Lotus readies collaboration upgrades

Attempting to rally the industry behind its vision for enterprise collaboration, IBM's Lotus Software Group next month will unfurl new versions of its instant messaging, team collaboration, and messaging and calendar platforms.

Version 3.0 of the Lotus Sametime real-time collaboration software will introduce new management features designed to give IT fine-grained control of its enterprise-class instant messaging software. For example, Lotus' beefed-up server-side tools aid in IT monitoring and management of user log-on and log-off, company executives said.

Other enhancements in Sametime 3.0 are improved group administration of buddy and co-worker lists, better file-sharing capabilities and the ability to control file attachment size, said Jeremy Dies, senior offerings manager in the advanced collaboration group at Cambridge, Mass.-based Lotus Software. The new tools are designed to allow users to more easily collaborate on file attachments within a Sametime session, he added.

According to Lotus General Manager Al Zollar, the company's vision for Sametime breaks down the concept of a stand-alone instant-messaging client to allow collaboration within any application.

"The next step is going to make sure that we have more consistent Java-oriented APIs that allow these things to be built into applications," he said. "Sametime is a great example here, where you can look at any Web-based application, and as long as you have a name and you have a directory, you can Sametime-enable that application to tell the user of that application whether someone is online at that moment or not."

Lotus also plans to roll out Enterprise Meeting Server, a Java 2 Enterprise Edition-based application designed as an add-on to Sametime 3.0 that aims to improve the scalability of large meetings, according to Dies.

Enterprise Meeting Server will also include new load-balancing and clustering tools and added features designed to simplify the process of joining an electronic meeting.

Furthermore, Lotus is attempting to boost Sametime Version 3.0's support for industry standards. To that end, Lotus plans to ship a Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) gateway for Sametime in an effort to connect islands of instant messaging in the enterprise, Dies said.

Momentum is gathering behind SIP and the related protocol SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE) as the industry standard for real-time communications. In addition to IBM's support of SIP, Microsoft Corp. and America Online Inc. have both pledged support for SIMPLE as it matures through the standards process.

Also next month, Lotus plans to roll out an update to its QuickPlace team collaboration offering. The new versions of both QuickPlace and Sametime have inched closer together as part of Lotus' overall collaboration road map and movement toward a standard J2EE architecture.

"There is an artificial distinction between Domino, QuickPlace and Sametime," Dies said at the IM Planet Conference in San Francisco this week. "We've made efforts to surface presence capability throughout QuickPlace" and are developing plans to surface presence awareness and other collaboration components in Lotus and IBM applications, he said.

QuickPlace 3.0 adds new Notes and Microsoft Outlook integration and calendaring improvements designed to simplify scheduling. Also new in Version 3.0 are alert features designed to bolster the effectiveness of team collaboration when a user is off-line.

Also next month, Lotus plans to update its e-learning products with a new virtual classroom capability.

Furthermore, next month's product rollout is expected to include the final version of the company's Lotus Notes/Domino 6, which IBM has been beta-testing with select customers since early this year. The new version is said to include about 1,000 new features, some of which Lotus has talked about throughout the past year.

One new feature, Quick Notes, allows users to quickly create mail, contacts, journal entries and reminders without having to open the respective databases, according to Lotus officials.

In addition, Lotus recently said it plans to include server-side spam-fighting tools in Version 6, a move designed to give IT administrators more control over unwanted e-mail and more tools to filter messages based on content. The new version will also feature tighter integration with Tivoli management tools.

According to one analyst, IBM is the leading vendor in the enterprise collaboration space, with a sizable deployed base of instant messaging, Web conferencing and teamware services.

Despite the buzz generated by the relationship between Microsoft and desktop collaboration software vendor Groove Networks Inc., Microsoft's overall approach to collaboration is disorganized, said Matt Cain, a vice president at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

"If you look at what is happening in Redmond, it seems like Microsoft's strategy is in disarray. Microsoft has tied IM to Exchange 2000, but only half the world is on Exchange 2000, and upgrades to 2000 haven't been rapid," he said.

Cain agreed with IBM's notion of embedding instant messaging and presence services within business applications, and what Meta Group has dubbed "contextual collaboration." However, Cain added that IBM needs to accelerate its efforts to expose collaboration capabilities via Web services to ease the integration burden for enterprises.

"We'd like to see IBM be a leader in exposing collaborative services via Web services rather than the standard old APIs," he said.

Mark Jones and Steve Gillmor contributed to this report.


Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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