IBM is racing to integrate presence and availability awareness technologies with its latest release of Lotus Notes and Domino 6.5, which will begin shipping on Tuesday, Sept. 30.
When it is unleashed, the suite of new messaging tools could intensify the rivalry between Big Blue and Microsoft on office productivity tools as both roll out new presence and availability awareness technologies.
Microsoft is pinning its strategy on the rich-client Office 2003 suite as the future of productivity applications. IBM, meanwhile, is betting that the future face of those applications will be portals -- in fact, Web services components that can be assembled into customized portals according to an organization's needs, Timothy Kounadis, a senior marketing manager with Messaging Solutions, Lotus Software, in the IBM Software Group, told internetnews.com.
"We're always trying to step up the competition with Microsoft, and I think 6.5 is the next salvo in that," Kounadis said.
He added, "Our perspective is it's all about open standards, browser interfaces along with rich clients. Web services is the lynch-pin to both strategies together."
The major push in Lotus Notes and Domino 6.5 is to integrate Lotus Instant Messaging (formerly known as Lotus Sametime) functionality, in an effort to give users presence capabilities that let them know when co-workers or other colleagues are online, Kounadis said. From there, they will have the capability to initiate an instant messaging session directly from their inboxes or from a collaborative application.
Kounadis noted that many technical enhancements have been made to Lotus Domino Designer 6.5, which allows developers to build Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino collaborative applications. Developers can now use Designer to add presence capabilities to applications.
"Think of a CRM application that has people's names in it," he said. "You can take those names and bring it live. All you have to do is bring up that CRM application inside of Designer."
Kounadis explained that presence capabilities can be added to any application, as long as part of the application runs inside a Notes or Domino application layer.
"That's huge," Erica Rugullies, a director with Giga Information Group, told internetnews.com. "It also fits into IBM's collaboration strategy -- the collaboration functionality as services that can be embedded in applications. Not only are they making it embeddable within the Lotus Notes and Domino applications, but also within enterprise content management applications as well. This is something that will be spread throughout IBM."
Kounadis noted that the Lotus Enterprise Integrator (LEI) has been enhanced, giving bi-directional access to back-end relational databases and ERP systems. Support has also been added for partitions, additional databases and Linux.
While 6.5 doesn't take IBM all the way to the ultimate Web services conclusion, it is a step in that direction, Rugullies said.
"The key here for this release is that it is an interim release between 6 and the new Lotus products based on DB2, WebSphere and J2EE (define)," Rugullies said. "They are moving in that direction."
Rugullies pointed to the portlet creation tools IBM added. "They are making it so that Domino applications and servers can be accessed from Java Server Pages (JSP) applications. This is where they've been focusing a lot of energy. It's a huge technology shift."
Version 7 (although that may not be its name, as IBM continues to integrate Lotus Notes and Domino with its overall Lotus Workplace strategy) is expected to be released in 2004. One of the major pushes for that release will be increased flexibility on the back end, with Notes data living inside of DB2, Kounadis said. He noted that more details would be made available at Big Blue's LotusSphere show.
Microsoft also sees Web services as an important part of the future of its efforts in the productivity suite space. The difference is that it is embedding that work, and collaborative functionality, in the operating system, while IBM is tying its efforts to middleware, Rugullies said. But whether Microsoft's or IBM's vision wins out -- or both coexist -- Rugullies said that third-party vendors of proprietary collaboration tools must begin laying both short-term and long-term strategies now, as the two companies increasingly push collaborative technologies into infrastructure.
"They need to understand what's happening and think through a strategy," she said. "Short-term, if they can garner revenues from offering proprietary collaboration tools, that's great."
But she noted that if a company is looking to jumpstart efforts in the space with an acquisition, and that acquisition will take two years to integrate, it may be time to rethink the strategy. Long-term, she said, vendors of proprietary collaboration offerings should begin looking at the possibilities of opening up their platforms to support infrastructure collaboration components from the likes of IBM or Microsoft.
The 6.5 release also has a slew of other upgrades that bring the client more on par with capabilities users of Microsoft's Outlook rich client enjoy, including integrated search, calendaring and scheduling, e-mail follow-up flagging, reply to and forward icons, the ability to block mail from particular senders, and a rules wizard.
