Delegates at the annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando this week face important questions about the future direction of the IBM-owned Lotus Notes and Domino e-mail platforms.
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Microsoft Exchange is the world's most popular e-mail server and continues to increase its market share, but Lotus still has a large installed user base. Analyst firm Butler Group estimates that Lotus is run in 59% of companies, compared with 64% of firms that use Microsoft Exchange. Some companies run both systems, said Butler.
But Lotus is not only challenged by MS Exchange; the open source Openexchange e-mail server is also gaining users, particularly in organisations that do not need the level of complexity that Lotus offers.
Butler Group analyst Richard Edwards said corporate collaboration platforms - and e-mail in particular - would be used as a web service in the future.
"Integration with customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and supply chain management systems will be important as the decade rolls on, and so IBM is re-tooling its offerings to meet this demand," he said.
"Few organisations we talk to are developing business solutions around Domino or Exchange per se."
One theme at the Lotusphere conference will be the ongoing development of Notes. IBM has already previewed the next release, which is expected in the first half of 2007.
In a paper on the preview, Erica Rugullies, principal analyst at Forrester Research, said, "IBM will introduce innovations the company hopes will transform Notes into the client of choice for collaborative activities."
In particular, she noted that the company was beginning to deliver activity-centric collaboration capabilities in the Notes software.
For instance, Rugullies said the preview version of the software featured an area of the Notes inbox screen that could list the business activities the user was involved in. By clicking on an activity, the user would get a list of documents, chat transcripts, discussion threads and e-mail messages associated with that activity, as well as the names and presence information of other users involved.
Another major focus at this week's conference will be integration between Notes and IBM's Websphere and Workplace products.
Analyst company Gartner said it believed IBM's ultimate e-mail strategy would be to migrate users away from Notes onto the Workplace platform. Whereas Notes is a complex, monolithic application for collaboration, Workplace is modular, based on Java and an open development environment (Eclipse).
Workplace provides client software, development tools, integration and provisioning components, collaboration and content services, applications and back-end infrastructure.
With the next release of Notes and Domino, Gartner said IBM would merge Workplace functionality into the Notes client, and add Websphere application server, portal server and Workplace collaboration elements to Domino.
"By 2008, Notes will be based on Workplace technology, and Domino will coexist with Websphere and Workplace," Gartner said.
The analyst firm predicted that by 2010 Domino Workplace would supersede Domino and contain runtime components for legacy Domino applications.
Microsoft plans Lotus migration tools
Microsoft is hoping to persuade users of IBM's Lotus Notes products to switch to its Office productivity suite by releasing a range of migration tools.
As part of the first step in the migration process, Microsoft plans to release an application analyser during the coming months.
The analyser will allow firms to see which programs are being used in their business. A data migration tool, which is expected to be released in the second quarter, will allow firms to transfer data from applications within the templates of Lotus Notes.
Microsoft's move is part of the battle between its Exchange e-mail server and IBM's Domino e-mail server. Microsoft is currently testing a new version of Exchange and is planning to launch a new version of its Office suite, which includes the Outlook e-mail client, later this year.
Microsoft believes that persuading Lotus users to adopt Office will also tempt them on to its e-mail server.
However, its migration tools will not be designed to handle any niche applications that Lotus users have built on Domino.