IBM Sets Sights on Microsoft and SMB with Linux/Domino Combos
Published: January 22, 2008
by Dan Burger
IBM's Lotus groupware division gets its moment to bask in the media sunshine this week as it uses its annual Lotusphere conference as a platform from which to shout out about what it plans to unleash on its archrival in the groupware space, Microsoft. Lotus general manager Michael Rhodin had a laundry list of announcements to toss at the hungry press representatives while making the case that it can hit the small to medium business bull's eye that everyone seems to be aiming at these days.
At the top of the list is Lotus Foundations, a future line of Linux-based server packages with Lotus software on top created as a direct competitor to Microsoft Small Business Server. Foundations server will handle office productivity software, email, firewall, file management, and directory services, as well as taking on file backup and recovery duties. The promise that comes with Foundations is that companies will be able to "focus on growing their businesses instead of running their office systems." This is exactly the marketing message that IBM has used for decades to peddle its AS/400, iSeries, and System i midrange platforms.
We may be headed for the Autonomic Age, but we're not there yet. You may have noticed that this is a "future" line of servers. Obviously, there is work to be done and pricing has not been announced yet for the products because they are not ready to be sold. IBM has many of the pieces ready to fall in place, and late last week it acquired another important component when it announced it is acquiring Net Integration Technologies. The Toronto-based company, which sells a Linux distribution known as Nitix, has been trying to make a reputation for itself as an alternative to the Small Business Server edition of Windows, which is an integrated stack of software (including Web, email, database, and infrastructure serving) with a relatively low price compared to "real" Windows licenses. The IBM acquisition of Nitix is expected to close before the first quarter of 2008 ends.
Lotus Foundations will give system integrators and independent software vendors the opportunity to integrate new or existing applications into the platform with minimal effort, officials say. Lotus Domino is already integrated as a bundle with Nitix, which should speed up IBM's plans considerably.
Also receiving the soapbox treatment at Lotusphere is a Web-delivered service being referred to by the code-name "Bluehouse." Because we are in the code-name phase, you can safely assume that Bluehouse is still future speak. It's described as a managed beta of Web-delivered extranet services. If that strikes fear in your heart because of pre-existing anti-complexity condition that you harbor, in reality Bluehouse is designed to remove complexity while providing an avenue for secure collaboration within and outside of organizations. Eventually, Bluehouse will offer a suite of collaboration services that allows businesses to share contacts, files, and project activities. It will also offer chat and Web meetings, and will be progressively unveiled throughout the year.
Rhodin cited Bluehouse as a good example of changes in the IBM Lotus product development area that "allows new capabilities to be delivered at the speed of the Internet." Because Bluehouse is delivered as a service, Rhodin points out, it doesn't require releases. "The function can be changed every day," he says.
"We have set ourselves up to speed up the pace of development," Rhodin went on to say. "That might make developers scream a little bit, but I believe the process models that we have put in place will fundamentally change the way we build products and the speed at which we can build them."
The talk of being fast to market with products--along with criticisms of about expensive product licensing and cumbersome management issues--are more shots at Microsoft, which has a reputation for not getting to market on time with its products.
Microsoft, not coincidentally, chose the opening day of Lotusphere to announce that more than 300 companies representing 2.8 million employees began migrating to its collaboration and content management system during the final six months of 2007. According to a Microsoft press release, the number of Microsoft Outlook, Exchange Server, and SharePoint Server users increased 164 percent compared to 2006. It also claims many of the new users are converts from Lotus Notes/Domino communication and collaboration software.
IBM did not comment to the press about the Microsoft announcement; however, it does say that Lotus Notes and Domino software is licensed to 140 million users.
An update to Lotus Notes is on the way and will become available in February. Getting the most time in the Lotusphere spotlight as it debuts in Notes 8.0.1 is a Web 2.0 feature called My Widgets. It allows users to drag and drop, or import, widgets--such as Google Gadgets, feeds, and Web pages, or their own custom programs--onto a widgets panel in the Lotus Notes sidebar. This is accomplished through a new technology called Live Text that can identify patterns and phrases and associate them with an appropriate widget.
Lotus Notes and Domino 8.5 software, the next major release that includes enhancements to the Lotus Domino Web application environment was also previewed. Tops among the new features planned for Domino Designer 8.5 is the capability for applications to utilize Web 2.0 techniques such as AJAX, style sheets, and RSS or ATOM feeds.
Also being ballyhooed is a new email security appliance called IBM Lotus Protector for Mail Security, which is an anti-virus and anti-spam solution based on the IBM Proventia Network Mail Security System.
Lotus Symphony beta 4, the latest release of IBM's no-cost alternative to Microsoft's Office suite, will be ready for download by the end of January, too. It will be the first release that allows independent software vendors (ISVs) to wire capabilities into the documents that access and manage business applications. Several plug-ins for Symphony developed by IBM business partners are being showcased at Lotusphere vendor expo.
IBM is claiming Symphony has been downloaded by more than 400,000 users in English and is available in 24 major languages including simplified and traditional Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, Polish, and Italian.
IBM announced additional developments broadening customer access to Lotus Notes and Domino solutions. For instance, IBM Applications on Demand for Lotus Notes provides Lotus Notes and Domino customers a hosted and managed environment for their mail and collaborative applications, including Lotus Sametime instant messaging integrated in Notes 8 and the IBM Lotus Quickr connector software integrated into the Lotus Notes 8.0.1 product. In addition, Lotus Sametime, IBM Lotus Connections, and Lotus Quickr are also available via IBM's Applications on Demand service.
IBM will offer an integrated Lotus Open Collaboration Client Solution with support for Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system from British commercial Linux distributor Canonical. In addition, IBM announced a new agreement with Red Hat to combine Red Hat Linux Advanced Platform (the version of RHEL 5 with unlimited Xen virtualization in its license), the Domino server, the Red Hat Enterprise Linux Desktop, and the Symphony office automation software into a single package.
Also announced this Monday at Lotusphere was an IBM and SAP partnership to co-develop a software product codenamed "Atlantic." The software will integrate Lotus Notes collaboration and office productivity software with SAP's Business Suite, which emphasizes workflows, reporting, and analytics. Like IBM, SAP is looking to the SMB space for growth after becoming well entrenched at the enterprise level. "We have a very high customer overlap," Rhodin noted. "We think the deployability of this solution will make for a very fast rollout starting later this year." The Atlantic forecast is for general availability to occur in the fourth quarter of 2008.
"We think the timing is just right," Rhodin said in his opening remarks. "The timing for collaboration and business systems to come together is right now."
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