Having absorbed feedback from the beta tests of more than 30,000 businesses over the last two years, IBM Aug. 16 formally launched Lotus Notes and Domino 8, the latest versions of the companys business e-mail and collaboration software.
The software, which offers e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging and other tools for knowledge workers, is based on the open-source Eclipse Rich Client Platform. This is a significant departure from previous versions of the software, which were based expressly on IBMs proprietary technology.
"The groundwork for Notes for the next 10 to 15 years is to move beyond the client server to this completely open applications client," said Ed Brill, Lotus Notes strategy executive for IBMs Software Group. "If we didnt move in the direction of openness, you could see an increasingly niche role for a dedicated or proprietary client talking to one server."
Brill said basing Notes and Domino 8 on Eclipse will enable IBM to compete with Microsoft, which has taken great pains in the last few years to bolster its SharePoint and Office collaboration tools.
The stakes are high: Most analysts peg collaboration software as a multibillion-dollar market that has yet to take off despite the snowballing popularity of so-called Web 2.0 offerings such as blogs, wikis and enterprise mashups.
To that end, Lotus Notes 8 integrates IM and telephony presence awareness, office tools to create and edit documents, presentations and spreadsheets, along with custom applications, such as blogs, help desk, CRM (customer relationship management) and Salesforce.com software.
Because Lotus Notes 8 is also based on Lotus Expeditor 6.1.1, it allows the more adventurous, Web 2.0-savvy businesses to combine some of these applications with mashups. For example, programmers could link a Domino-based sales application with a human resources system running on another platform through one screen.
Burton Group analyst Karen Hobert said these features are critical in differentiating Notes 8 from previous versions.
"Much of the user experience enhancements are due to the Eclipse-based client that supports plug-in and composite application interfaces," Hobert said. "This allows the creation of in-context user interfaces with external applications and offers mix-and-match integration of the Notes client with other IBM Lotus products such as Sametime and Lotus Connections."
The new software renders access to mashups and other applications in the inbox via a new sidebar. With the sidebar, users can call up the applications they want with a single mouse click. Notes 8 also boasts a new search tool that lets users search Web and hard drive files, not just e-mail and contacts searches.
Also, a new Conversation feature lets users view e-mail grouped together in related threads or through the traditional way of one message at a time. How about recall? A new Message Recall feature lets users recall an e-mail message after it has been sent by mistake.
A new "activities" option, licensed as part of the Lotus Connections social networking software, allows workers to share documents, e-mail, IM and other items related to a project into one unit.
Embodying the spirit of the Eclipse platform it is based on, Lotus Notes 8 features productivity tools that let users create versions of spreadsheets, word processing documents and presentations that support ODF (Open Document Format).
This allows users to import and export file formats used by Microsoft Office and Open Office file formats and save them either in the original format or ODF.
Lotus Notes, priced at $144 per user for a year of maintenance and technical support, or $4000 per processor per server, supports Linux and Windows for clients and Windows, Linux, Sun Solaris, AIX and IBM System i for servers.
Hobert said Notes and Domino 8 differ from Microsofts collaboration tools because there is yet no rich client for Microsoft SharePoint and the Microsoft Office products.
"The fundamentals that the Notes rich client have offered in the past still differentiate Notes from Microsoft solutions, most specifically that users can take content and applications off-line, it provides fine grained security controls both locally and on the server, and offers an application model for building collaborative applications," Hobert said.
"One could make the argument for a SharePoint rich client that could take SharePoint content and sites offline for local use in a SharePoint-like environment, which the Microsoft Office-based offline strategy does not offer."