This year’s annual user’s conference for Lotus Software Group will see no major product announcements; instead, it will take a hard look at using collaborative technology to save money for the enterprise.

Lotusphere begins today at the Disney World resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The current business and travel climate, however, is cutting into the event’s attendance.

Alain Raymond, a senior analyst for electronic messaging at Canadian National Railway Co. (CN), said that neither he nor anyone from his team would be attending the conference this year. Last year he was in the the spotlight at Lotusphere, touting CN’s messaging solution using Domino.

The economy is certainly one motivation for the penny-pinching theme of the conference. But also factoring into the lack of new product announcements are a somewhat slow uptake on the current version of Lotus’ Notes e-mail software and R5 Domino database, as well as the need to make any upgrades worthwhile investments, say analysts.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based subsidiary of IBM will unveil the brand name of its new version of Notes, which will predictably be R6, but it won’t release the new product until the third quarter or later. In the meantime, Lotus vice-president Scott Cooper said, “We’re going to talk over and over again around very near-term hard ROI.”

Collaborative applications, such as those for Web-based meetings and online learning, can be used to cut business travel costs, Cooper said.

There is no new version release at the conference, he said, because R6, code-named RNext, isn’t ready. “[Version] 6.0 will be a deployable release,” Cooper said.

That’s no surprise, said David Druker, an analyst at Ferris Research Inc. in San Francisco.

“It took customers a long time to convert to R5, and apparently there’s still some R5 market out there,” Druker said. “RNext will be another big change.”

Customers want to make sure an upgrade will be worth every penny, he said, because, “it’s not going to be cheap.”

Cost awareness from the vendor is too little, too late, said Dana Gardner, an analyst at Boston-based research firm Aberdeen Group Inc.

“Suddenly, Lotus now has a religion about ROI? People who are really price-conscious have already left Domino,” Gardner said.

Lotus in Cambridge, Mass., is at

Lotusphere is online at

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