LotusLive collaboration suite, the latest incarnation of IBM's cloud services, combines a full Lotus Notes mail, calendaring and Instant Messaging services with a still-maturing collaboration tool set and social networking platform.
The LotusLive collaboration suite is basically a rebranding of the former LotusLive Notes e-mail service and LotusLive Engage collaboration platform into a more cohesive, unified cloud-based offering with a few new tools added to boot. Like its forebears, the LotusLive Collaboration suite delivers e-mail, calendaring, contact management and instant messaging, along with Web conferencing, file sharing and social networking services, albeit this time at a significantly reduced price point.
The full LotusLive collaboration suite is available starting at $10 per user per month, assuming a one-year term of service agreement. Customers needing less of the collaboration tools may still purchase the LotusLive Notes suite for e-mail, shared calendaring, enterprise IM and contact management, at a $5 per user per month price point.
During my tests, I concentrated primarily on the collaboration tools (formerly Engage) and found the LotusLive suite of services worked great in both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Internet Explorer 9, as well as in Firefox 3.6, provided third-party cookies are accepted by the browser. Google Chrome for Windows, on the other hand, is not supported for either meetings or for Notes mail. I did find I could access a few tools via Chrome, such as the Ultralight interface for mail or calendar.
When used from a Mac running Snow Leopard, I found I was able to access both meetings and mail when using Safari 5. Likewise, I tried using LotusLive from an Apple iOS 4 device (an iPhone 3GS), finding that the native browser could only access the UltraLight e-mail and calendar interface. I was able to access collaborative meetings-with some limitations-provided I also installed the LotusLive Mobile Meetings app, which is a free download from Apple's App Store.
Logging into LotusLive presented me right away with the user dashboard, giving me quick links to my meetings, mail, contacts, communities, activities, files, forms, charts, Instant Messaging, LotusLive Labs, and online support.
Each LotusLive user gets a meeting room, and I could start my conference simply by clicking Host Meeting. There's also a URL right there to invite non-LotusLive users to the meeting, or I could also join other LotusLive users' meetings by entering a different Meeting ID in the log-in box. Once in a meeting, I could issue further invitations via e-mail, create a to-do list assigned to another participant (which will show up in the Activities dialog on the dashboard), and upload files to share during the presentation.
The presenter can publish a document (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDFs) to share with all meeting attendees, and the files may be uploaded to the meeting either from the PC or the files stored in LotusLive Files.
The presenter gets additional markup tools at their disposal for use with published documents, allowing the presenter to create on-screen pointers to call out shared content, to highlight text or to erase all markup from the session. However, Apple iOS users attending via the LotusLive Mobile Meetings app will not be able to view the markup at all.
The presenter may share their desktop (either the entire screen or single applications) or video from a webcam attached to their PC, but I found that Windows users (for both Windows XP and Windows 7) needed to first install IBM's Unyte Conferencing Plug-in to either share or view the video. On the other hand, I did not need to install anything new to view the video from my MacBook Pro, and I only needed to accept a Java applet to share video from the Mac.
However, audio conferencing is not included as part of the LotusLive solution at this time, so the audio conferencing portion of the meeting needs to be provided and scheduled outside the LotusLive tools. I found this shortcoming particularly glaring, as webcam video without synchronized audio seems particularly useless. There is an option to plug into Skype for audio, but it seems unreasonable to require participants, particularly those external to the company, to install and use Skype for the audio element.
Indeed, LotusLive doesn't deliver the best collaborative experience I've used, as only one person controls the markup tools at one time, requiring the current presenter to pass control before another attendee may annotate the shared information. Nor could I find a way to save meeting notes and annotations from the primary interface, only through the Collaborative Recorded Meetings application available through the LotusLive Labs tab.
The participant list located in the lower right corner shows all people connected to the conference, with special icons delineating moderators from participants. The same pane also highlights awaiting incoming instant messages and shows the moderator if any participants have raised their hands to ask a question.
I found attendees could conduct chats with individual members of the conference, to subset groups, or to everyone in conference. Any attendee can send files via the chat window as well. The chat interface is pretty rudimentary, however. Chats with different attendees are not threaded, making it difficult to track conversations if a lot of messages are flying around and also, therefore, requiring each individual IM message to be addressed separately.
LotusLive comes with a more robust IM product included as part of the LotusLive Notes offering, but I was pretty disappointed to find that I need to download and install a 135MB LotusLive Chat program to my PC in order to use the service rather than being able to chat right from the Web browser interface. IM also works for those who already have the SameTime client installed.
I did like the new Communities feature within Lotus Live, which allows users to create new communities organized around some tenet, idea or principle, and invite other LotusLive users into the community to share pictures, documents, links or other information.
LotusLive now also offers a free integration with Tungle (http://www.tungle.me) to provide online scheduling, and calendar services works both with those within the company and also extends outside the enterprise.