The IBM-owned company held its annual Lotusphere users' conference in the US last week, where it unveiled new versions of Lotus Notes and an upgrade to its Domino mail server.
Lotus Notes and Domino version 6.5.1 includes an embedded instant messaging capability, an optional portal interface, and a connector to allow Domino to support Microsoft Outlook e-mail clients.
Larry Bowden, IBM's vice-president of portal solutions and Lotus products, used Lotusphere to set out an extensive roadmap for upgrades.
Version 6.5.1 will be available later this quarter, and Bowden said version 7 would appear between the end of 2004 and early 2005. He promised version 8 by the end of 2005.
Users can now find greater development and integration support for their Notes systems on IBM's Websphere portal, but the launch of Workplace 2 emphasised the importance Lotus attached to integration and development.
Workplace 2 will let Notes users access all their web-based applications via a single Notes interface and work in a collaborative way. For example, there will be support for linking Notes to SAP's enterprise resource planning applications.
Bowden said, "The demand for integrated, collaborative software is driving the convergence of several markets, including portal and content management."
The J2EE-based Workplace is part of IBM's challenge to Microsoft's .net web services strategy and there will be stronger integration between Notes and Workplace in the upgrades mapped out by Bowden.
Mike Davis, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said, "If supporting Lotus Notes means that IBM is keeping its big customers happy, including those that use its mainframes, then its commitment is perhaps a price worth paying."
Davis said of the upgrades, "There is no requirement for Lotus users to jump - if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The entry-level US prices of the new versions of Notes and Domino are £53 per user and £673 per processor respectively.