Lotus Details 'Workplace' Collaboration Plans

IBM next week will reveal the latest stage in its standards-based strategy, introducing major additions to its enterprise instant messaging and groupware offerings.
IBM's Lotus Software unit next week plans to reveal the next wave in its "Workplace" strategy, introducing a slew of additions to its enterprise instant messaging and collaboration offerings.

For the uninitiated, "Workplace" represents both a concept and a specific brand of Lotus solutions. Those solutions are all based on a Java 2 Enterprise Edition back-end, and are accessible via a Web browser -- as opposed to a proprietary, rich desktop client. Ultimately, Lotus Workplace applications will share interfaces and features using Web services, and provide for connectivity to other enterprise applications.

"'Workplace' is the nomenclature we've given to the evolution process, as well as the offerings coming out from Lotus," said Ed Brill, senior marketing manager at Lotus. "We're going to march even further in the process toward integrating them. At the same time, we're making sure they can run in a componentized way going forward."

"We've been saying we want to be evolving the business in the direction the market is going, which we see is toward open standards," he added.

In Workplace 1.1, due for release next week, Lotus will take the wraps off new products integrating Web conferencing and IM capabilities from Lotus Team Workplace 3 (a product previously known as QuickPlace, and not part of the Workplace initiative) and Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing (formerly Sametime).

In keeping with the strategy, the components will be available individually or in a package, and portions of their features can be integrated with other apps through Web services.

"Our real-time collaboration capabilities first were with Lotus QuickPlace and Sametime, and later, Lotus Instant Messaging and Lotus Team Workspace," Brill said. "Those will evolve into a single offering around being Workplace Team Conferencing."

Specific collaborative applications rolled into Workplace 1.1 include document sharing, a document library, instant messaging and group chat, and Web conferencing. Portions of those are capable of being delivered through Web services into other Lotus or third-party enterprise applications -- such as information like call-in information or the agenda for a Web meeting.

"It will provide the same kind of portlet capabilities common throughout the Lotus architecture," Brill said. "One of the reasons we're moving to J2EE architecture is to be able to play in open architecture that can be plugged anything running on a back-end, if it happens to be us, or a BEA."

The launch also will include a preview of a native J2EE client based on the Eclipse open-source tools framework.

Despite the hoopla around Lotus' Workplace platform, Brill added that Domino-based Team Workplace and Lotus Instant Messaging would continue to "evolve in the family" as well. And, at least initially, the Domino-based applications would be more fully featured than their standards-based peers.

"While the functionality at this date won't map up, one-to-one, there's a convergence point ahead where the functionalities will be the same -- and then we'll let customers make the choice" about which platform they'd prefer," Brill said. "It will be over the next 12 to 18 months where they really become functionally equivalent."

Yet with a new standards-based architecture, IBM also is seeking to expand its market to customers who have been reluctant to commit to becoming a Domino shop.

Lotus, for its part, is making the changes to its product lineup from a position of power in the collaboration space. Having been in the market for years with Sametime, IBM is the dominant player in enterprise IM software. But it's facing new threats from competitors like Microsoft, Oracle and Sun Microsystems, who are launching new, integrated collaboration suites of their own.

"Those are not the players we're competing with," he added. "We're still competing in the IM side and the Web conferencing side each with point players -- the Jabbers and the like, and the AOL business offerings."

"We've seen a lot of companies coming to the [enterprise IM] party lately," he added. "What we're not seeing is many people coming to the [Web conferencing] party ... people are treating them as two different markets. Players I think of in enterprise IM are not the ones in Web conferencing, and vice versa ... One of the major reasons why customers choosing us right now is that they get both sets of capabilities."

Brill also shrugged off concerns about Microsoft's recently launched Office System, which integrates enterprise IM software and a Web conferencing service (in the form of Live Communications Server and Live Meeting, respectively.)

"Microsoft still has to demonstrate they've got it right this time," Brill said.

Next week's announcements -- which will also cover other areas of the Lotus portfolio -- come as the latest major step in IBM's Workplace initiative. Earlier this year, the company debuted Workplace Messaging, a browser-based e-mail client targeted to deskless workers.

The new version of Lotus Notes, while based on Domino, also shares a bit of the Workplace philosophy. In Notes 6.5, the browser-based Domino Web Access client has been upgraded to offer the same features as the desktop client.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.






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