Lotusphere 2006: IBM Gears Up for Collaboration Battle with Microsoft
January 30, 2006 Dan Burger
There’s nothing quite like a large-scale user conference to set executive tongues a-wagging. This kind of talk used to be confined to heavyweight boxing championship bouts. But when heavyweights like IBM and Microsoft face off in the collaborative software battles, the only things missing are the satin robes, the baggy shorts, and the posse of trainers and bodyguards. And this year, Microsoft landed a pretty good punch before the opening round bell even sounded.
Not that it was deliberate. Oh, no. Microsoft wouldn’t intentionally “place” a story about its latest tools to migrate Lotus Notes users to Exchange just in advance of the biggest Lotus gathering of the year. And despite having no evidence to prove this, I suspect Microsoft chairman Bill Gates sent IBM chairman Sam Palmisano a get well card and apologized for the completely accidental punch in the nose. “Sorry if your nose looks red and swollen for the annual Lotusphere extravaganza,” he probably said.
So no one was surprised when the keynote address at Lotusphere featured repeated remarks about Microsoft’s inability to stick to its own product schedules or deliver enterprise-grade products. Nice punches that were certainly enjoyed by the crowd that was on hand to (mostly) cheer the home team. At this point, however, the fight judges would probably give the edge to Microsoft based on its “we’re doing things to steal your customers” tactics. They carried more weight than the “We have been the leader for 15 years, and I have no intention of backing down,” comments thrown down by Lotus general manager, Mike Rhodin. But Rhodin scored some points with the comment: “While some of our competition (one guess who that is) is narrowing its focus to just e-mail capabilities, IBM continues to expand and evolve Lotus Notes and Domino to deliver the extended business value of a true collaborative platform.” As evidence of the expansion, Rhodin said that in year-to-year comparisons, the Lotus business grew 10 percent in 2005. He was also quite proud that during the rollout of Notes/Domino 7, a 200-city road show drew 21,000 attendees. Attendance at Lotusphere was estimated at 6,000.
This battle of collaboration software is classic IBM versus Microsoft. It will be won on the playing fields, not behind the podiums.
As expected, IBM’s Lotus unit put the polish on its wares at Lotusphere. It has not forgotten a lesson learned two years ago, so it works a better balance concerning what it can do today along with where it’s going in the future. Getting ahead of itself caused somewhat of a stampede within the Notes/Domino herd and Lotus general manager, Mike Rhodin, in his opening remarks, promised “no architectural shift” and “continued support for all Notes applications.”
That said, his message clearly pointed to the future as well. In the near future, the spotlight shines on the Sametime 7.5 servers; the Notes “Hanover” client, new electronic forms technology, Domino Next, and the latest Workplace features. The timetable for both Domino Next and Hanover shows beta releases during 2006 and general availability of the final products in 2007. The Sametime 7.5 servers should be available this fall, and its worth noting that support for Linux and Apple‘s OS X Unix variant and integration with instant messaging services from AOL, Yahoo, and Google are part of the Sametime 7.5 package. The new electronic forms software–Workplace Forms–is scheduled for delivery in the second quarter, and the latest release of Workplace (Workplace Managed Client, and the Workplace Designer) is available now.
Ken Bisconti, vice president of IBM Workplace, Portal, and collaboration products, described Hanover (the code name for the next version of the Notes client), as “the transformation from client/server applications, like Office, to server-managed clients.” In other words, this is the future and Microsoft is working with old technology. (Maybe IBM will start referring to Exchange and the Office suite of products as legacy applications.) Hanover, he points out as another advantage over Exchange, will also combine into one package the e-mail, instant messaging, and other “activity-centric” (jointly used) computing features such as Web conferencing.
Because Lotus executives spend a lot of time talking about open standards for productivity tools, this is a good time to point out that the Hanover Notes client is based on Eclipse. Hanover’s major features will include support for service-oriented architecture (SOA), composite applications, and WebSphere Portal. The componentized architecture of Notes/Domino is important, since business logic can be deployed to either Web applications or rich-client applications.
Lotus claims it has more than 15 million users of its Sametime messaging tool. When Sametime 7.5 becomes generally available in mid-2006, a long list of new features and functions will be added to its instant messaging and Web conferencing capabilities. Most noticeable will be a new client interface, improved security and privacy features, connections to other IM platforms, and embedded VoIP. In terms of Web conferencing, Sametime 7.5 allows multiple presenters, the capability to edit or modify presentations during a Web conference, and the sharing of applications.
For details of the expanded mobile options that are being introduced through partnerships with Research in Motion, Nokia, Good Technology, and Intellisync see Variety Comes to Mobile Users of Lotus Notes/Domino. For the details pertaining to Workplace Collaboration Suite see iSeries Clustering Support Added to Workplace Collaboration Suite.
Out in the Lotusphere vendor expo area, third party vendors were talking up products that support Lotus Notes/Domino 7, but Lotus executives were eager to talk about Notes/Domino 7.0.2, which is bringing support for Mac OS X version 10.4, with integrated Sametime instant messaging and Domino Web Access clients on Firefox browsers. Notes/Domino 7.0.2 is expected this fall.