Lotus: J2EE is its future for software

Lotus Development Corp. today used the opening of its annual Lotusphere conference to hang the future of Domino server and its other collaborative software on Java 2 Enterprise Edition, a platform that has been firmly embraced by parent company IBM Corp.

Lotus also announced the names of the next versions of the Notes client and Domino server as Lotus Notes 6 and Lotus Domino 6, respectively. The company also unveiled the Tivoli server health management and planning toolset for Domino 6 Administrator, the next generation of its e-learning software, and hosted and services options for its Sametime server.

The big, yet not surprising, development, however, was that Lotus intends to fully embrace J2EE and IBM's WebSphere platform as the runtime environment for components built from the collaborative features found in Domino, such as e-mail, calendars and task lists. Other Lotus technology, such as Sametime server's instant messaging, QuickPlace's virtual meeting rooms, Discovery Server's expertise locator and LearningSpace's distance education also will be componentized to run on the J2EE platform.

But Lotus does not plan to abandon those uninterested in developing J2EE applications and will continue to offer a "traditional" version of Domino.

Lotus plans to use the middleware plumbing - databases, directories, security and development tools - already contained in IBM WebSphere and add a layer that allows enterprises to use Lotus components for "contextual collaboration." What that means is that collaboration features can be used within existing applications, freeing users from having to switch between business process applications like Customer Relationship Management and a separate collaboration environment.

"Collaboration was in a box and it has been struggling to get out," Lotus general manager Al Zollar said during his opening keynote. "We are unleashing collaboration. We have been supplying programming interfaces to connect to our products but it has not been as flexible as many would like. The evolution is to more modular components."

The strategy is similar to that being devised by Microsoft for its Exchange Server. Microsoft also plans to componentize the features of Exchange and let developers use those as parts of business process applications on its .Net platform, a competitor to J2EE.

However, Zollar said Lotus will still be able to connect to .Net through a layer of Web services, a collection of standard protocols based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML).

While Zollar said J2EE would allow Domino to play on a bigger stage, he was guarded in offering a timetable for the move to that stage.

"It seems clear that this is a work in progress," says Matt Cain, an analyst with the Meta Group. "Some questions include what Domino features will be exposed as components and in what time frame."

Zollar was vague on both accounts and other future developments in his address to a room of nearly 5,000 Lotusphere attendees. To wit, he said Lotus plans to bring the rapid application development qualities of the Notes Designer to the J2EE world, but did not offer any specifics on how or when.

"The Lotus vision is looking clearer, but I can't afford for this J2EE version of Domino to be too far down the road," says Tim Dinsmore of Internetix, a consulting firm and application developer in the U.K. "We need some major announcements within the next 18 months."

Lotus has already extracted some J2EE features from the latest beta version of Domino 6, due to ship next month, in favor of including them in a more complete set of J2EE tools in the next version, or 7.0 release, of Domino.

When that will be delivered, however, is now back on the drawing board.

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