IBM tightens Lotus position with update

While technology and business requirements seem to be changing faster than ever, Lotus Software from IBM Corp. is taking the slow lane to improving the Lotus Notes/Domino messaging platform. The computer maker says the upcoming release addresses customers’ requirements and paves the way for tighter integration with other IBM products.

Last month Big Blue presented a pre-release of Lotus Notes and Domino 6 to beta testers. Ed Brill, the company’s Cambridge, Mass.-based senior manager, enterprise messaging, said the product has been in beta since April 2001.

“We went to beta probably two builds earlier than we normally would with a release of this magnitude, because with an install base of roughly 90 million users you want to make sure you touch all of the configurations that are possible in a user’s environment.”

Brill said IBM wants Lotus and Domino to integrate with other offerings, such as Tivoli’s management software and DB2, IBM’s database. To that end, Version 6 employs Tivoli’s “predictive health monitoring tools,” that examine log files and statistic reports to anticipate problems before they occur.

As for DB2 integration, Version 6 has “virtual views,” such that data need not live in the Domino Notes Storage Facility (NSF), but could live in a DB2 database or in a database built by others.

In terms of security, Brill said IBM added automated authentication and also cleaned up the user interface. “A lot of it was arcane in terms of how the user interacted with it. Now we’ve added…smart card support right in the file-security menu, where there are also all the settings related to ID and passwords, who you trust, what certificates you have and what others can do to your machine.”

The new version also accepts Web-based access to e-mail, Brill added.

Bill Jenkins is the director of information systems at Unnico Service Co., a Boston-based facilities services firm that uses a previous version of Notes and Domino. Jenkins said Unnico chose IBM’s product because it performed better than competing messaging architectures.

“We needed to be able to develop our own applications. And we needed the replication, because we’re really spread out. When we were looking for a system, we couldn’t do it with (Microsoft) Exchange…We looked at (Novell Inc.’s) GroupWise,” but Jenkins said the competing products were “great if all you wanted was to mirror, but we wanted something we could integrate with our ERP system.”

IBM offered just that. In fact, Unnico’s current Notes/Domino combo works so well that Jenkins said the company would not soon move to the next release, no matter how whizbang the technology. “We’ll stay with the version we have now and see how things go with the next version.”

According to Alister Sutherland, IDC Canada’s director of software in Toronto, IBM’s messaging platform has loyal users. However, “I think that the market share for Lotus is gradually slipping away. It’s largely because of Microsoft, but Microsoft’s Achilles heel is its exposure to viruses. The hackers by and large love to hate Microsoft.”

By comparison, IBM “has very good security features, which is to Microsoft’s detriment. But…I think Microsoft is addressing those issues.”

Brill said it’s too soon for pricing, but the new Notes/Domino platform would ship in Q3 2002. The pre-release, which works with Microsoft NT, 2000, IBM OS/400, Sun Solaris/SPARC and Linux (IA-32), is available for download at