Users ask IBM to lift Lotus fog

Lotus’ Domino customers and business partners wanted a clear explanation of the product’s future and how it will ultimately be integrated with IBM Corp.’s application server and database at last month’s annual Lotusphere conference.

Users say IBM’s picture of a world that includes both the familiar Domino and the next-generation model that fits IBM’s portal strategy still creates uncertainty as to why and how the platforms will merge, and they are concerned that Domino will be gutted to supply parts for IBM’s WebSphere Application Server, the cornerstone of Big Blue’s middleware.

Also, users say IBM is pushing WebSphere in subtle ways, including offering licensing discounts to those who agree to test WebSphere and Lotus Enterprise Integrator (LEI) to tap into DB2. The recent replacement of Lotus general manager Al Zollar with Ambuj Goyal, an IBM veteran like Zollar, and a WebSphere expert, is only adding to that uncertainty.

Jim Cimino, president of Lotus business partner Bright Ideas Software Inc., said Lotus employees have been joking with users that “it’s time to drink the blue Kool-Aid.”

However, IBM used Lotusphere to outline its plan to more tightly integrate Lotus’ portfolio with technology from throughout IBM’s software group.

IBM said new collaboration capabilities will be included in the next version of IBM’s WebSphere Portal software, based on Lotus technology, allowing users to work with applications such as corporate white pages, organizational charts, instant messages and team workplace. For example, users will be able to search for colleagues throughout organizational directories and initiate contact via instant messaging, or track from their portal interface and interact with workplaces to which they belong.

Also on the integration front, IBM said it will soon release the IBM Lotus Domino Toolkit for WebSphere Studio. The kit will make it easier for developers using WebSphere Studio to build Domino capabilities into their applications, according to IBM, and will be available as a free download from IBM’s Web site.

Among the other new products was a new, still-unnamed e-mail system aimed at the lower end of the corporate market. The goal is to tap customers who are not seeking a full messaging suite such as Lotus Notes, according to Ken Bisconti, Lotus’ vice-president of messaging and advanced collaboration.

The Java-based software will take advantage of technologies from throughout IBM’s portfolio, including its DB2 database, portal framework and mobile-access features, Bisconti said. Now in beta testing, the software is scheduled to ship during the second quarter.

Finally, IBM said it will release during the third quarter IBM Lotus Sametime Everyplace 3, the latest version of its mobile instant-messaging software. Previously, Sametime Everyplace worked only with mobile phones. The latest version will support Pocket PC and Palm OS handhelds.

Last year’s Lotusphere ended in grumbling after Lotus quietly admitted it was cutting a technology from the yet-to-be-released Domino R6 called Garnet that supported the use of Java Server Pages (JSP). Users called the move an attempt to cripple Domino in favour of WebSphere.

IBM/Lotus said last summer that R6, which shipped in October, will be followed in 2004 by another release of Domino and that the “next-generation” platform built around WebSphere would begin to emerge this year. Last year, the company said Domino would remain on those two tracks into the foreseeable future.

“We know Domino will be there in the future in one form or another, but what that form will be is the big question among the business partners,” said Ron Herardian, CEO of consulting firm Global System Services.

“There are a lot of technical reasons that Domino on WebSphere makes sense, but the reality is that most users run Domino for mail, calendars and contacts, and don’t build applications or portals, and don’t understand WebSphere.”

Lotus is under pressure from Microsoft Corp., which now boasts more Exchange users than Lotus does Domino users and also is producing collaboration components. Both vendors face pressure from pure messaging servers, such as Critical Path Inc., Gordano Ltd., Mirapoint Inc., Rockcliffe Inc. and Stalker Software Inc., which offer lower costs.

– With files from IDG News Service