While the launch of Google Apps last month offered corporate users an online alternative to Microsoft Office, old standbys in the personal productivity space are trying to make sure they don’t get left behind.
Ottawa-based Corel, for example, announced a free, downloadable version of its WordPerfect office suite, with basic functionality that the company hopes will spur demand for the more sophisticated enterprise version.

Although it will be available via the Web and will connect with other online tools, WordPerfect Lightning can also be loaded locally on a desktop and used without an Internet connection. The product is composed of a navigator, viewer and notes window that resembles an instant messaging interface. It will allow users to view, edit, print and share documents, but more high-quality formatting will require the use of Corel’s WordPerfect Office X3, which was released about a year ago.

When lightning strikes
Corel is launching Lightning at a time when traditional rival Microsoft is offering online versions of its Office suite, and startups such as Writely are being acquired by online-only companies like Google. Google also recently announced a version of its online hosted productivity tools that will be available for an annual US$50 subscription fee per user. The suite includes Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Calendar and Gmail, among other programs.

“Taking an office suite and putting it online isn’t that innovative. It’s just another distribution model,” said Jay Larock, senior product manager for Corel’s WordPerfect Office division. “In the real world, you’ll have some files on your desktop and some on the Web. You have to have the right mix.”

Lightning is a less-than-20MB download, which means users who are interested may not have to deal directly with their IT managers before experimenting with it, Larock said. The bottom of the interface features a message center with help from Corel and other early adopters.

At its annual Lotusphere conference earlier this year, meanwhile, IBM’s Lotus division said it had added 175 new capabilities in Notes/Domino 7, an upgrade from version 6.5.4. Key changes include the addition of Web services support, more Lotus Sametime tools and the ability to run Notes as an integrated component of IBM’s Workplace software, which the company positions as an alternative to Microsoft Office.

Ken Bisconti, IBM’s vice-president of Workplace, portal and collaboration products, said Notes/Domino 7 will also allow customers to post some of their applications natively on DB2 while preserving the Domino-based access control and the replication capabilities. “The DB2 gives customers unique access to relational constructs, to improved ad hoc query performance and the ability to use SQL commands,” he said.

Canadian Notes/Domino customers are eagerly awaiting the latest version, according to Toronto Lotus User Group co-founder John Zarei. Multi-threading capabilities in Domino Designer, for example, could considerably improve productivity, Zarei said.
“If you were opening something, you couldn’t work in the other (application),” said Zarei, who is also CIO at Toronto-based consulting firm Point Alliance. “They’re getting much closer with the whole Workplace functionality.”

Zarei, who said his firm has seen several recent Notes/Domino installations at banks and insurance companies, said Version 7 should silence critics who thought the platform was dying.

“People don’t differentiate between mail and the application,” he said. “If they’re not using it for mail, they think they’re not using it.”

Both Corel and IBM are fighting against not only market-dominant Microsoft but the high-profile Google Apps launch. While free versions of Google’s applications have been supported by online ads, the subscription to the enterprise version comes ad-free and with additional customer support. It also includes access to application programming interfaces (APIs) for the programs that can be used to integrate them with other systems.

‘Out-of-the-box’ doesn’t apply
“The term out-of-the-box doesn’t really apply to a hosted service, but we believe the product is simple yet powerful enough that many users can use it straight out of the gate,” said Kevin Smith, head of Google’s enterprise partnerships. “In the enterprise, however, there are organizations with additional requirements. The APIs allow them to create an extension or enhancements to the product.”

Gerry Gable, an analyst with the Burton Group based out of Park City , Utah , said the decision to tweak internally or move outside would depend on how much enterprises might save in licensing or admin costs. This is assuming they move to Google Apps Premium Edition at all, though.

“You could have a corporate-level decision to switch from the Microsoft suite to this outsourced thing,” he said. “If the company operates as a group of independent units, it might start there.”

Smith agreed, adding that Google is expecting what he called a “measured conversion” from other products. “I don’t think we have the expectation that this is going to replace every system out there,” he said.

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