But whereas Microsoft's offering -- based on Office 2003, Office Live Communication Server, Office SharePoint Services, and other technologies -- is aimed squarely at the Windows platform, IBM is seeking to differentiate itself by extending its offerings to the Linux platform with the Domino Web Access (formerly iNotes Web Access) and Domino for Linux on IBM zSeries eServer products. With these products, IBM said it now has end-to-end support for collaboration on the Linux platform, with both client-side and server-side software.
Kounadis noted that Linux users will have to use Domino Web Access (which users access through either the Internet Explorer or Mozilla browsers) rather than the Notes rich-client, which Big Blue has not re-engineered for Linux. However, he said, users give up nothing by going with a browser client as opposed to a rich client because the two offerings have absolute parity when it comes to feature sets. As an example, IBM singled out the fact that Domino Web Access now has the ability to encrypt and read encrypted mail from Notes bi-directionally; it also has the ability to apply digital signatures.
"Now they can have the features they want on the platform they want," Kounadis said. "We think this is going to be really exciting for customers that view the power of Linux and see how Linux can help them drive down costs and increase flexibility."
"It's a no-compromise solution," Kounadis added about the features of Domino Web Access as compared to those of Lotus Notes. "You'll get the same functionality on Domino Web Access running on Linux. Domino Web Access is at feature parity with the Notes client, including offline reading of your email."
In addition, he said the fact that Domino is now available for Linux on zSeries should interest organizations looking to consolidate servers.
"It really revolves around flexibility," he said. "It's one of the reasons people love Notes and Domino. People don't want to be tied into a particular platform, a particular solution, a particular implementation model. Rich client, portal, mobile device -- our world is one of flexibility and openness. Microsoft's world is one of Office-centricity and everything happening inside of Office. You can't always say that Office should be the primary place of collaboration. You need to provide much more flexibility than that."
Lotus Notes 6.5 now supports Windows XP Professional Edition, Windows 2000 Professional Edition with SP3, Windows NT version 4.0 with SP6a, Windows 95, and Macintosh OS X.
Lotus Domino Web Access 6.5, which offers the same features as Lotus Notes but with a browser-based client, now supports Windows XP, Windows XP Professional, Windows 2000, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 98, Windows 95, Windows NT 4.0, Red Hat Linux (version 7.2 or 8.0), and SuSE Linux 8.0 (United Linux 1.0). As for browsers, Domino Web Access 6.5 supports Internet Explorer 5.5 and 6.0, as well as Mozilla 1.3.1 (Linux client only).
Domino Web Access means that IS departments will not need to go to the expense of buying or setting up clients anymore. However, for organizations that want to stick with Notes, Kounadis said IBM is offering the Smart Upgrade feature it first implemented with Lotus Notes 6.
"It automates the client upgrade process," Kounadis said. "One of the biggest costs of moving to a collaborative infrastructure is upgrading all of your clients. Upgrading the client is the biggest cost hit. Smart Upgrade allows you to basically push client upgrades from the server to the client. There's no need to go around and install the 6.5 client on everyone's desktop."
Lotus Domino 6.5 will initially be available for Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows Server 2003, Windows 2003 Advanced Server, IBM iSeries (formerly AS/400) V5R1 and later, IBM zSeries (formerly S/390), z/OS V1R2 and later, AIX 4.3.3x and 5.1 and 5.2, Sun Solaris 8 and Solaris 9, Red Hat Advanced Server 2.1 (uni-processor only), UnitedLinux 1.0 SP2, and Linux for zSeries -- UnitedLinux 1.0 SP2.
IBM said the Domino Messaging Server 6.5 starts at $1,145 per processor, and Domino Enterprise Server 6.5 at $2,964 per processor. The Domino Utility Server 6.5 is available for $15,067 per processor. Lotus Notes 6.5 with Messaging license starts at $89.82 per user, and Lotus Notes 6.5 with a Collaboration license starts at $125 per user. Lotus Domino Web Access starts at $62.80 with a messaging license per user. Lotus Domino Web Access with Collaboration license starts at $97.12 per user. The Lotus Domino Collaboration Express starts at $119 per user. The Lotus Domino Utility Server Express starts at $5,000 per processor.
As a special promotion, IBM said that all Lotus 6.5 customers with active maintenance agreements will receive a 20-license pack of IBM Lotus Instant Messaging, as well as a 20 user license of WebSphere Portal Express, at no additional charge. That promotion is good from Oct. 1, 2003 until Dec. 31, 2003.
This article was originally published on internetnews.com.