"Lotus Notes has 40,000 active customers across the world, and any idea that Notes is dead is a dead idea," says Ken Bisconti, vice president of IBM Workplace, portal and collaboration products.
Bisconti says IBM will introduce its next version of Notes, code-named "Hannover", in 2007.
"This is perhaps the most dramatic new release that we have ever embarked upon in Notes' history," he says.
Notes Hannover will have a brand new user interface, with improvements in all the core, mail, calendar and contact management applications, he says. It will also have support for applications outside the traditional Notes programming model, for example Java and Eclipse applications.
"This means that from a Notes application you could directly connect a SAP, a Siebel, a custom Java or even a .net application inside of a Notes environment," says Bisconti.
When asked about rumors that Notes is going to disappear Bisconti is blunt.
"Frankly, those are rumors started by Microsoft. Their competitive tactic is to try to convince customers that Notes is not being invested in. They have been doing that for a couple of years now, and looking fairly foolish, because they made pronouncements that Notes 7 would be the last release of Notes that Lotus ever shipped. Recently I heard [Steve] Ballmer [CEO of Microsoft] being quoted saying that maybe we are going to build Notes Hannover ... 'But I bet they'll never deliver it'. They are looking a little bit foolish ... when the Notes business alone grew 10 percent last year."
Microsoft New Zealand declined to comment on the issue.
Notes has sold 125 million licences so far, according to Bisconti.
He says that he himself has been using Notes for 14 years, that everyone at IBM uses Notes, and that IBM has already upgraded the infrastructure to Notes Domino 7.
"Notes Domino 7 has been downloaded by 70,000 of our customers already and is being implemented faster than any release that we have tracked previously," he says.
One of the key market trends IBM has been pursuing is a convergence of many related markets, for example portals, email, collaboration and workflow, Bisconti says.
"The idea is that organizations want to be able to aggregate all of their applications, content and documents together into one, integrated user experience [which is] available to their end-users and customers," he says.
"This movement is one that we will deliver through innovations in Notes and Domino, and we will also deliver to customers that don't use Notes and Domino, through a more portal-centric adoption cycle."
"Many of the Workplace innovations, like activity center collaboration, our server-managed client technology, or Eclipse-oriented composite application support, started in the Workplace products but are now being integrated into Domino Next and Notes Hannover," he says.
"We have not announced packaging for Domino Next, but the portal technology that we are building Domino Next around is this WebSphere Portal 6.0 version [which IBM released last week]," Bisconti told sister publication, Network World US.
WebSphere Portal is a member of IBM's stable of Workplace software, and the Workplace platform will eventually incorporate Notes Hannover into its Eclipse-based managed client framework.
This integration brings competitive challenges, primarily from Microsoft, and it also brings challenges in guiding customers to deliver these Workplace environments to their organizations, says Bisconti.
"We also face challenges in helping customers plan the introduction of SOA [service-oriented architecture]. A lot of customers are really wrestling with the idea of how to roll out SOA technologies. We are giving them guidance around starting with portal projects and then expanding that."
The goal for Workplace is to introduce collaboration into key business applications, says Bisconti.
"For example, how can I naturally add collaboration to my call center, or to my branch banking environment?" he continues.
He says that most Workplace customers want to use collaboration, work flow, instant messaging and email in the context of a business application.
IBM has about 16 million users of Sametime, the company's proprietary instant messaging platform, says Bisconti. Compatibility with competing IM platforms is something IBM is considering.
"[It] certainly is something that we are continuing to evaluate. It's a matter of market interest as well as vendor interest" says Bisconti. "But right now we are focused on what we see as the leading providers of instant messaging technology," he says. "The vast majority of customer requests we have had have been for AOL and Yahoo.