ORLANDO - Lotus' Domino customers and business partners want a clear explanation of the product's future and how it ultimately will be integrated with IBM's application server and database, and they want specific directions at this week's annual Lotusphere conference.Lotusphere ReportJohn Fontana's Lotusphere Weblog Users say IBM's picture of a world that includes both the familiar Domino and the next-generation model that fits IBM's portal strategy still creates uncertainty as to why and how the platforms will merge, and they are concerned that Domino will be gutted to supply piece parts for IBM's WebSphere Application Server, the cornerstone of Big Blue's middleware.The uncertainty will be fueled by the top announcements at Lotusphere, many of which revolve around WebSphere. They include new development tools, an e-mail-only server module and a calendar component that plugs into the WebSphere application server and uses DB2 as a data store. That architecture is what IBM\/Lotus is calling its "next-generation" Domino. The e-mail module has no official name but is being dubbed Next Gen Mail.Also, users say IBM is pushing WebSphere in subtle ways, including offering licensing discounts to those who agree to test WebSphere and Lotus Enterprise Integrator (LEI) to tap into DB2.Jim Cimino, president of Lotus business partner Bright-ideas Software, says Lotus employees have been joking with users that "it's time to drink the blue Kool-Aid."Also fueling uncertainty is the recent replacement of Lotus General Manager Al Zollar with Ambuj Goyal, an IBM veteran like Zollar, and a WebSphere expert."I'm hoping with someone new at the top they will come clean and lay out exactly what they are doing. If they wait until after Lotusphere they are making a big mistake," says Dave Burrows, Lotus Notes administrator for Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in LaCrosse, Wis."I don't want to be blindsided," Burrows says. "They need to say this is where we are going and get some feedback instead of pushing us like they did last year by killing the Java support in R6."Last year's Lotusphere ended in grumbling after Lotus quietly admitted it was cutting a technology from the yet-to-be-released Domino R6 called Garnet that supported the use of Java Server Pages (JSP). Users called the move an attempt to cripple Domino in favor of WebSphere.IBM\/Lotus said last summer that R6, which shipped in October, will be followed in 2004 by another release of Domino and that the "next-generation" platform built around WebSphere would begin to emerge this year. Last year, the company said Domino would remain on those two tracks into the foreseeable future."We know Domino will be there in the future in one form or another, but what that form will be is the big question among the business partners," says Ron Herardian, CEO of Global System Services, a consulting firm, that is introducing at Lotusphere a messaging application focused on regulatory compliance. "There are a lot of technical reasons that Domino on WebSphere makes sense, but the reality is that most users run Domino for mail, calendars and contacts, and don't build applications or portals, and don't understand WebSphere."Lotus is under pressure from Microsoft, which now boasts more Exchange users than Lotus does Domino users and also is producing collaboration components. Both vendors face pressure from pure messaging servers, such as Critical Path, Gordano, Mirapoint, Rockcliffe and Stalker, which offer lower costs. IBM\/Lotus might shed light on Domino's future with the introduction at Lotusphere of an e-mail server component that plugs into WebSphere and DB2 and is expected to ship in April. The component was built from scratch and is not a Domino spin-off. It supports Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, POP3 and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, and integrates with Domino and its address book. In the fall, Lotus is expected to add a calendar component.While the mail component is being touted as an inexpensive way to service users who don't need a more costly Domino seat, it also might be seen as a test case to show users how collaboration components will plug into WebSphere and offer services to application developers."They have not shown how components work. We have not seen much of this except in demos," says Scott Wenzel, a Notes administrator for a federal agency and the creator of several unofficial Lotus Web sites.He says this year's Lotusphere might be more like the one in 1995, when Lotus said the focus was no longer on cc:Mail but on Domino. "This could be like that. - less focus on Domino and more on WebSphere," he says.That appears to be the case with two other planned announcements that focus on getting developers familiar with WebSphere and Java. Lotus will introduce the Lotus Domino Toolkit for WebSphere Studio, which provides a JSP library and allows Domino Access from Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition and JSP environments. It is designed to transition Domino developers into the Java world. Lotus will make it available for free this spring.Lotus also will introduce rapid application development capabilities, the cornerstone of Domino application development, in WebSphere Studio Site developer.It is expected to ship in the first half of next year, but pieces of the technology might be released sooner as part of WebSphere Studio products.