LOTUSPHERE: Lotus insists company identity, brands are secure

Lotus Development will maintain its own identity and brands despite rumours running rampant to the contrary since the announcement that a veteran executive from parent company IBM will take over the helm when Lotus president and chief executive officer Jeff Papows' resignation takes effect February 1.

At least that's the standard line being offered here at the annual Lotusphere trade show, where IBM's John M. Thompson, executive vice president in charge of the software group, pointedly opened a press briefing Monday afternoon with comments about the importance of Lotus to IBM as a whole, and then reiterated his remarks when reporters and analysts questioned him about the future of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based software maker.

As such, Lotus will continue to make client software, Papows said in response to a question. Rumours have circulated for some time now that Lotus is moving away from the client side of its business and will instead emphasise its server software as IBM, which bought Lotus five years ago, more fully takes charge of its subsidiary. Thompson's recent announcement that Al Zollar, the general manager of IBM's network computing software division, will succeed Papows as Lotus head have fanned the rumor flames.

Further fueling the rumour fire is the news that IBM and Lotus have jointly agreed to step up the pace of the integration of IBM WebSphere and Lotus Domino. Thompson said users pushed the companies to integrate the two products more quickly than initially planned because customers want high-speed electronic-commerce capabilities and workflow functions that can be provided through a more integrated package.

Beyond that, reporters noticed that the Lotus name was not so prominently displayed at the opening keynote address here as in previous Lotuspheres, and that Papows and other executives didn't name check the company as often as in the past. Papows responded to a comment along those lines from a veteran IT reporter by noting that the stage setting was yellow -- Lotus' theme color. The reporter replied, apparently referring to IBM's "Big Blue" moniker, that the yellow was highlighted "with a lot of blue lighting."

Lotus recently has spent a lot of money to promote brand awareness, Papows countered, and insisted there has been no conscious decision to move away from the Lotus brand. Thompson backed that comment.

Not letting the subject drop, a different veteran IT reporter asked the executives why there was no mention of Lotus' SmartSuite application family during Papows' keynote and whether that's an indication that the company is getting out of the client software business in the office suite market. Although Lotus doesn't lead in that area, and is behind Microsoft's Office suite, Papows said that with 28 million active SmartSuite users, Lotus would be in trouble "from a customer satisfaction standpoint" if it halted that product.

With Lotus' Notes groupware gaining 8.5 million client seats globally in the fourth quarter of last year, "we have never been more committed to the client," Papows said.

However, Lotus is less committed to its flagging cc:Mail client e-mail software, he said. The company sold 160,000 new copies of the software in the fourth quarter of last year and "no one is more amazed than me or more appreciative," Papows said, adding that he believes those sales were largely due to customers wanting to obtain a newer version of the product that is year 2000-compliant.

At its height, cc:Mail had some 21 million users, but that number has since dropped to about 11 million, Papows said. Lotus will support the software through this year, but plans to drop it sometime next year, he added.

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