The next version of IBM's Lotus Notes collaboration suite, due out later this year, will include built-in capabilities for word processing, spreadsheets and more that meet the OpenDocument format (ODF) standard, allowing users to share information with others -- regardless of which applications were used to create the documents.
In an announcement Monday at the Deutsche Notes User Group conference in Karlsruhe, Germany, IBM showed live code to attendees and unveiled the new capabilities, which allow users to open a received document in Notes without having to launch another application or separate program window. The recipient can then save the information as an ODF document or in its native format.
The new ODF features will be included in a beta release of the Notes client, code-named Hannover, this fall. The final version is due out a year later.
By integrating productivity editors that support the XML-based ODF into Hannover, IBM said, it will be offering flexible new data-sharing capabilities to the more than 125 million Lotus Notes users around the world.
The office productivity editors will include word processing, spreadsheet and presentation capabilities and will enable Lotus Notes users to create, edit and save documents natively in the ODF. The editors will also import and export to supported file formats used by Microsoft Office and previous versions of OpenOffice.
ODF has been a hot topic in the IT world as many users seek alternatives to business productivity applications that rely on proprietary standards. Earlier this month, the International Standards Organization accepted the ODF as an international standard for saving and exchanging digital office documents.
"The code that we are showing today demonstrates our ability to deliver on the Workplace vision that makes customers more productive in the context of what they do every day," Michael Rhodin, general manager of Workplace, portal and collaboration products for IBM Lotus, said in a statement. "We plan to have this code in the hands of design partners and beta testers this fall, bringing us closer to the most open and real collaborative innovation platform ever available."
Ken Bisconti, vice president of IBM Workplace products, said the company is adding ODF to Notes to offer more choice for customers. "There has been a lot of resentment in the marketplace" from users who feel forced to upgrade to business productivity applications with new features they don't want, he said.
Several analysts said the new capabilities offer a more integrated work experience for users.
"The game-changer that ODF represents is that it allows you to retrieve information from a document without opening it," said Anne MacFarland, an analyst at The Clipper Group Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. "It allows businesses to be less clumsy in the ways they do business electronically," by allowing users to have fewer open windows on their desktops and by improving the exchange of information. "It's a first step in a new dexterity for business information."
Amy Wohl, an analyst at Wohl Associates in Narberth, Pa., said the new Notes approach is important because it will let users better share documents with others. In the U.S., that isn't such a problem because Microsoft Office is predominant, but in many other countries, people user a variety of applications, making interoperability an issue.
"IBM is interested in providing editors that you can use inside of business applications," Wohl said. "That's where all this is coming from. I think it's a good thing."
And even though Microsoft -- which sees much of its revenue and profit from sales and updates of its Microsoft Office suite -- has so far chosen not to adopt the ODF standard, users can often get around that by integrating available third-party add-ins that allow Microsoft Office to work with ODF, she said. "IBM is cutting into Microsoft's space only as far as Microsoft doesn't choose to adopt the standard," Wohl said.