Lotus touts 'next-gen' collaboration

Conference showcases e-mail, e-learning products

Lotusphere showcases e-mail, e-learning products

Conference keynote showcases standards-based e-mail, e-learning products

Orlando -- IBM's Lotus Software used its opening keynote address here at its annual Lotusphere user conference to extol the virtues of open standards-based collaboration and to show off new products built from the ground up leveraging standard technologies such as J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition).

The keynote also served as a visual transition of leadership responsibilities for the Lotus Software division from Al Zollar, its general manager for three years, to Ambuj Goyal, former leader of IBM's software group who was installed in the Lotus general manager position earlier this month. The company even brought in Rudi Guiliani briefly to speak about the important elements of leadership and communication.

Vowing to continue what Zollar has established, Goyal's first remarks focused on the company's open standards vision for collaboration.

"Open standards give customers freedom of choice, and open standards make the world a much bigger place. It can expand the reach and power of what we do," Goyal said. "We want to use collaboration as a feature, not as a separate environment. The only way to meet those needs is by embracing open standards."

The Lotus next-gen collaboration vision is also a key element of IBM's larger on-demand computing initiative, Goyal said.

"Customers want seamless integration of business and people processes. Seamless integration built on open standards enables an on-demand business by [providing] on-demand access to information, people, applications, to answers, to processes like CRM," he said.

As proof of its vision, Lotus rolled out two new products architected using standards such as J2EE, XML, LDAP.

The company unveiled a low-cost e-mail product designed to extend core messaging capabilities to deskless workers such as retail clerks, factory workers, or assembly line workers, according to Lotus.

The offering, currently referred to as Next Gen E-mail but likely to be renamed, is built to run on IBM WebSphere and DB2 technologies and can also integrate with Lotus Domino or other messaging platforms.

Key benefits of the Next Gen E-mail, flexibility and inclusiveness, come from the product's full adherence to open standards, according to Goyal.

"Because it is based on open standards [such as] HTML, XML document exchange technologies -- the functional base of Web services -- it is integrated easily with other infrastructures," he said.

In addition, Lotus introduced and demonstrated its Lotus Learning Management System, a standards-based set of e-learning components built on a WebSphere and DB2 technology base. With support for e-learning standards including Simple Sequencing Specification and SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) 1.2, the offering aims to connect e-learning to a company's existing applications, such as portal, ERP, and CRM.

While pushing its next-generation vision, Lotus officials were careful to emphasize the company's plans to continue support for existing technologies such as Notes/Domino, Sametime, and QuickPlace.

"We view standards as the road to the future, [but] we all have investments in the current environments," he said. "We are committed to investing in both parts. We are not only supporting current offerings but will continue to enhance [the products] for years to come."

As an example, Goyal said Lotus is already working on the next two releases of Notes/Domino and plans to continue to support Domino Designer.

Taking the obligatory jab at rival Microsoft, Goyal contrasted his view of Exchange 2000's low customer adoption rate with adoption of Lotus Notes 6, which Goyal said has enjoyed the fastest ramp-up rate of any Notes release in history.

"What is the real road map for Exchange customers? Perhaps it is Notes Domino 6. Perhaps the time has come to switch to Notes Domino en mass," he said.

Other announcements delivered during the keynote include new collaborative tools in the IBM WebSphere Portal Extend product designed to offer built in presence awareness, instant messaging, and an online company directory. Focusing on developers, Lotus also introduced the IBM Lotus Domino Toolkit for WebSphere Studio, an app dev kit designed to leverage Domino development capabilities and applications in a J2EE environment, and previewed the upcoming addition of rapid application development capabilities to WebSphere Studio.

On the wireless technology front, IBM announced a new version of its mobile instant messaging software, dubbed Sametime Everyplace 3, due in the third quarter. The new version adds support for Pocket PC and Palm OS handheld devices.

Finally, IBM unveiled a deal with AT&T Wireless to offer Sametime and Domino Everyplace applications on mobile devices in the enterprise. AT&T Wireless Business Solutions for IBM is expected to be available in mid-February, IBM officials said.

For one conference attendee, the Lotusphere keynote offered some concrete examples of the company's J2EE-based road map that was introduced at last year's show.

"It was good to see what the J2EE-based products can do and how to use it in our current environment," said Charlene Stiewert, Domino Notes administrator at Germania Insurance in Brenham, Texas .

"We've got WebSphere, and [the demonstrations] showed how we can collaborate across WebSphere, QuickPlace, Sametime, and Domino. It was really interesting," she said.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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