Lotus pitches Domino unplugged; skeptics remain

While Lotus developers say they have the technology in place to give you mobile access to your Domino data, some Lotusphere attendees still needed a little convincing.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- While the most enthusiastic Mobile Notes users at Lotusphere seemed to be wearing IBM staff shirts and company badges, Lotus developers here tried to convert the naysayers by demonstrating how IBM Lotus Domino Everyplace 6 makes Notes/Domino 6 applications available wirelessly and in real time.

Stuart Clifford, who would only describe himself as "a QA person" at IBM, was inserting a Wi-Fi card into a gleaming new Siemens SX56 Pocket PC phone to show how Mobile Notes users can switch seamlessly between a General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) and a local area Wi-Fi network.

"I just love this thing," said Clifford, as he punched up a job ticket application through Domino Everyplace Enterprise, the version of Everyplace that allows users to perform in-depth database searches on the Domino server.

Clifford also demonstrated Domino Everyplace SMS -- which manages short messages, pages and notifications -- and showed off a job ticket application that his development team cooked up in Everyplace's Mobile Application Development database.

Not all Domino users are finding Clifford's enthusiasm contagious, however. Some say that Mobile Notes gives them a limited view of their Domino applications and databases on devices that are too small and too slow for enterprise use.

"Mobile Notes takes the engine horsepower out of Domino," said Phil Guirl, owner of Kingston, Ill.-based Stonebridge Holistic Consulting Agency, which designs and develops Domino applications. "How much can you really do on a screen that is only a couple of inches wide?"

Actually, quite a lot -- if you're using the right device.

The Siemens SX56, for example, has a large touch screen with more than 4,096 colors. And the device provides up to 15 hours of PDA time, thanks to a built-in battery. Most new handhelds, in fact, claim similar features.

"Until now, I'd say the critics had a point about the hardware limitations of handheld devices," said Andrew Brown, an International Data Corp. researcher based in the United Kingdom. "But that isn't the case anymore."

Brown himself uses a Dell Axim handheld PC, which runs on an Intel XScale processor at speeds of up to 400 MHz. The device's shortcut features help prolong battery life, said Brown, and its cradle includes a recharger.

"Of course, you're going to use more power with a bright color display," Brown said. "But that's the trade-off you make for more information and ease-of-use."

Brown said the real problem for Mobile Notes users has been that most devices lack built-in support for Notes/Domino applications. "They're fine if you're using Microsoft Office applications," he said. "But if you're using Notes, you've typically needed a third-party application to bridge the gap."

Brown uses Cadenza mNotes from Derby, England-based CommonTime Ltd. to synchronize his Notes applications to IDC's Domino server. CommonTime also sells Cadenza mForms, a product for building customized mobile applications.

IDC, which is based in Framingham, Mass., is planning to deploy Domino Everyplace when it upgrades to Notes/Domino 6, Brown said. But even some progressive Domino shops are balking at the thought of their organizations' assets flying through the ether, whether they're getting information in real time or chatting via IBM Lotus' wireless IM application, Sametime Everyplace.

"As a city, we deal with quite a lot of public information that needs to remain secure," said Sean McNulty, an IT engineer for the city of Mesa, Ariz. McNulty said Mesa prefers to use Cadenza mNotes for hard-wire syncs of users' mail, calendar and notepad data between the city's Windows CE devices and desktop PCs.

IBM says it has security for Domino Everyplace well covered, however. Domino Everyplace Access (DEA), the wireless server access component of Everyplace, is fully integrated with Domino's port encryption and administrative controls. Administrators can also list "trusted devices" in the Domino Directory.

IBM is also making strides in getting Mobile Notes incorporated into new wireless handhelds and services. Last week, the company announced a deal with AT&T Wireless to provide what AT&T calls an intuitive, "over the phone" configurator for users of Sametime Everyplace and Lotus Domino Everyplace. At Lotusphere, IBM also announced Sametime Everyplace 3, which extends instant messaging and presence awareness to mobile phones, Pocket PCs and Palm devices.

And last year, IBM, AT&T and Intel Corp. formed a new company, Cometa Networks Inc., to build a nationwide Wi-Fi network with 20,000 access points in 50 U.S. cities.

Stonebridge Holistic Consulting's Guirl will believe it all when he sees it. "Wireless connections are still very unreliable," he said. "And Wi-Fi is nonexistent for the overwhelming majority of people. And until we overcome those problems, I'm going to have trouble with them calling it 'Everyplace.'"

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

The Best Web Links on wireless access to Notes

Are you a Mobile Notes user? What are the challenges and rewards of mobile access? Share your thoughts with your peers.

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