Lotus users seek brand clarification

ORLANDO, Fla. — Branding issues around IBM’s various collaboration products continue to dog its software group as customers attending the 12th annual Lotusphere look for answers on how to make their next upgrade moves.

Lotus Notes, IBM’s flagship groupware product, has an installed base of more

than 60,000 corporate customers and 118 million users worldwide. In 2003, IBM launched Workplace, a set of collaborative desktop applications that Lotus positions as an alternative to Microsoft Office. To date, Workplace has sold two million licences. But knowing which migration path to choose is causing confusion for some customers.

TransAlta, a power generation company based in Calgary, is a longtime Lotus Notes customer, with about 2,700 users in Canada, Australia, Mexico and the U.S. Executives from the firm said they came to Lotusphere specifically for clarification on IBM’s development strategy with respect to Notes/Domino and Workplace.

“”We’re trying to figure out how Workplace and all of those news tools will fit into what we’ve invested in already,”” said Martin Mysyk, IT collaboration specialist with TransAlta.

Mysyk said he was encouraged by remarks Ambuj Goyal, Lotus Software’s general manager, made in his keynote address when he told some 3,000 attendees there would not be a “”two-lane highway”” customers would have to navigate for their collaboration products.

“”When I came on board two years ago, there was a strategy, but it was a two-lane highway. I didn’t like that and I killed it.””

Mysyk said he was concerned that over the years, TransAlta has made significant investments in its developers’ skills in the Lotus and Domino environments.

“”Previous to this morning, my understanding was there would be the Notes/Domino development track and the Workplace track. Now it looks like they’ll all work together. In Lotus 7, they have the integration hooks into Workplace.”” IBM had planned to introduce that feature in Lotus 8, but fast-tracked the process due to customer demand, according to Goyal.

Admitting that marketing of various brand is a “”complex topic,”” Goyal said IBM is not about to throw away its investment in the Lotus brand.

“”Lotus is an amazing brand, The portal will continue to be branded Websphere. But we need an umbrella for marketing and we’re marketing around Workplace. Individual products will maintain whatever brand they have.””

To mark the 20th anniversary of Lotus Notes, Ray Ozzie, the founder of Iris Associates — the startup company Lotus Development funded to create Notes — returned to Lotusphere after an eight-year hiatus. Ozzie credited IBM for the growth of the collaboration platform, which had only sold about two million licences when IBM acquired Lotus in 1995.

“”Without IBM’s commitment and strong partners, Notes almost surely would have faded. Now that’s grown to nearly 120 million with a healthy and vibrant partner ecosystem, and to me this is staggering.””

In other Lotusphere news, the company announced that Notes/Domino 7, which promises better integration of IBM Workplace components, will ship this summer. IBM execs said the new release will support 70 per cent more users on the same hardware and offer a return on investment within one year.

No Java required

It also took the wraps off Workplace Collaboration Services 2.5, an environment that allows users to collaborate through multiple mediums. It encompasses all of the components customers have typically used separately and consolidated them into a single infrastructure. IBM execs said the product will be a time-saver for companies.

“”There’s no need for extensive Java training to create Java-based apps,”” said Mike Rhodin, IBM Software’s vice-president of development and technical support.

The Activity Explorer component of the product, combines e-mail, chat and share workplaces in one interface. Users can share files, which are defined as collaborative objects. Content can be e-mail messages, files, folders and pervasive chat.

Users drag and drop objects they want to collaborate on to the users on their contact list. Activity Explorer will have a new per-CPU pricing model, according to IBM.

IBM also revealed details about the Workplace Designer, a development tool that allows script developers to create components for the Workplace environment. Designer will be able to import forms from existing Domino applications for use in building new Workplace applications.

IBM/Lotus executives continued to pledge their support for their business partners, noting that in the past year, it has added 40 per cent more partners to the fold, a move that will be instrumental in IBM reaching its goal of 200 million Notes users.

According to Gartner, revenue for the collaborative software and knowledge management tool segment will grow 9.3 per cent each year through 2008, with new license revenue forecasted to reach US$5.04 billion.

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