IBM introduces new Lotus Workplace products

Four new Lotus Workplace software products launched Tuesday in Boston will make it easier and cheaper for users to collaborate and share information at work, IBM Corp. executives said.

They unveiled new tools, including those for e-mail and online collaboration, and took pains to counter what they said is "FUD" (fear, uncertainty and doubt) seeded by competitors about the future of the Domino and Notes platforms.

The new products were designed using a common technology platform and have common user interface and navigation features. They are intended to consolidate popular workplace applications such as e-mail, instant messaging and group collaboration in a single, integrated environment, IBM said.

The new product lineup is:

-- Messaging 1.1, simplified e-mail software designed to extend access to "unserved users" in organizations, such as mobile or technologically unsophisticated employees, said Larry Bowden, vice president of Lotus Workplace products at IBM. The new software offers stripped-down mail and personal calendar features and can be used with Domino, Web portals, Web browsers or third-party e-mail clients, IBM said.

-- Team Collaboration 1.1 integrates features such as instant messaging, Web conferences and Web content publishing to enable workplace teams to collaborate and share information online, IBM said. For example, a call support operator could use Team Collaboration 1.1 to find technical content, or to figure out which technical support representatives are online and contact those people for help with a problem, Bowden said.

-- Collaborative Learning 1.1 is an updated version of the Lotus Learning Management System, a training tool that allows companies to centralize online and classroom-based education programs. Using Collaborative Learning 1.1, employees can access course materials online and track their education-related activities, IBM said.

-- Content Management 1.1 makes use of technology IBM acquired in July with its purchase of Web content management company Aptrix. The product allows Lotus customers to publish and manage new Web-based content on a corporate intranet or the Internet, IBM said.

The new applications replace a potpourri of different software programs with an integrated and streamlined suite that can share functionality.

For example, the instant messaging features that tell users which instant messaging correspondents are online are also used in a "people finder" feature that enables Workplace users to look up employee information stored in an LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) directory.

Tighter integration between Workplace applications addresses customer complaints about Lotus' previous habit of developing many isolated programs that often required custom integration to work together, said attendee Peter Matthews of Adience Design of Hamilton Square, New Jersey, a technology consulting company that works with Lotus customers.

The Workplace products should help ease uncertainty among Lotus customers about IBM's plans for the core Lotus Notes and Domino products, according to Michael Barker, chief operating officer of Adience, who also attended the launch event.

Meeting across the Charles river from Lotus' long-time home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, IBM executives assured an audience of Lotus customers and business partners that it will continue developing and supporting the Notes and Domino platforms long into the future, even as it tries to attract new customers by embracing open standards such as J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) and Web services.

The company previewed its plans for 2004, including the release of Domino versions 6.5.1 and 7 and Lotus Notes version 6.5.

"IBM will pass the intelligence test on this," Bowden said. "We have 110 million Notes and Domino users. We're not going to throw them away."

IBM, itself, is highly dependent on the platform, using more than 10,000 Domino applications internally, he said.

The company will continue to introduce new features and improvements each quarter and expects to have the Domino Application Server around "for the next decade," Bowden said.

Attendees said they were impressed with the new Workplace applications and satisfied with IBM's direction.

"If IBM is successful here, they'll have a compelling story," Matthews said.

However, more than one attendee said the company still needs to explain its vision for the back end, including the details of its plans for moving Lotus and the Lotus development community to open standards.

"I'd like to see more of an emphasis on tools that enable Domino developers to move to modern, standards based architectures," said David Hughes, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Trilog Group Inc. of Woburn, Massachusetts, which makes workflow products for Domino.

Adience's Matthews said that he would be interested in hearing about the company's plans for releasing development tools that simplify integration with the company's two data stores: DB2 and Domino.

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