IBM Brings Blogging and RSS to Lotus Notes/Domino
October 16, 2006 Dan Burger
Maybe you are old enough to remember business without e-mail and the Internet. The point is not how old you are, but how quickly business has adopted these technologies to improve business processes in more ways than you can shake a memory stick at. What I like most about it is the capability to work from a virtual office. And the tools to do this just keep getting better and better.
Take, for instance, the latest version of Lotus Notes and Domino. IBM is adding features that any out-of-office worker can put to use, because the key to working remotely is portability and productivity.
At the top of the list is the capability to transport critical software such as e-mail, forms, and Web collaboration tools on convenient pocket-size storage devices such as a USB key or an iPod. In a lot of ways this is like a No Workplace Left Behind initiative. The storage devices, which can tote up to several gigs of files, allow users to recreate much of the functionality of their office-based PCs wherever they go. It could be one laptop roving around from city to city, or it could be used in circumstances that involve moving from workstation to workstation quickly and easily. In that case, it eliminates lugging around a laptop. The storage device is all that’s needed if the user has access to a workstation.
Lotus Domino (the server-side software) and Notes (the client-side software) are in a gun fight with Microsoft Exchange and Outlook. They are not only shooting for each others customers, they are trying to give their own customers reasons not to cross over to the other camp. Lotus has always been strong is in its collaboration tools. Its challenge is in making the connection between collaboration tools and business value. These latest enhancements, Version 7.0.2, show off a few things from the collaboration priority list at IBM’s Lotus unit.
Because e-mail continues to be the most important element in any collaboration discussions, Lotus has made it the central point of this version release. Installing the Notes program–not just the mail files, not just the data, on a USB device is pretty cool. This takes portability beyond spreadsheet files and word processing documents. It puts the full application, rather than only the data, on a transferable medium. It plugs into any machine, whether Notes software is running on it or not.
All that’s needed is a USB connection. In case you were wondering, Notes does not get installed on the machine the user is plugged into. It runs off the portable memory device. You might also be wondering how big that USB drive needs to be. About 500 MB ought to do it, according to Alan Lepofsky, a Lotus manager of marketing intelligence and communications, but some users will want to carry more data. Some larger mail files, CRM applications, and other Notes databases will push this requirement higher. “One of the reasons we’ve been able to do this because you can pick up a 1 GB drive these days for $25,” he explains.
Lotus is betting that the commercial success of blogging can be applied to the business world. Not that blogging isn’t being done within enterprises, but it falls short of any description that includes the word widespread.
Can it be useful in the corporate world? This is what Lepofsky has to say: “We have added blogging capability into the infrastructure so, for instance, a product development team can interact with its customers.”
To illustrate his point, Lepofsky refers to IBM and how it uses blogs to reach out to its customers and business partners. “It really helps shape the way we feel connected to our customers,” he says. Will blogging lead to innovation in business? Lepofsky says indeed it does because it opens more direct channels of communications with customers.
One explanation of how a blog becomes useful involves the size of the audience. An e-mail conversation is a one-to-one or one-to-many conversation, but as the numbers on the receiving end increase, e-mail becomes more cumbersome. A blog allows thousands of readers to interact with the content. “I like to call it being freed from your in-box,” Lepofsky says. “And blogging is far more interactive than an HTML page. It’s not just sharing information on the Web.”
His point is that users can type questions. The blogger can respond. A dialogue exists and others can read this dialogue and participate as well if they wish. It becomes a community where people are interacting. One of the benefits, compared to anything done in real time, is that the information is available 24 hours a day and users can respond to it when they have time.
For examples of how blogs are being used, check out the following sites being used by Lotus executives Ed Brill, Adam Gartenberg, Jeff Eisen, and Steve Castledine.
Another technology that has been added to Notes 7.0.2 is Real Simple Syndication, or RSS. The primary benefit with RSS is that the user doesn’t have to go out in search of information. It is fed directly to him or her. In this case, it is Lotus Domino databases serving notices of new content via RSS feed. A person might have access to 25 Domino databases, each with content that is important to that individual. Rather than checking each database to see what’s new, the user receives an updates automatically.
The blogging and RSS software do not require each other, but they work together so that updates to blogs can be sent to users who have RSS capabilities.
Some business partners have been setting up an RSS feed to their calendar to let people know what’s going on regarding things such as Webcasts.
The Notes calendar has a new feature as well. It now supports the Internet standard known as iCal. It allows users to import calendar events from Web sites or export their calendars. For example, a user could import a conference agenda into his own calendar, or a user could export a portion of his calendar to co-workers who would incorporate them into their own calendars. This feature will work with any other calendaring software that supports iCal.
There is no price increase to Lotus Notes/Domino users as a result of these enhancements. The software is available at this time.
Domino 7.0.2 supports IBM’s i5/OS, AIX, and z/OS platforms, plus 64-bit versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, Sun Microsystems Solaris, Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 (32- and 64-bit), and Microsoft Windows 2003 Server R2 X64.