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Workplace a work in progress

The component-based collaboration suite is starting to attract interest, but some Domino shops aren't sold yet.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Even though IBM Lotus boasted that in the fourth quarter it landed 170 customers for Workplace, many at Lotusphere are taking a wait-and-see approach to the open standards-based alternative to Notes/Domino.

Workplace, which was first introduced at last year's user conference, is built on J2EE, WebSphere Portal and WebSphere Application Server. It features several collaboration components that companies can roll out individually or together -- including messaging, team collaboration, learning and content management tools.

Workplace is exciting, but everything around the integration of Notes and WebSphere still seems very fuzzy.
Stephanie Thomas
Notes developer

While Lotus executives say Workplace wasn't designed specifically for the Notes/Domino installed base, some existing customers said they aren't ready to jump on board with a technology that they believe remains unproven.

"I would have to run a pilot of [Workplace] before determining whether or not our user base would find the product acceptable," said Lou Gerritse, the network manager at a large fashion retail firm based in New York. "Our user community is already accustomed to the Notes application."

Workplace 2.0, due out in June, will include a new rich e-mail client designed to appease customers like Gerritse, whose end users are accustomed to Notes' features and interface. Users currently access Workplace Messaging through a browser.

Gerritse's company is very interested in Workplace, however. It already plans to use WebSphere Portal Extend to replace its HR documentation functions and corporate intranet with a single gateway. WebSphere Portal Extend includes prepackaged portlets, including Lotus Team Workplace (formerly QuickPlace) and a Web conferencing portlet based on Lotus Instant Messaging and Conferencing (formerly Sametime).

And, since Gerritse's company will first be using WebSphere Portal, "a product that features tight integration with WebSphere Portal Server will be of interest to us," he said.

Many Notes/Domino shops are looking to Lotus to show them their next step. But -- despite a demo at Lotusphere of Workplace 2.0's compatibility with Notes -- many users want to see more code from Lotus before they commit to the Java-based platform.

"Workplace is exciting, but everything around the integration of Notes and WebSphere still seems very fuzzy," said Stephanie Thomas, a Notes developer for the SUNY Empire State College, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The reason that Lotus' Notes-WebSphere integration strategy may seem so fuzzy is that the company has nothing to show users beyond what Lotus executives presented to the roughly 4,000 attendees at last Monday's opening session. (Lotus execs stressed that the code they demonstrated was live.)

At the event, Lotus' vice president of development and technical support, Michael Rhodin, introduced Workplace Builder, a group of templates for creating new portlet applications. He also showed off a Workplace portlet through which users can access Notes and other non-WebSphere data.

But in the Workplace Lab, observers say, they found nothing new.

"I realized in the lab just how early a stage Workplace is in," said Erica Rugullies, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "The Workplace Builder tool's user interface was still incomplete."

It is too soon for Notes/Domino customers to consider deploying Workplace, according to Rugullies. Workplace is a very rudimentary application, "and the team collaboration capabilities are far inferior to those of Sametime and QuickPlace," she said.

Rugullies' analysis found that Web conferencing in Workplace 1.1, which was demonstrated in a Lotusphere lab, is limited to sharing Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. Users of this version cannot launch Web conferences and chats by clicking on a username within the tool, she said.

Lotus is, however, taking pains to better align Notes/Domino and WebSphere through Workplace. The newly released Notes/Domino 6.5.1, for example, has a portlet user interface that resembles Workplace. And two platforms are expected to achieve functional parity by the release of ND8.0.

But Rugullies doubts that Workplace will ease the transition from Domino to WebSphere completely. "We will see some improved migration capabilities, but those will come from third parties," she said. "But I don't think migration for Domino apps will ever be easy."


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