IBM Expands Collaboration Solutions at Lotusphere

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There was an energy in the air at last week's Lotusphere conference that has been missing from the annual gathering for several years. Attendance was up, more vendors were exhibiting their wares, and users were guardedly optimistic about IBM's revitalized strategy for its communications and collaboration products.

At the heart of that strategy is Lotus Workplace, IBM's WebSphere-based platform that supports Domino solutions. As expected, IBM used Lotusphere to feature Workplace and reveal what it is doing to enhance the environment. Those revelations included a sneak preview of a tool that lets users create Workplace applications without coding. Big Blue also provided an early look at some fascinating technologies that it will use to create future releases of both Workplace and Domino clients. Speaking of Domino, IBM unveiled the next release of Domino/Notes and discussed new policies for future releases.

Previews of Coming Attractions

IBM caught the attention of many customers with Workplace Builder, a development tool that will be an integrated part of the Workplace 2.0 platform that will ship around the middle of this year. Workplace Builder allows business users to create applications from portlets and templates through a simple visual assembly tool. Once applications are created, they are automatically submitted to the Workplace administrator for review and approval. Since development takes place dynamically in runtime, administrators can deploy applications without having to restart the Workplace environment.

Besides including Workplace Builder, Workplace 2.0 will also offer users a new "rich client" that will provide greater functionality than standard Web browsers and run on any operating system that supports WebSphere Application Server (WAS). IBM is building this client from a family of object-oriented frameworks, services, and interfaces that it calls Workplace Client Technology (WCT). IBM is basing WCT on technologies in the Eclipse development platform, including Standard Widget Toolkit, J2EE, and JFace.

There's a good chance that WCT will show up in your company's software in the near future. That is because IBM intends to use WCT not only to create rich clients for its Workplace applications, but for other applications that need a more functional user interface than a browser. This includes Lotus Notes, which IBM would like to rewrite in WCT shortly after it delivers Notes 7.0 in early 2005. In addition, IBM intends to make WCT available to software vendors that develop applications for Workplace and other IBM middleware.

What's New with Notes

As expected, IBM used Lotusphere to officially announce Domino/Notes 6.5.1. Among its enhancements, the new release offers an instant messaging license with every Notes and Domino Web Access client and a user interface that is similar to that of Workplace. In addition, a new product known as Outlook Connector lets Microsoft Outlook users access all of Notes' features as well as Domino's clustering and compression capabilities. Outlook Connector currently supports Outlook 2000 and Outlook XP; the next release will also support Outlook 2003.

Besides announcing new products, IBM unveiled new policies for how it will coordinate Domino/Notes releases. Starting with the current release, IBM is taking the following actions.

  • It is taking Domino/Notes extension products--such as Domino Designer and Domino Web Access--and testing them in a coordinated fashion to see that they are compatible with the new releases.

  • If a product is compatible, IBM will ship it with the same release number as the core Domino/Notes software and at the same time as it ships that software. As a result, IBM has "reversioned" over a dozen Lotus products to the 6.5.1 level.
  • IBM is also pledging to ship all products within the release level on the same servers (iSeries, Windows, AIX, and Solaris) with support for both Internet Explorer and Mozilla browsers. All the products in each release will also support the same language sets.

These new policies should significantly reduce the confusion that customers experience over which product releases are compatible with each other, not to mention which servers and languages they support. From now on, all you will have to do is look at the release number to know what compatibility and support levels you're getting.

While the latest Domino/Notes and Workplace products took center stage at Lotusphere, there was also considerable discussion about how IBM will integrate its two collaboration platforms. I'll have more to say about that subject in a future article, so stay tuned.

Lee Kroon is a Senior Industry Analyst for Andrews Consulting Group, a firm that helps mid-sized companies manage business transformation through technology. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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