IBM Lotus Pledges Workplace Integration For New Version Of Domino

Earlier this year, IBM Lotus unveiled new Workplace collaboration technology packaged in a "rich client" with tight links to servers for client provisioning and management. The advent of that new lineup cast some doubt on the future of the long-running Lotus Domino/Notes franchise, which is what the company is now trying to sort out.

The current road map calls for the Lotus Notes 7 client and Domino 7 Server to ship next year with tighter integration with the company's new Workplace technologies. Beyond that, "there will be a Domino 8, 9, 10," said Ken Bisconti, vice president of Lotus and portal products.

Over time, various Workplace components, instant messaging, etc., will be embeddable in the rich Notes client itself, Bisconti told CRN at a meeting at Lotus headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

Workplace itself, a conglomeration of collaboration features and functions served up in a rich client based on Eclipse, will be updated in a 2.5 release by year's end, according to Bisconti.

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For more than a year, IBM Lotus has tried to reassure partners and customers that the Notes/Domino path will not be a dead end, but it's been a battle. Two years ago the company signaled a move away from the venerable Notes Storage Facility (NSF) to a relational DB2 store that caused many to question Domino's long-term viability. Since then the vendor has retrenched and will continue to offer a choice of stores with Domino.

No pricing or licensing model for Domino/Notes 7 or 8 is set yet, but Bisconti said it will likely mimic the Workplace model where people using DB2 for Domino or WebSphere store will get that capability, but if they run the database for outside applications they must buy a full DB2 license.

Domino 7 will offer multithreaded views, meaning users will be able to open multiple databases without freezing the client, "sort by subject" and other perks such as integrating presence with calendaring and scheduling. The company will also continue to offer quarterly incremental upgrades, most of which will be patches but sometimes will add more functionality. The new Notes 6.5.3 update, for example, will include support for the Microsoft Outlook client. Workplace itself, now in the 2.1 release, converges a whole raft of capabilities including instant messaging, presence awareness, application sharing and more in a rich client that even insiders acknowledge is now a bit hefty and slow for most machines.

Bisconti said that thus far development has focused on building in features and functions. Future releases will hone in on capacity and performance.

Before IBM Lotus can offer a Workplace Express version for small and midsize businesses, for example, the software will have to fit into a rather limited footprint, sources said.

IBM Lotus executives showed off the new Workplace client briefly in New York last spring but did not drill down. Bisconti showed how a user will be able to drag and drop documents from his or her Windows folders to their Workplace, launch rich spreadsheet or word processing "applets" (derived from OpenOffice) from the Workplace, or continue using the Microsoft Office applications they already have.

In many respects, what IBM Lotus says it will offer by year's end is the rich functionality Microsoft has promised for its Longhorn client in 2006. Last week Microsoft admitted it was pulling the WinFS storage subsystem out of that release, however. Meanwhile, IBM Lotus is bundling a small Cloudscape replicatable database in the Workplace client. "All the documents in the database are local and can be replicated in an encrypted, secure manner to the server," Bisconti said. "They have properties, meta-data, presence awareness," he noted.

From the road map and demonstrations, it seems clear that IBM Lotus is working to meld Workplace and Notes/Domino functionality first at the glass, and then move to meld the disparate server technologies under the covers.

Some observers said that when Lotus started rolling out Workplace, the company didn't realize the concern it sparked among the Domino faithful. "They talked about Workplace [but] in terms of new customers. It didn't occur to them they needed to address the issue that if you were an existing Notes user you might wonder about what you should do," said Amy Wohl, president of Wohl Associates, Narberth, Pa. "They're trying to clear that up. If you're an existing Notes shop you can just stay that way."

Resellers and other partners faced the same dilemma. Some saw the Workplace/Domino split as necessitating a move into the J2EE world away from Domino. Lotus needs to reassure them that their Domino skills are still pertinent and that J2EE skills are also of value, observers said.