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IBM Lotus delivers low-end e-mail for the 'deskless'

IBM Lotus' new low-end messaging product is out of the gate. Released today, Workplace Messaging is the company's first e-mail system built on WebSphere and DB2.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- IBM Lotus today released Workplace Messaging 1.0, the next-generation e-mail product for underserved workers that the company first announced at this year's Lotusphere.

Workplace Messaging runs on IBM's WebSphere application server and uses DB2 as a message store. It is a server-based product that's deployed through a Web browser and which doesn't require desktop installation.

The company says that the offering rounds out its messaging portfolio by meeting the needs of low-end users -- the factory workers, flight attendants and department store perfume spritzers of the world. These "deskless" workers, as Lotus calls them, could use their new e-mail accounts to receive electronic pay stubs and corporate memos, as well as make formal requests for vacation time and other benefits.

"Right now, underserved users have no way to be a part of the story inside an organization," said John Caffrey, Lotus' manager of messaging solutions. "Workplace Messaging gives them a voice."

With Workplace Messaging 1.0, users can send and receive e-mail messages and attached files. Spell-checking and preference-setting capabilities are not included in this release. Neither are calendaring and scheduling, though they are planned for Workplace Messaging 2.0, due out later this year.

For administrators, Workplace Messaging integrates with Domino and other directories and databases through the LDAP and SMTP protocols. Caffrey said that adding Workplace Messaging users is as easy as making a single entry in the LDAP directory.

Lotus also has several partners lined up to offer additional features, including blacklist e-mail spam protection from San Francisco-based Brightmail Inc.

Lotus is emphasizing the scalability and low total cost of ownership it says Workplace Messaging offers. Workplace Messaging's total cost of ownership would average less than $3 per user per month over three years, Caffrey said. (Pricing before discounts, however, is much higher.) He added that Workplace Messaging's scalability and server-side administration would be additional cost-savers.

The price, backed by the IBM name, could help Workplace Messaging mop up the low-end messaging market, especially among existing WebSphere and Domino customers. Lotus will be competing, at least indirectly, with existing low-end e-mail players, such as Sendmail Inc., Critical Path Inc. and Rockliffe Inc. Sun Microsystems Inc. and Oracle Corp. also offer Web-based messaging products, but at much higher costs than Workplace Messaging.

But it remains unclear just how many companies will bite.

"Some folks just don't need e-mail," said Mark Levitt, an analyst at International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass. "If your job is to put fenders on a car, it might be hard to make the case. But regional and factory floor managers can easily identify who will really benefit."

IBM has, through its business partner MetaLogic Consulting Inc., already sold Workplace Messaging to an insurance company based in Japan. Ten thousand "deskless" workers will use the product, said MetaLogic vice president Lou Breithaupt. Caffrey is also hopeful that beta testers of the product, which include Daimler Chrysler, will become paying customers.

"The key challenge is containing the costs of getting Workplace Messaging to the user," Levitt said. "Will they be using BlackBerries or other wireless devices, a shared PC workstation, or the telephone? There are a lot of ways to receive e-mail."

Lotus expects that most Workplace Messaging users will need to access their e-mail as little as once per week. That means many workers could share a single desktop PC or kiosk.

"And as kiosks become more familiar, and wireless devices become lower in price and more widespread," Levitt said, "e-mail can become the lead application for 'deskless' workers."

Lotus admits that extending e-mail to low-end workers will undoubtedly leave some organizations grappling with new philosophical issues, such how much time to allot employees to check their inboxes and how to prevent workers from sending unauthorized messages. Caffrey thinks that labor unions and other agencies will ultimately be left to answer those questions.

He also said that Lotus will not allow current Domino customers, who may find Notes too robust for their needs, to downgrade to Workplace Messaging.

Workplace Messaging 1.0 runs only on Windows 98 and 2000 and with Internet Explorer 5.5 and higher. It supports Windows 2000 and AIX on the server. Support for Linux, Apple Macintosh, IBM's iSeries and the Mozilla browser will come in future releases. Developers, too, can look forward to a software developers' kit (SDK) and application programming interface (API) for Workplace Messaging by the time of the next release.


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