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Lotusphere 2007 refocuses on users

IBM offers a peek at the version 8.0 of Lotus Notes and Domino server coming later this year.

IBM is developing the latest versions of its enterprise messaging and collaboration products with a renewed focus on what users want from those products, according to some analysts.

IBM will spotlight the next version of its collaboration software at Lotusphere 2007, its annual conference held in Orlando later this month.

Lotus Notes 8.0, the next version of the IBM messaging product, and its companion server Domino 8 will be released later this year. The first betas of both products were released in early December.

Attendees will get a sneak peek at some of the new features of Notes 8 and Domino 8 with hands-on labs for customizing Notes, Web content publishing and dozens of other topics.

These new versions will be of great interest to corporate users, said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with the Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, a technology research and advisory company.

"I think it will be the most significant release of Notes in the last 10 years," said O'Kelly. Prior to the Burton Group, O'Kelly led the product management of Notes R4 at IBM.

Notes 4.0 was a watershed release, and O'Kelly said he expects Notes 8.0 will be one as well because both offer users a more modern user interface and increased functionality and power.

This pending release is important because between 1995 and 2000 IBM did not make it clear whether it would continue to support and update Notes and Domino, worrying many existing users, O'Kelly said. Now, with a new version that includes some social computing features such as blogs and wikis, IBM is telling customers those products have a future, he said.

IBM now seems committed to developing new features and editions of its desktop and server products with ongoing support – and customers are happy about that, said Chuck Connell, owner of CHC-3 Consulting in Woburn, Mass.

"Three or four years ago there was the fear that IBM [didn't] care about Domino or Notes anymore," Connell said. "But now with a new release and sizeable support, I think we feel that they're really behind the products."

Although O'Kelly and Connell are fairly upbeat about the new products and the opportunity to learn more about them at Lotusphere 2007, at least one analyst is more pessimistic about what information will be made available.

"Lotus has been doing what I think is an appalling job of explaining -- except in the most general of terms -- the technological details of Notes and Domino," said Nick Shelness, a senior analyst with Ferris Research, a Cambridge, England-based research firm. Before joining Ferris, Shelness was the chief technology officer and a chief messaging architect for Lotus.

Shelness said he hopes IBM will address the lack of technical information available about the products before they are released. "They seem to have decided that they don't need to go into the technical terms at all and only have to talk about the business argument for using them," he said.

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