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Users: Lotus pointed in right direction

Feb 02, 20045 mins
Collaboration SoftwareEnterprise ApplicationsIBM

IBM Lotus users say the software vendor’s collaboration strategy appears headed in the right direction but that there are a lot of gaps to fill before the company can succeed at integrating the Notes/Domino platform into its Lotus Workplace and WebSphere lineup.

ORLANDO – IBM Lotus users say the software vendor’s collaboration strategy appears headed in the right direction but that there are a lot of gaps to fill before the company can succeed at integrating the Notes/Domino platform into its Lotus Workplace and WebSphere lineup.

Last week, attendees at the annual Lotusphere conference scrambled to discover more about future Notes clients, the new Lotus Workplace Client Technology and how Notes applications will fare on IBM’s portal-based collaboration platform. They also said IBM/Lotus will need some new development tools, although none were announced at the conference.

Attendees said there were a lot of loose ends at Lotusphere and that the gathering lacked its usual “big bang” pronouncements about future products and instead had the feel of a staid IBM business meeting.

“I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop at the opening keynote,” says Scott Wenzel, a Notes administrator for a federal agency. “Lotusphere has always been about raising expectations and they have not done that.”

Instead of fireworks, IBM/Lotus dissected the technologies it has been talking about for the past six to 12 months, while offering only a glimpse of the future, including Notes 7, which is expected to ship next year, and Notes 8, which will become a client-side component inside IBM’s new Workplace Client Technology unveiled at Lotusphere.

Notes/Domino 8 is expected to fully integrate the client and server into IBM’s portal strategy around Lotus Workplace, which runs on WebSphere and DB2.

The Workplace Client Technology is a browser-based Java client built on the Eclipse open source framework that includes a small database to support offline data use. The Client Technology will run on the desktop and the Notes 8 client will run inside it. “It’s not an emulation layer, it’s Notes inside a bigger thing,” says Ed Brill, who examines competing technologies as manager of Lotus’ competitive project office. “It’s the same Notes code carried forward in a different form.”

The intent is to let Notes applications execute within a browser using the Notes 8 client, a so-called rich client that can store data locally and run applications offline. But IBM/Lotus hasn’t figured out the exact technology it will use to support that. “We don’t want to say what options we are exploring now, but we are looking at a range of technologies,” says Kevin Cavanaugh, vice president of development for messaging at Lotus.

Observers say IBM is going in the right direction with its risky strategy.

“The Workplace Client looks like a nice evolution of the client technology, but it is too early to say what it might be capable of doing,” says Bruce Elgort, manager of information services for Sharp Microelectronics of the Americas and co-founder of OpenNTF, a project that develops open source software for the Domino platform.

But Elgort says IBM/Lotus hasn’t explained how Domino applications will run natively and with 100% fidelity on the WebSphere portal platform. He says the company also is missing a tool for rapid application development on WebSphere, something that was expected to be unveiled at Lotusphere.

“The big question is, will the rich client be able to run effectively,” says David Ferris, president of Ferris Research. “We see Workplace as a big leap of faith. It could all end in tears. It’s risky.”

Some say that implied risk is causing the most concern among end users.

“We are seeing customers interested in finding out about just what this is,” says Shoby John, vice president and CIO of the Computer Software Alliance, a systems integrator in Houston. “It’s an option for those with an interest in portal and application development using J2EE.”

For those that have investigated, the overall benefits are obvious, especially when deploying collaboration technologies on the Web or managing corporate desktops.

“Workplace works out of the box; with Domino there is a lot of customization you need,” says Dave Blundell, business unit manager with Safmarine Computer Services in Johannesburg, South Africa. “And Workplace makes client upgrading easier because you do it from the server and you don’t touch the desktop.”

Lotus is banking on users discovering those benefits and finding ways to integrate its collaborative platform technologies.

“IBM Lotus has demonstrated the migration and co-existence strategy for the Lotus faithful and that is a positive,” says Mike Gotta, an analyst with Meta Group. “But the downside is that they haven’t shown how this new strategy will make users more productive in terms of running their business. How do process management tools hook into the Workplace environment?”

But overall, he says, Lotus so far appears to be beating Microsoft at the game of building a next-generation collaboration platform.