Lotus calls J2EE platform of future

At Lotusphere 2002, Al Zollar made a number of announcements related to Lotus, but made waves by showing a slide of an old, cabinet hi-fi set – which he used as a metaphor for technological evolution.

After an introduction by writer/actor/game show host Ben Stein, Zollar, the general manager of Lotus Software, IBM Software Group, announced the company’s commitment to J2EE as its development platform of the future.

“Our core competency has always been using innovative technology to help people to collaborate, learn and take fuller advantage of their collective knowledge, across organizational and geographic boundaries,” Zollar said at last month’s conference, held in Orlando, Fla.

“Lotus has been promoting collaboration for 10 or 15 years, and it’s gratifying to see how the importance of collaboration has moved to centre stage. Judging by what our customers tell me, we’re delivering on our promise and we’re moving on to an even more rewarding phase we call ‘unleashing collaboration.'”

According to David Marshak, a Boston-based senior vice-president and analyst at Patricia Seybold Group, this announcement was more political than constructive.

“The J2EE announcement is both over and underplayed,” Marshak said. He explained that the announcement is underplayed because IBM – like any other company – has had to make a decision about what platform to build its software on, and has chosen J2EE. Marshak considered the announcement overplayed because in what he described as a political move, what IBM essentially did was go out of its way to say ‘this is why we didn’t do it on .Net.’

“.Net was not a consideration for them given that they already use a J2EE platform. Basically, they turned a technical decision into a political one around .Net and J2EE. They missed an opportunity to actually establish a high ground by making a quick political swipe.”

Other keynote highlights included the announcement of pre-release beta version of Lotus Notes and Domino 6 – formerly code-named Rnext – which Zollar promised would ship as a final version in the third quarter of 2002. Zollar also announced that the next version of Lotus Domino would offer increased integration with Tivoli Server Management software, and that there would be new deployment and services options for Lotus Sometime.

Following Zollar’s remarks, several IBM employees provided a demonstration of IBM’s w3 eWorkplace, which uses the collaborative capabilities of Domino, Sametime, LearningSpace and QuickPlace in a browser. This solution is used within IBM for its 319,876 staff, and includes an HR window, access to e-learning resources and customized news capabilities, all from an employee’s home page.

Despite these fairly substantial announcements, Marshak suggested that they all paled in comparison to the slide that Zollar showed featuring an old, cabinet-style hi-fi set, which he used as an example of technological evolution.

“Domino is currently constituted as a dinosaur,” Marshak said. “Zollar promised another age to it, but it’s going to go away at some point.”

Marshak suggested that Zollar used this metaphor to prepare Lotus users for the inevitable.

“IBM wants its users to prepare for that and understand that that’s what’s going to happen, with the hope that they’ll understand it’s the right thing to do. It’s a difficult message that not a lot of people expected, but from a practical sense IBM did the right thing, both in terms of being open about what they’re doing and in what they’re actually doing,” he said.

Despite the foreshadowing of what may come of Lotus’ software products in the future, Zollar and other Lotus representatives at the conference were upbeat and hopeful about holding onto its customers.

“We’re not about abandonment,” Zollar said. “Everything emerges and new things evolve. Lotus is focused on the human side of things. We create software that helps people communicate, collaborate, learn and take full advantage of their collective knowledge – wherever they work and across organizational boundaries. Lotus – and our software – represent the power of people working together.”

It is this human side of Lotus that Marshak fears may be lost as it becomes more and more integrated into IBM.

“IBM is probably going to want to move aggressively – the longer there appears to be Lotus as an entity the longer the harder the transition of branding is going to be,” he said. “What was a small community with Lotus is going to change. They’ll never have that kind of community within IBM. It’s sad, but it’s not bad.”