IBM Gets Social With 'Ready-for-Business' Social Networking

Big Blue shoots Workplace, touts Connections, QuickR

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IBM on Monday put some specifics around a range of business-appropriate social networking tools it has been working on.

Cynics in the audience were quick to note the similarity of IBM's 'ready for business' tagline to Microsoft's equally lame 'Business Ready,' but I digress.

Here's the meat from Lotusphere 2007 in Orlando:

QuickR, IBM's new content-sharing and management tool, will start rolling out in the second quarter. The QuickR Personal Edition would bring the type of content storing-and-sharing used by consumers to swap songs and videos, to business content sharing, said Mike Rhodin, general manager for IBM Lotus.

The personal edition will be available free to users with supported Domino Web Access accounts for a year, and will let them, from their browsers store and find content and decide to keep it private or make it public. That content can be shared inside or beyond firewalls, IBM said.

The higher-end QuickR Standard Edition will ship with a set of templates to get users up and running with project-related templates--an innovation place, a team meeting place a customer proposal place and a project management place. IBM and its partners will also make available additional templates. Connectors will let it tap into other applications. Current QuickPlace licensees are entitled to Standard Edition.

A set of integrated blogging, social networking and other tools, together will carry the IBM Lotus Connections moniker , is slated to ship in the second quarter. Connections, like QuickR, require the backend use of IBM's WebSphere Application Server (WAS), but there appear to be no other IBM product dependencies.

Alan Lepofsky, senior manager of strategy and evangelism for Lotus Software said Connections will ship with the requisite WAS infrastructure. The company is not ready to talk about price, he said.

Rhodin said he expects to win new customers to IBM Software with this offering, just as WebSphere Portal has. Half of WebSphere Portal clients are users of Microsoft Exchange Server mail, not Domino, and he expects to replicate that success.

Sametime 7.51 with added point-to-point video, tabbed chat, and integration with Microsoft Office and Outlook, as well as support for Linux servers and Mac clients, is due early in Q2, probably April.

Domino/Notes 8, (aka the Project Hannover release) is going to public beta next month and should hit its mid-year availability target, Rhodin told reporters and analysts.

IBM also tried to clear up remaining confusion over its messaging strategy, calling Notes/Domino its "one and only" strategic e-mail platform. Many saw that public statement as acknowledgment that IBM has finally shot Workplace Messaging.

"Let's just say Workplace Messaging has joined OS/2 in the dead software category," quipped analyst Peter O'Kelly of The Burton Group.

Rhodin was quick to say, in response to a question, that the company's Workplace work was not wasted.

"Four years ago when I came to Lotus, we had the innovator's dilemma. I told the QuickPlace, Notes and Domino teams to go innovate and got the top ten list reasons of why they couldn't do that. So we took people out of band and made the Workplace team. A lot of the stuff they developed is now elsewhere. The underpinning of Expeditor [IBM's eclipse-based development toolset] came form the Workplace Managed client. We harvested that stuff and folded it back into our mainstream products."

Rhodin said IBM was now responding to customer and analyst confusion over its strategy around Workplace and portal "so we made them one."

IBM is still counting on its platform agnostic approach to win customers who resist lock in to the Microsoft stack. Domino and SameTime support Linux clients and servers, for example.

Big Blue also seems ambivalent about its love-hate for Microsoft Office. Most of these new social networking offerings will integrate with old-and-new versions of Office,

IBM VP of product management, Ken Bisconti illustrated this love-hate (mostly hate) affair, when he noted the inclusion of word processing, spreadsheet, presentation editors in Notes 8. "These are, for most users, way more than enough capability. This is not a play vs. Microsoft," he noted. But then he added: "Many customers cannot pay $100 to $150 a user for a word processor upgrade when that's more than they spend on CRM."

Notes 8 is getting updated versions of the application editors that IBM initially shipped with WebSphere portal server several years ago.

What IBM can bring to the table here is its reputation for old-fashioned (some say boring) business infrastructure. Gene Nelson, principle of Synatrix, a St. Cloud, Minn. IBM business partner said his customers are starting to ask about such tools, although they are more interested in blogging than wikis.

"This is good sizzle," he noted of the news before Rhodin's keynote Monday. "The thing about IBM'software is it just works. You install it and it runs, so people forget about it," he noted.

That's a feature that IT people, and the partners they bring in, can appreciate. Social networking wares have to prove themselves secure and compliant enough to be used in real business setting. And IBM is banking it can be the provider of choice. But it is certainly not the only company seeing this opportunity. Microsoft is also building an array of blogging and wiki tools.

This story was updated Monday afternoon with Lepofsky's comments.

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