Improved QuickPlace Suits Corporate Teams

SAN MATEO (04/18/2000) - Team leaders have long relied on Lotus Development Corp. for innovative technology that gets their employees working together effectively. If you've been waiting for an easy-to-use, inexpensive Web-based teamware tool, Lotus' forthcoming QuickPlace 2.0 won't disappoint.

As do other teamware tools, QuickPlace 2.0, Beta 2 lets you establish shared work spaces on the Internet or an intranet through which geographically dispersed teams can collaborate on a project-by-project basis. When properly integrated into a project setting, QuickPlace can help you synchronize team deliverables, discussions, and content, while overcoming the constraints of time and distance. This can lead to increased productivity and reduced travel costs.

The Beta 2 release enhances many features of Version 1.0, making QuickPlace 2.0 more suitable for work-related uses. Its project management features have been bumped up to include e-mail notification, and real-time chat has been integrated into the product. Improved directory integration plus Microsoft Office 2000 support will make it easier to incorporate QuickPlace into your enterprise.

These features put QuickPlace 2.0 firmly near the top of the increasingly crowded teamware field. But Lotus will need to continue adding features to keep pace with other popular service offerings, including eRoom Technology's eRoom 4.1 and HotOffice Technologies HotOffice 3.0.

Despite being a Lotus product, QuickPlace has no ties to Notes clients or Domino servers. It is a stand-alone, single-purpose teamware server running under Windows NT, and authorized clients can access QuickPlace via any Netscape or Microsoft Web browser, Release 4 or later. QuickPlace will be offered as a service from ISP/NSP (Notes Service Provider) partners or rentable as a hosted application.

Quick and easy teamwork

The initial installation of the QuickPlace server was easy, but creating a new QuickPlace -- the environment in which an online team operates -- was even easier. After firing up a Web browser, I connected to the server through a standard URL. From the Welcome screen, I selected the Create a QuickPlace link, entered my user name, password, e-mail address, and QuickPlace environment name. About a minute later, a secure area, complete with a unique URL, was available for my use.

In addition to Domino directory integration, QuickPlace 2.0 has added support for LDAP servers, Windows NT Domain accounts, and Exchange directories. This makes it possible for teams to be established using existing user accounts, a potential administrative time-saver.

Collaboration comes in many forms in Version 2.0. QuickPlace lets team members' profiles be created with or imported from the Microsoft Office suite. Using QuickPublish, you can publish Word documents in a standard format, while maintaining the original .doc format for future revisions, and QuickPlace users can view documents without having the original authoring application installed on their workstations. QuickPlace also automatically converts native PowerPoint presentations and layered Excel spreadsheets into a sequential series of pages.

In my tests, I found the conversion of even complex presentations went smoothly.

Although QuickPlace's support for Office 2000 is a boon for publishing information, I was disappointed it wasn't more seamless. For example, it does not support directly saving documents into a QuickPlace environment, as does the Exchange Web Store.

Additionally, team members can drag and drop HTML files as well as GIF and JPEG images into their QuickPlace work spaces. Each is also assigned a unique e-mail address, allowing users to e-mail contributions into the QuickPlace environments.

Version 2.0 augments the asynchronous communication capabilities of Version 1.0 with support for instant messaging via Lotus SameTime. This lets users know when other team members are using the QuickPlace work space. Although support for private and group chatting is provided, I could find no easy way to archive chat conversations.

Moving a project online and maintaining control over it requires suitable project management tools. With the addition of a task and milestone feature, QuickPlace 2.0 has upped its project management prowess. Gantt charts, a staple among the project management set, are available to provide a graphical overview of assigned tasks, due dates, progress, and responsibilities. A common project calendar is also included, allowing the team leader to post milestones and team meetings. Unfortunately, synchronization with handheld devices is not yet available.

Through the use of customization features, called PlaceTypes, QuickPlace work spaces are much more customizable than they had been previously. Project assets, including member lists, folder structures, custom forms, and procedure documents, can be saved in PlaceType templates and transferred from project to project.

For example, I created a Software Development Project PlaceType that could be chosen in the future when a new team was creating a QuickPlace work space. This feature can help maintain corporate standards, reduce setup time, and ensure all similar projects use the same available resources.

Whether you host a QuickPlace server in-house or rent it through an ASP (application service provider), QuickPlace 2.0 is an effective choice for Web-based teamware. Enhanced collaboration and project management features make it a definite step up from Lotus' initial QuickPlace release. As with other products of this nature, your use of QuickPlace 2.0 will be most effective when its feature set falls in line with a well-documented set of project objectives.

Technology Analyst Todd Coopee (todd_coopee@infoworld.com) covers a variety of Internet topics, including Web-based project management.

THE BOTTOM LINE: BETA

QuickPlace 2.0, Beta 2

Business Case: This teamware offering lets you create project teams comprising employees at various locations. Also, it helps teams manage project deliverables and save the company time and money in the process.

Technology Case: Running under Windows NT, QuickPlace 2.0 is easy to install and configure. Its new project management and real-time collaboration features will keep projects on time and under budget.

Pros:

+ Improved directory support

+ Gantt charts for project management

+ Real-time chat

+ Customization features

Cons:

- Lack of direct integration with Lotus Domino- Cannot save documents directly from Office 2000- Runs only on Windows NTCost: Stand-alone and ASP (application service provider) costs not finalizedPlatform(s): Windows NTShipping: Mid-2000Lotus Development Corp.; Cambridge, Massachusetts; (800) 575-6887; www.lotus.com/quickplace.

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