The message remains the same

The message remains the same

Microsoft and Lotus are still battling for your desktop real estate.

By Paul Montgomery

With all of the talk of enterprise portals and Web-based this and that, you might have thought that the concept of groupware had gone by the wayside. Far from it.

In fact, the kings of the groupware industry - Lotus with its Notes and Domino system, and Microsoft with its combination of Exchange and Outlook - are preparing new versions with some significant feature additions.

Microsoft is still working on the next version of Exchange, which it has codenamed Titanium. Lotus Domino 6, previously known as Rnext, was scheduled for release in the third quarter of 2002, which probably means it is already out as you read this. The public needling between the two companies is still fierce, with the latest salvoes centring around an IDC report which Microsoft crowed about as it showed Exchange had overtaken Lotus for the first time in the key "seats" metric.

"We've certainly seen some competitive migrations, but that's probably not the whole story," said Ross Dembecki of Microsoft. "18 months ago, IBM fully absorbed Lotus, and at that point, at least in Australia, we saw a fracturing in its channel strategy."

For its part, Lotus said it had ceased using seats as a meaningful indicator, preferring to point to its number one position in revenue from the sector. Duncan Hewett, regional manager for Lotus Software in Australia/NZ, said the market had consolidated around Lotus and Microsoft, which now collectively accounted for 90 per cent of the groupware installed base.

"We've seen some really good growth out of our channel," said Mr Hewett. In fact, Lotus prides itself on its partner list, to which document management specialist 80/20 Software was added earlier this year - this was a major coup for Lotus, as 80/20 was previously an Exchange-only ISV.

"We still see a lot of scope for partners to take our product and build their own technologies around it. We're not at all jeopardising their market space in doing that," said Sean Guillemot, a Sydney-based IT specialist for Lotus.

Microsoft has earned a lot of business recently by partnering with Brisbane-based ISP WebCentral, whereby the latter offers Exchange as a hosted application for a flat rate of $20 per user per month. Mr Hewett said Lotus had also invested heavily in application service provider (ASP) activities, but the business model "hasn't come together" as much as had been hoped.

"Has a bank gone and taken its collaboration system and taken it to an ASP? No," he said.


Getting away from the bickering, the real news on the next generation of groupware is that the apps themselves aren't going to change that much. Mr Dembecki said that Titanium would not be revolutionary, and would be built mostly on the architecture of Exchange 2000. The following release in 2005, codenamed Kodiak, would be based on a unified storage architecture, he said.

"We've been looking at what value we can give to the information worker, and IT professionals," said Mr Dembecki. "Based on our feedback from knowledge workers, people are overwhelmed with email, and they want tools to help them be more productive - so we have tried to make our clients more like Outlook. They say they are increasingly becoming more mobile, so give us better mobility for laptops and mobile devices."

Other requests from users included that Microsoft "clarify its collaboration vision," help with integrating anti-virus tools, enable faster backup, and make Exchange easier to deploy in clustering environments, according to Mr Dembecki.

He said that the major enhancements to the Exchange platform in Titanium would be grouped in two areas: an improved client "experience," and improved mobile access. Titanium will be the first time that a release of Exchange coincided with a release of the Outlook mail client, allowing the two products to be aligned more closely. This collaboration had been overseen directly by Bill Gates, as part of his role of looking at "scenarios" from the customer's point of view, said Mr Dembecki.

Arguably the most visible additions to the next generation of groupware clients will be integrated support for mobile workers. Both Microsoft and Lotus had developed standalone helper applications to facilitate easier mobile access - Mobile Information Server and Domino Everyplace respectively - but these will be packaged with their core groupware applications in their next incarnations.

"Mobile Information Server acts as a server-based middleware between devices and Exchange Server. It delivers the full spectrum of experiences, from phones and PDAs through to laptops," said Mr Dembecki. "MIS will be incorporated into Exchange, and we will discontinue it as a separate product. We think mobility is not just about PDAs and phones, it is mobile people."


Details of the new Lotus Notes and Domino version 6 are more settled, given the imminent release date. The usual overhaul of the interface includes a new iNotes Web Access client for on- and off-line use, in addition to the embedded Domino Everyplace support. On the administration side, there is an added emphasis on role-based access, allowing individuals to log into the system in different roles as, say, an employee and as a user.

"Organisations are at different points of use," said Mr Hewett. "If you take the concept of a virtual coffee room across an organisation, many are still at the first step of getting people to talk to each other."

Users might be wondering why they have to buy not only Notes and Domino, but also the Sametime collaboration application and the Domino.doc document management add-on (amongst others) to experience the full benefits of the Lotus environment for a workgroup, but Mr Hewett explained that collaboration represented "the difference between asynchronous and synchronous" communication.

"There are inappropriate uses of email. Some people will email and then sit there and wait for a reply. This is not what email was designed to do," he said.

Integration of Notes and Domino with back-end applications is another big feature of version 6. The Enterprise Integrator module within Domino will boast a new tool called Advanced Realtime Data Access, which allows Domino administrators to turn their data stores into relational databases, and to manage enterprise data as a "virtual document" from within Domino as if it was housed in Domino stores.

"Our users want a single view, and they want to run discovery across a multitude of data sources," said Mr Hewett. "The challenge for us is how we make it easier and faster, and we have built in a metadata layer to make it faster."

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