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Lotusphere: Lotus eyes the next generation

Lotus is striving to please its developers and admins while it edges ever closer to other IBM technologies. At Lotusphere it introduced several new offerings to help companies transition to a next-generation environment without completely abandoning technology of today.

ORLANDO -- Lotus is banging the open standards drum like a high school marching band during a parade. And it's pledging to arm Domino shops with the instruments they need to play along.

Kicking off its tenth annual Lotusphere user conference, Lotus emphasized the importance of next generation technologies -- relational databases, J2EE and standards directories -- and introduced its first products build around them.

At the top of the list was its new, still unnamed next-generation e-mail system designed for "deskless" employees, such as factory workers with fewer messaging needs, that Lotus intends to ship in the second quarter. Relying on other IBM technologies like the WebSphere application server and the DB2 database, the system promises to scale easily, deliver a low total cost of ownership and integrate with Notes and competing messaging platforms like Microsoft Exchange. Its XML and HTML architecture will also enable delivery on multiple platforms.

"The old world of Domino development is dying. If you've got people who are wed to LotusScript, it's time to move on." -- Gartner's Simon Hayward

Next month the company will also ship the IBM Lotus Learning Management System, another initiative built around next-generation technology that offers new e-learning customization abilities and reporting features.

Yet Lotus executives walked a fine line between touting their vision of the future and promising to protect the technology of today. Executives tried to calm the fears of die-hard Domino enthusiasts that suspect a strong commitment to WebSphere and Java might render Domino Designer and the Notes client obsolete.

"[Next-generation technology] is complimentary, not a replacement," said Jeanette Horan, Lotus vice president of products. "We're not asking our customers to rip out their existing infrastructures."

Horan promised upgrades of existing products, including the release of Notes/Domino 6.5 in the third quarter, as well as new versions of Sametime, QuickPlace and Domino.Doc by year's end.

Upcoming releases
Lotus announced a tentative timetable of this year's releases. Here's a look at what to expect:

  • Q1: -- IBMLotus Learning Management System
    -- WebSphere Portal 4.2
  • Q2 -- Next generation e-mail system
    -- Collaboration Center
    -- WebSphere Portal 5
  • Q3 -- Notes/Domino 6.5
    -- Sametime 3.x
    -- QuickPlace 3.x
    -- Domino.Doc 4.0
  • Domino developers also learned that Lotus will help simplify the transition to a Java-based programming environment with two new initiatives. The first, the immediate release of the Domino Toolkit for WebSphere Studio, will allow programmers to reuse existing Domino applications and data to create J2EE applications without rewriting code. The toolkit will also be included in a future version of Domino Designer 6.

    In 2004, Lotus also expects to release a rapid application development (RAD) environment that will make it even easier for non-Java programmers to quickly deploy J2EE applications.

    Roughly two-thirds of all Domino shops do not use WebSphere, but Lotus said that number is shrinking.

    Domino programmer Frank Lopes hopes the commitment to the Domino programming environment will be enough to prevent his company, Toledo, Ohio-based Dana Corp., from abandoning Domino development all together, as it's considering. Today's announcements also offer him some personal security.

    "They help me be assured that by upgrading my skills set I can find a job," Lopes said.

    A new tune

    Gartner research director Simon Hayward said Lotus is buying programmers some time, but they will eventually have to face reality.

    "The old world of Domino development is dying," he said. "If you've got people who are wed to LotusScript, it's time to move on."

    Hayward thinks Lotus is painting an overly simplistic picture of XML, Web services and the ease of transitioning to a next-generation environment. He said all the talk around integrating Lotus' technologies with other IBM products is "slightly incestuous" and that Lotus would be better served outlining a plan for tying collaborative capabilities into valuable business applications like customer relationship management (CRM) and supply chain software.

    A look at the new Notes

    The organizations that still haven't migrated to Notes/Domino 6 also got a look at some of its new features at Lotusphere. The latest version debuted in October 2002.

    On the administrator's side, Lotus highlighted enhancements to policy-based administration, integration with Tivoli Analyzer to generate a load balancing plan, and out-of-the-box, server-side spam controls that include DNS Blacklist filters.

    Client-side features in Notes 6 include color-coded e-mail, automatically saved attachment edits and a new scheduler that suggests meeting times that fit with attendee schedules.

    Anthony Graham, a London-based Domino administrator at the law firm Clyde and Co., just finished upgrading his 800 end-users to version 5. Yet he was impressed with the enhancements in Domino 6, such as the ease in adding administrator permissions, and hopes his organization considers a quick upgrade.

    Greeting Goyal

    For most of the 5,000 estimated attendees the conference was also their first chance to meet new Lotus general manager Ambuj Goyal. Outgoing chief Al Zollar introduced his successor as "a sharp shooter, as smart as they come." He then ceded the stage to Goyal.

    Goyal, another long-time IBM executive who comes out of Big Blue's solutions and strategies division, outlined his background doing early technology work on DB2, WebSphere and business process integration. He also described himself as "passionate about open standards" and said Lotus will succeed by delivering superior products "not by controlling APIs or platforms."

    Goyal vowed to continue leveraging IBM technologies like WebSphere, DB2 and Tivoli systems management tools within the Lotus portfolio. He also promised users they'd face no extra licensing charges when IBM technologies came embedded in Lotus products.

    Goyal and the rest of the Lotus team made no mention of the company's recent decision to re-brand several of its products -- including Sametime and QuickPlace -- as IBM offerings. Yet when asked about the move at a news conference following the opening session, a Lotus executive said the change would be gradual and would appear with the next point releases of the products.

    Lotus also introduced new collaborative additions to WebSphere portal software called Collaboration Center, as well as mobile phone, Pocket PC and Palm support for the wireless instant messaging software Lotus Sametime Everyplace 3. The company also made public a partnership to begin delivering Sametime instant messaging and Domino Everyplace applications to AT&T Wireless customers.


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