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Review: Lotus Takes On Web Collaboration With LotusLive

IBM Lotus has worked to combine social networking, collaboration and Web conferencing into a single hosted application. The CRN Test Center takes a look.

Enter IBM Lotus and its LotusLive Engage product, a Web-based collaboration tool that combines elements of the Lotus product line with IBM's emerging technical expertise in turnkey mash-up technology.

The CRN Test Center examined LotusLive Engage and wanted to know whether a $15- to $45-per month, per-seat product could actually deliver more for business than free hosted collaboration tools. The verdict: it does, and in a way that delivers nice business differentiation. (A single seat is $45 per month; with volume pricing it can go as low as $15.)

LotusLive Engage combines four major elements that its rivals, Microsoft Online Services, Google Apps and Cisco's WebEx, do not: social networking for business, dedicated storage, hosted meetings and realtime collaboration tools. While the others each have individual pieces, Lotus has combined them into a single offering that, it appears, makes good business sense. The basic architecture of LotusLive Engage allows for both intranet and extranet group collaboration, which we see as particularly useful in organizations that need hand-in-hand collaboration with third-party contractors, for example, while keeping those contractors at an arm's length from corporate systems and data.

An administration console provides a manager access to company settings, including contact information, subscriptions and user accounts, as well as order history. The administrator is permitted to add or delete user accounts, as well as set their status, subscription and roles. It's straightforward.

Once an administrative account is created, other user accounts come next. User IDs and passwords are set, and then each account holder has the ability to invite colleagues into groups and to set up interactive meetings with whiteboard capabilities, document creation and sharing, instant messaging (via Lotus Sametime), presence awareness and even post-meeting surveys to ask participants their opinions on the value of the session. Webcam-enabled PCs can send and share video, as well.

Here are some pointers, though:

  • LotusLive Engage requires Internet Explorer 6.0 SP2, 6.1 or 7 on Windows XP and Windows Vista (with service packs); or Mozilla Firefox 2.0, 2.0.0.3 or 3.0 on Windows XP and Windows Vista; and either of the JVM versions of Sun 1.5, Sun 1.6 or IBM 1.5. Lotus recommends Adobe Flash Player 9.0 for meeting optimization.

  • We tried the application on Windows 7 with the supported browsers, with Safari 4.0, with Google Chrome and on Ubuntu 9.04 with Firefox 3.0. None of those combinations allowed for full functionality of LotusLive Engage, but did allow for limited access and functionality including the ability to access and share files and contacts outside of a live meeting scenario. Meeting access and functionality didn't work on anything other than the supported operating systems and browsers. Lotus is working on Windows 7 support.

  • This is a cloud-based solution, and interactions are hosted by IBM Lotus. However, that's not a glaring fact for guests and outside collaborators, who receive invitations and attend meetings arranged by users.

  • File sharing is neat and quick, and can take place inside or outside of a live meeting once a user account is established and a guest is brought into a project.

  • The user console consists of a group setting to link back to a user's company or workgroup; a "My Dashboard" link - - a landing page where most activities and content are accessed; a "My Network" link for contact management; and "My Services," where files, meeting notes, forms and instant messages can be accessed.

  • IBM says it maintains several layers of physical security at its hosting locations, and provides several levels of network security, including encryption, for its collaboration and meetings.
  • Each user also has the capability to create a profile -- with photo, contact information and the like -- to be available to other users also on LotusLive Engage. One key differentiating feature of the application is this: Users, under their accounts, can invite up to 15 "guests" into a meeting, even if those guests do not have LotusLive Engage accounts or any other software installed. That can be particularly useful in engaging colleagues and other collaborators inside and outside a company for realtime engagement.

    Where Lotus extends its capabilities is in taking the live meeting and collaboration model and bringing it to a social networking platform. The IBM LotusLive community already has membership from people at scores of companies; invitations to connect and collaborate are easily exchanged on the platform. While it's possible to connect in a similar fashion on "free" services such as Facebook, the IBM LotusLive community is streamlined for business connection and, simply, working together.

    While we'd like to see full cross-platform support, we like and recommend LotusLive Engage for several important reasons. Technically, it takes complexity out of running a meeting and collaboration application; from a pricing perspective, it's reasonable, given the functionality it brings to bear; and given that use models have changed to leverage social networking as a tool for organizations and, in fact, transactions, the combination of all these aspects makes LotusLive Engage strong on multiple fronts.

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