Lotus Making Wireless Access Strides

Lotus Development Corp. last week took another step to match Microsoft Corp. as the two scramble to provide enterprise users with wireless access to applications running on their respective messaging and collaboration servers.

Lotus formed an alliance with Sprint Corp. that allows companies running Domino to use the Mobile Notes Client on Sprint PCS phones to access e-mail, calendar and corporate directory information. The alliance is one aspect of Sprint's Wireless Web for Business suite of enterprise access products. Lotus already supports phones and services from AT&T Corp. and Verizon Corp.

But support for Mobile Notes on various phone handsets is only a half-step for Lotus. The real breakthrough for wireless support on Domino begins this fall when the company is expected to go into beta with Mobile Services for Domino.

The server-side software,which is expected to ship early next year, will support wireless access to a range of applications running on Domino - not just e-mail or contact information.

Lotus and Microsoft are trying to extend wireless access beyond simple messaging features and into collaborative applications that are attractive to corporate users. Those could include workflow programs that are kicked off by data input from users in the field.

Microsoft earlier this month announced its own wireless access to Exchange Server 5.5. Microsoft and Wireless Knowledge, a company that Microsoft co-founded with Qualcomm, will use the Wireless Knowledge Workstyle Server 3.0 as a platform for developing wireless applications for Exchange. Currently the WorkStyle Server provides wireless access to Exchange 5.5 but only for e-mail, calendar and contact information.

Wireless is fast becoming a sought-after means of accessing important collaboration information running on corporate messaging servers. Research firm IDC estimates that the number of users of wireless phones in the U.S. will jump from 7.4 million today to 61.5 million in 2003. IDC predicts half of the U.S. workforce will need mobile access by then.

"E-mail has become a commodity; you can get it from any number of places without going to Lotus or Microsoft," says Joyce Graff, an analyst with the Gartner Group. "So their long-term future is not e-mail, it's establishing themselves as an application base not only for internal needs, but also for those of the extranet and beyond. They would both love to be the application platform for wireless."

Both companies have been adding collaboration features to their servers over the past two years that let enterprise users build sophisticated applications available to a distributed workforce. Now both want to ensure that those applications are available from a variety of clients.

The upcoming Mobile Services for Domino will include a development kit that will let organizations and independent software vendors wireless-enable their applications.

But enterprise users won't be able to magically port applications to a wireless client - they will need to rewrite current applications. "Enterprises will have to be selective as to what applications have the biggest payoff for mobile workers," Graff says. "It's a nontrivial issue, and it does take some application redesign."

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