Lotus moulds collaboration vision

IBM Corp.’s Lotus Software will shift its Workplace strategy into high gear next year with the addition of several tools and features that enable flexible collaboration via J2EE and Web services.

Introduced earlier this year, Big Blue’s Workplace effort seeks to morph stand-alone collaboration technologies into components that can be embedded in a variety of applications and business processes.

IBM is not alone in its ambition. Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are also seeking to drive collaboration forward with a common data store and Web services capabilities. Vendors are staking a strong commitment to open up their systems with Web services to facilitate the integration of collaboration functions with a variety of applications, said David Ferris, president of Ferris Research.

Building on last month’s Lotus Workplace 1.1 release of four browser-based collaborative products, a new code release scheduled for spring 2004 will add a rich client user experience to the browser access mode via a portal UI. Dubbed Workplace 2.0, the desktop client offering will tap Eclipse open source Java for a rich client experience. Eclipse offers a standards-based development toolset that can incorporate traditional desktop messaging behaviour such as dragging and dropping from one window to another and offline capabilities – with the look and feel of Lotus Notes.

“This will let us use a standard widget toolkit to repurpose (traditional Lotus Notes) elements so we don’t have to recreate the GUI,” said Heidi Votaw, senior manager of product management at Lotus Software. Benefits of the rich client include a more enhanced UI experience, better client-side performance, and tighter integration with the OS, which will allow for multiclient support. “The beauty of the platform is we write it once and it runs in both (Win 32 and Linux) because of the Eclipse tools,” Votaw said.

Eventually, IBM plans to add support for Mac users. IBM plans to submit some of its development back to the Eclipse open source effort. In addition to the rich client, Workspace 2.0 will add Workplace Builder tools, designed to allow nonprogrammers to customize, tailor, and store work as a template. Nonprogrammer development tools in earlier versions of Notes “were well-liked, but often viewed as a toy environment by the corporate developer,” said Ken Bisconti, vice-president of messaging at IBM. Now IBM is “working to take Workplace to both programmers and nonprogrammers.”

The road map for the traditional Notes Domino and other collaboration products such as Lotus Instant Messaging (formerly Sametime) and Lotus Team Workplace (formerly QuickPlace) will focus on deepening the integration with Workspace through portal access. In the first quarter of 2004, Notes Domino 6.5.1 will deliver a Dynamic Reverse Proxy Portal capability that will provide a better way to access Domino functions and apps through portlets, Bisconti said. “In the past we haven’t been able to provide dynamic (application) access. Direct application access to domino apps via portlets can surface not just the data but the run time and all of the application,” Bisconti said. Notes Domino 7.0, expected late in the third quarter of 2004, will deliver DB2 support as a native data store, enhanced portlets, and expanded application support.

Although IBM is clear in its message that the traditional Notes client is not going away any time soon, the company confirmed that the path for convergence between the Workplace J2EE-based platform environment and the traditional collaboration products is within sight. By the first half of 2005 the two development efforts will be down to a single code drop and a common portlet-based UI, according to Bisconti.

“We won’t have two lanes forever (going) in different directions,” Bisconti said. “Customers don’t have to do some big migration attempt; there will be no massive jump to J2EE.” Similar to IBM, Microsoft is developing a single data store for the next version of its messaging platform, code-named Kodiak. The release, expected by 2006, will bring a database foundation based on the forthcoming Yukon data-storage architecture. Kodiak also will delve deeper into Web services.

Oracle, for its part, is gaining traction with its Collaboration Suite, which touts a single data store architecture based on its database and application server. Release 3 of Collaboration Suite, due by the end of 2004, will leverage Oracle’s 10g app server, add Web services interfaces to all collaboration components, and introduce a standards-based instant messaging server. The release will feature closer integration with ERP apps, said Sunir Kapoor, vice president of Oracle collaboration.

According to Ferris, aligning with a database can lower the total cost of ownership and improve data integration.

“If the messaging store can be put on a relational database, you can use all sorts of widely available tools, which will be better for the product and for users and administrators,” Ferris said.

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