Life, an online virtual world. Lotusphere Complex in Second Life will kick off Tuesday allowing users to create avatars that can interact with Lotus experts, learn about software solutions, and experience Lotusphere from wherever they are.

Lotus expects 7,000 attendees in Orlando, where they can sample more than 250 conference session, hands-on labs, panels and product showcases.

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