Analysis: Shrug Off IBM Lotus at Your Peril

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It's laughable, right, that IBM would charge three bucks a head for what Google is giving away for free?

It's laughable, right, that after years of losing customers because Notes was fat and clunky, that the company could hope to win over customers who need light, easy-touch email and calendaring?

Well, don't laugh.

We haven't seen iNotes. But we have taken a good, long look at Notes. We have taken a good, long look at LotusLive. We loved the IBM Mashup Center.

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In each, IBM Lotus has gotten right what a number of its competitors, including Microsoft and Google, have not: business-ready messaging and collaboration that just works with the real-time Web.

With Google Apps, including Gmail, when the system crashes it has to be shrugged off with a "what-do-you-expect-from-a-free-app?" sense of helplessness. When Microsoft has unveiled its Web-based messaging and collaboration solutions, it's had to have been shrugged off with a "why-don't-I-get-a-lot-more-for-my-money" sense of disappointment.

IBM Lotus is promising this:

"It simplifies e-mail administration but still offers robust, flexible services. You'll have access to all the essential messaging features - previously only found in desktop software - via the Web browser. You don't need any special training - and there are no hardware, software or data center costs to worry about, either. In just minutes you can issue e-mail accounts to your users, and easily manage member's accounts."

Again, we haven't seen iNotes at work. We haven't tested it like we have LotusLive Meetings -- which is a pricier offering in the LotusLive lineup. Rest assured, if it doesn't work the world will know about it. But the folks in Cambridge, Mass., of late have a pretty good track record of getting their Web-based software to work.

IBM Lotus hasn't been the first to the party, so it's missed a lot and, really, has no momentum in this space -- even today. When it launches iNotes, it will have a lot of ground to make up and it won't be easy. Word is that the company is also still stinging from losing many, many installed Notes seats to Microsoft and Exchange during a series of big-time mergers over the past year.

But Lotus has been counted out before (including, for the old-timers among us who remember, just before Lou Gerstner's IBM plunked down more than $3 billion for it in the mid-90s.) The upcoming launch of iNotes also comes as Microsoft is set to launch Windows 7 --- an operating system that will probably see minuscule adoption in the enterprise. Can iNotes, with IBM Lotus' enterprise focus, take advantage? That's not clear. But what is clear is this: IBM Lotus will have to be part of the conversation.

The aim of IBM Lotus, in its Web-based collaboration offerings, is to not leave anyone shrugging or wondering.