LoTuS iN full blOOm

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Once again Walt Disney World is the centre of all things yellow as thousands of Lotus devotees descend on the home of the world’s favourite mouse to see what the collaboration software company has in store for the future.

WITH an eye on how the workforce is getting younger and more globalised, IBM used its annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida to announce the roadmap for its broad range of Lotus collaboration software products and services.

“The workforce is becoming more global and dynamic and the next generation will adopt a style of collaboration that is community-centric,” said IBM Lotus Software general manager Michael Rhodin.

He pointed out the rise of social networking sites, where things are much more out in the open, as an indicator of how the future generation will be accustomed to working.

“We need to unlock the knowledge of people. The first generation of Knowledge Management failed because companies tried to control it instead of letting it grow on its own by setting it free.”

Social software and collaboration tools allow people to optimise themselves, which in turn allows communities to form and knowledge to be shared freely, Rhodin said.

Notes-worthy news

It came as no surprise then that collaboration was the overwhelming theme of the event as well as at the core of most of the new products announced.

First up in a long list of announcements was that the next maintenance release of Lotus Notes and Domino will ship this month and will feature an array of updates that will help users take advantage of the full power of the Web.

For Notes, these updates include a new Web 2.0 feature called My Widgets that allows users to execute actions such as retrieving real-time flight information by clicking on a flight number in an e-mail.

This is made possible through a technology called Live Text, that can identify patterns and phrases and then link them to an appropriate widget.

Users will also be able to drag and drop various kinds of widgets from the Google Gadgets catalogue, content feeds or their own custom programs onto the new widgets panel in the Lotus Notes sidebar.

The Lotus Notes 8.0.1 release will also include Lotus Notes Traveler, which will be able to push e-mail – including attachments, to-do lists, and calendars – to Windows Mobile devices.

Although support will initially be limited to Windows Mobile devices, the architecture can easily be extended to support other smartphone platforms such as Symbian, IBM said.

Another announcement on the Notes front is the plan for IBM and SAP to deliver their first joint software product, codenamed Atlantic, which will integrate Lotus Notes with SAP Business Suite.

The first SAP plug-in under this initiative will support SAP workflows, reporting and analytics and the use of roles from within the Notes client.

Such a link, for example, could be used to process and review travel budget requests and expenses, SAP chief technology officer Vishal Sikka said during his guest appearance at the Lotusphere opening keynote.

The initial release of Atlantic will ship in the fourth quarter and be sold by both companies.

Taking its support for composite applications further, IBM also announced a new commercial mashup maker, Lotus Mashups, a browser-based tool that allows users to easily create mashups without any need for programming.

According to IBM chief architect for Lotus Notes Jeff Eisen, the company plans to have a catalogue supply of widgets to get the eco-system started. Users can then create an environment based on widgets and also put the widgets on a server that others can build on.

Domino falls into place

On the server side, Domino 8.0.1 will offer a database compression feature that IBM said reduces storage requirements by 35%.

In addition, the Domino Web Access (DWA) web mail interface has also been upgraded to look like the interface of Notes 8.0. There will also be an alternative “lite” version to ensure faster access via low bandwidth connections.

IBM also introduced a further slim-lined version of DWA with mail, calendar and contacts functionality for the iPhone.

Looking further forward, IBM announced that the next major version for Notes and Domino will be released later this year. Version 8.5 will have more substantial improvements, especially on the Domino server end of things.

For example, Domino Designer 8.5 will offer Web 2.0-style capabilities such as the ability to create mashups of Notes documents and take advantage of Ajax, style sheets, RSS and Atom feeds.

Domino 8.5 will also offer improved identity management and authentication features and a new data storage system for managing e-mail attachments. IBM said the software will be capable of working with alternative directories and will support Ubuntu and Mac 10.5 operating systems.

To beef up security, IBM took the wraps off a new e-mail security application, called IBM Lotus Protector for Mail Security, which is an antivirus and antispam tool based on the Proventia Network Mail Security System.

A new Symphony

Next up in the rapid-fire series of announcements is that the fourth beta version of IBM’s free desktop productivity suite, Symphony, is ready for download at www.ibm. com/software/lotus/symphony.

Among its new features include support for composite applications that give documents the ability to access and manage business applications such as issuing an invoice directly from a spreadsheet.

Additionally users can download various plug-ins such as the WebSphere Translation Server, which provides real-time translation of content created in Symphony, as well as Sametime Unyte Meeting and Sametime Unyte Share collaboration tools.

IBM also said its Open Collaboration Client Solution (OCCS) will come in a version compatible with the Ubuntu operating system.

The OCCS comprises Lotus Notes; the Lotus Sametime messaging platform; Lotus Symphony; WebSphere Portal; the Lotus Connections social networking software; Lotus Quickr document management and collaboration software for teams; and Lotus Expeditor, an Eclipse-based rich client platform development tool.