This week was the 15th annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida. It was my 15th as well, although my count includes three Lotuspheres in Europe.
IBM unleashed a fire hose of announcements at the opening general session. We’ll try to walk through the most interesting ones here. It’s a lot of material but you should read through it regardless of whether you use mostly IBM tools or mostly Microsoft tools as there are implications here for all.
One memorable moment from the conference’s opening session: Mike Rhodin, the general manager of Lotus Software, aped Steve Job’s keynote from MacWorld in which Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by pulling it out of an envelope. Rhodin pulled the new (and very yellow) Lotus Foundations server out of an envelope.
Lotus Notes and Domino 8.0.1
While this may sound like an insignificant maintenance release, it most definitely isn’t. There are some significant enhancements to be found in it. (Of course, the move from dot-zero usually allows companies to start deploying the new version as many of them are allergic to dot-zero releases.)
8.0.1 includes several significant updates including My Widgets and Traveler. My Widgets (which some, including IBM execs, call a Web 2.0 feature) uses a technology called Live Text that identifies patterns and phrases and associates them with an appropriate widget. (Live Text is similar to what Microsoft calls Smart Tags.) One example would be the recognition of an address within an e-mail message and the ability to automatically display directions from the recipient’s location to that address.
Another example is retrieving real-time flight information by clicking on a flight number in an e-mail or itinerary. Knowledge workers can add (via drag-and-drop) an almost unlimited number of widgets including Google Gadgets, feeds, Web pages, or custom programs to the widgets panel in the Lotus Notes sidebar.
8.0.1 also includes Domino Web Access Lite. This is a browser-based e-mail client optimized for low bandwidth environments. It’s AJAX based and includes in-line spell check, rich editing, and Google Maps integration. The standard version of Domino Web Access has a much faster startup time. Finally, 8.0.1 adds 35% compression for mail files. Lotus is introducing some compression with 8.0.1 and further compression with 8.5 (see below).
Lotus Notes Traveler is a very cool client for Windows Mobile devices that provides automatic, real-time replication of e-mail (including attachments, calendar, contacts, etc.) to the mobile device.
Lotus Notes and Domino 8.5
8.0.1 may be hot off the press but IBM is not sitting still. Notes and Domino 8.5 will support AJAX, style sheets, and RSS or Atom feeds. It also supports better ID management, compression technologies that can reduce storage requirements by up to 35% for attachments on Domino servers, and also reduce overall disk space requirements for databases by up to 35%. Lotus will also update templates for discussion databases and document libraries and introduce Domino Designer 8.5, the first Designer client based on the Eclipse and Lotus Expeditor frameworks. This will provide a full palette of AJAX-based controls that you can drag-and-drop directly into Notes and Domino applications.
IBM wouldn’t skimp on naming, this is really called IBM Lotus Protector for Mail Security, but what’s key here is that this is a hardware appliance (in bright yellow) that provides virus and spam protection through the IBM Proventia Network Mail Security System. Protector also uses IBM Internet Security Systems’ threat mitigation and information security technologies and the IBM ISS X-Force research and development team played a significant role here.
Beta 4 of IBM’s desktop productivity tools, based on an open programming model, will be available by the end of this month. The new beta allows software vendors to connect documents to applications; documents can access and manage applications such as the issuance of a shipping order or an invoice directly from a spreadsheet. Information flows both ways; inventory data can pass into Lotus Symphony Spreadsheets for analysis.
Companies will be able to use the workflow inherent in Notes in conjunction with composite apps that are built using the Symphony tools.
IBM is making available a series of plug-ins including IBM Lotus Sametime Unyte Meeting, Lotus Sametime Unyte Share, and IBM WebSphere Translation Server on the Symphony community Web site.
IBM Applications on Demand for Lotus Notes
IBM Applications on Demand for Lotus Notes provides a hosted and managed environment for Notes and Domino as well as Sametime, Lotus Connections, and Lotus Quickr tools.
IBM Lotus Mashups
Mashups allows knowledge workers to create enterprise mashups such as ad hoc visualizations created by blending information or data from both enterprise repositories and the Web.
It includes a browser-based tool for mashup creation; ready-for-use widgets; a catalog for sharing and locating additional widgets and mashups; a builder for the creation of widgets that can access enterprise systems.
IBM Lotus Connections 2.0
The new version of Connections features a new home page built using Lotus mashup technology which aggregates and filters social data from the five Connections services, namely Profiles, Communities, Blogs, Dogear, and Activities. This allows knowledge workers to see what’s new across their professional networks and find the information they need to finish projects.
Lotus has also enhanced the community component of Connections with discussion forums and the ability to link to various wikis including Lotus Quickr, SocialText, and Atlassian.
IBM Lotus Quickr 8.1
Lotus Quickr is IBM’s Collaborative Business Environment for teams. The new version adds content libraries, team discussion forums, Weblogs, wikis, and new connectors to information sources. IBM will release Lotus Quickr Entry, which will serve as a entry-level version of the platform. IBM Also announced plans to integrate Quickr with various enterprise content management systems such as IBM FileNet P8 and IBM Content Manager.
IBM hasn’t focused on smaller organizations, which it defines as businesses with five to 500 employees, in years. Lotus Foundations is intended to be a line of Linux-powered software servers that are offered through IBM Business Partners.
IBM is counting on simplicity – the server software will require little technical expertise and will be autonomic – to appeal to this audience. This means it should install without requiring an IT department to deploy and administer it. The first Foundations offering will be a server with the Lotus Domino mail and collaboration platform, file management, directory services, firewall, backup and recovery, and office productivity tools pre-installed.
A key component of Foundations comes out of IBM’s acquisition last week of Net Integration Technologies, a privately-held company that provides a simplified business server software solution for small businesses. It’s not a coincidence that the company’s platform supports e-mail, file management, directory services, back-up and recovery, and office productivity tools.
IBM and SAP announced a joint offering, code-named “Atlantic.” Atlantic will integrate information from the SAP Business Suite into the Lotus Notes client, allowing knowledge workers to remain in one environment for more of their work.
Another interesting if somewhat amorphous announcement was the beta of a Web-delivered service with the code name “Bluehouse.” Bluehouse provides extranet services (file sharing, instant messaging, social networking, Web conferencing, and project management) that allow smaller companies to collaborate with one another.
Lotus Open Collaboration Client Solution
IBM will offer an integrated Lotus Open Collaboration Client Solution with support for Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system from Canonical. Ubuntu is popular for thin-client and desktop/laptop applications (as opposed to servers). The client is based on Lotus Notes 8 and Lotus Symphony. The client supports e-mail, calendar, unified communications, as well as word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation capabilities that support the Open Document Format (ODF). It’s built on Lotus Expeditor, which is based on the open source Eclipse Rich Client Platform.
Full support for Ubuntu within Lotus Notes and Lotus Symphony is planned with Lotus Notes 8.5 in the second half of 2008. The Lotus Symphony office productivity suite is included with Lotus Notes 8 and is also available as a separate download, at no additional charge.
Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.