ORLANDO -- IBM\/Lotus on Monday aggressively galloped into its collaborative software future promising not to avoid any fights and laying out plans to expand its Notes\/Domino platform with an emphasis on a services architecture model.New Lotus general manager Mike Rhodin opened the vendor\u2019s annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Fla., by telling nearly 6,000 attendees that the future is already within sight. And he laid to rest, again, questions that the future of the Notes\/Domino platform included a makeover or worse.\u201cFor the record, there is no architectural shift involved [for Notes\/Domino], it is pure growth with no regression,\u201d said Rhodin. \u201cThere will be continued support for all Notes applications.\u201dRhodin and IBM\/Lotus executives also took a more aggressive stand in an on-going competition with Microsoft, often calling out the vendor during the general session keynote for its perceived shortcomings in product and delivery schedules.\u201cWe have been the leader for 15 years, and I have no intention of backing down,\u201d Rhodin said later at a press conference.Analysts say Lotus\u2019s spunk is born from heat applied by Microsoft, which is aggressively building out it collaboration platform on the back of Office and real-time collaboration tools.\u201cI was struck that Lotus feels very threatened by Microsoft,\u201d said David Ferris, president of Ferris Research. Ferris said that Lotus, however, is infusing Notes\/Domino with enough new and upgraded features that users who defect to Microsoft should feel like they are missing out.During the two-and-a-half-hour opening session IBM\/Lotus introduced the next version of the Domino Server, called Domino Next, and showed the first public demo of the Notes Hannover client, which was unveiled last year. The company also showed an updated Sametime 7.5 server, new electronic forms technology, Workplace features, development tools and examples of Lotus\u2019s notion of \u201cactivity centric\u201d computing.Ken Bisconti, vice president of IBM Workplace, Portal and collaboration products, said Hannover and Domino Next will be developed on roughly the same schedule but added they may not be delivered at the exact same time. Both are expected to have several public and private betas in 2006 with release slated for 2007.Hannover is based on the Workplace Managed Client technology and Bisconti said it arguably is the most important Notes client ever.\u201cThis is the transformation from client\/server applications like Office to server-managed clients,\u201d said Bisconti.Next will ship with WebSphere Portal integrated into the server, support for composite applications and \u201cactivity-centric\u201d computing, and new document management and team workspace features.Rhodin opened up the general session by pointing out that Lotus must be on to something because its competitors have been talking about Lotus at their conferences. As he spoke, the stage-wide screen behind him began to fill with pictures of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who last year said Lotus customers were just waiting for Microsoft to move them off Notes.Rhodin then introduced actor Jason Alexander, who is best known for his role as George Costanza from the television show Seinfeld. Alexander joked about his fear of the future given that his past had been so successful, but eventually he turned serious and said technology is revolutionizing his industry and providing opportunities that never existed in a world once controlled by the big movie studios.Lotus hopes to support similar revolutions with the evolution of its collaboration tools.Bisconti said Lotus 7.0.2, slated to ship this fall would include support for Macintosh OS X version 10.4 with integrated Sametime instant messaging. Also new will be support for Domino Web Access clients on Firefox browsers. The release also will feature integration with mobile technology from partners such as Intellisync, Nokia, Good Technology and Research in Motion, as well as, enhance SAP integration with connectors to specific Notes features.Lotus said it would ship Sametime 7.5, the long awaited upgrade to the platform, in the fall. Version 7.5 will support both Macintosh and Linux and feature a new plug-in architecture for extending the client with features such as soft phones and Google Maps. It also has a new Web conferencing interface and social networking tools such as instant polling.As part of the Sametime announcement, Lotus unveiled integration with instant messaging services from AOL, Yahoo and Google. Lotus plans to ship a gateway called the Real Time Collaboration Gateway around the time Sametime 7.5 is generally available.Rival Microsoft announced a similar fee-based integration last year, but Lotus will offer its integration for free.In addition, IBM\/Lotus announced that its WorkPlace Collaboration Services 2.6 and WorkPlace Managed Client 2.6 are now shipping. The managed client includes support for Linux and the Open Document Format. The company also plans to ship before the end of June WorkPlace Forms 2.6, which will support the XForms standard.Lotusphere runs through Thursday.