Marketing thankfully took a back seat to technology at Lotus Fusion on the Gold Coast recently, as Lotus discussed its yet-to-be-released knowledge management product codenamed Raven. Built on a combination of Lotus technology (Domino and Sametime), and technology from IBM (IBM's DB2 database, and some smart searching and profiling technology), Raven is due to be released in the second half of this year, and is not, according to Lotus, a replacement for Domino.
At its core, Raven is a Web-based portal creator. It offers the ability to create information portals containing data from a range of sources: Web sites, e-mail, discussion forums, to-do lists and collaborative online teamrooms' to name a few. This content is then crawled by an engine that looks for keywords (from a configurable thesaurus), and constructs a category index - not unlike the category indexes constructed by portals such as Yahoo and Looksmart. Raven analyses the usage of this data, and builds profiles of the interests and skills of the users. It can then match these profiles to content, allowing users to search content and find relevant people at the same time.
It is difficult to see just how compelling Raven will be. My suspicion is it will be of use only to very large organisations. Many of the organisations in this part of the world are small enough that finding the right expert to talk to is not such a big deal. I also suspect that many current Domino users are going to want to see bits of Raven's functionality made available in Domino, rather than in a totally new product. Although Lotus was coy about what the next major release of Domino would bring and when, it is continuing to provide major new functionality in point release upgrades to Domino 5. Version 5.02 introduced XML support, and version 5.03 (available now on the Web) includes a server-based XSL (eXstensible Stylesheet Language) processor - developed from IBM technology, which is now open-source and administered by the Apache project.
Lotus has also introduced DOLS (Domino OffLine Services) - components of the Domino server, which can be installed on the client. This allows developers to create Web applications that can run against a server when the user is connected to a network, or locally when the user is disconnected.
Down the track, we can expect to see more merging of Lotus and IBM technology. Future plans include integrating Domino with components of IBM's Websphere, which will give Domino the ability to run Java server pages. Lotus is also looking to IBM's experience at the enterprise level to produce the scalability and reliability that will make Domino a player in the ASP (application service provider) market. Input from IBM in the building of release 5 of Domino has resulted in much greater scalability and reliability than previous 4.x releases.
The only thing missing from Fusion, is what the future holds for the Domino Developer client. Although XML and XSL support are already available, there is nothing in the current version of the development environment to make this functionality easier to use. The whisper was that down the track there may be some integration between the Websphere development environment, Visual Age for Java, and the Domino designer client - I guess we'll have to wait until the marketers tell us for sure.
Mark Evans, director of the Asia Pacific Web support centre for IDG Communications, attended Fusion courtesy of Lotus.