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Giants take software rivalry to new market

Microsoft and Lotus Development, the two giants in the groupware market, enter into a new battle for supremacy in the knowledge management software market.

Microsoft and Lotus Development, the two giants in the groupware market, have entered into a new battle for supremacy in the knowledge management software market.

At a Compaq Computer conference in Houston, Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates yesterday told attendees that work is underway to bring knowledge management enhancements to the next version of Exchange. The firm plans to enter beta testing for its messaging and collaboration software product, code-named Platinum, by this summer.

Gates' declaration comes one week after Lotus' shipment of Notes and Domino R5, which features a number of the IBM subsidiary's first knowledge management products that will be integrated into its collaboration package.

Knowledge management software is used to provide a system for companies to transform information from various sources--the Web, back-office applications, or databases--into client applications for making business decisions.

According to Bart Wojciehowski, group product manager on Microsoft's knowledge management team, the first enhancements to Exchange will deal with real-time collaboration. The software giant will also focus on unified messaging services with access through wireless devices.

"The underlying vision of Microsoft's strategy is to have a single information nexus for the user, allowing him or her to get at data from any device, whether it's voice mail, email, or a collaborative application, like Exchange," according to Wojciehowski.

"All of this has to do with collaborating and communicating with people not in the same time zone or place," he said.

According to a recent report by the Gartner Group, one-third of Fortune 1000 companies are including knowledge management initiatives in their 1999 technology buying plans.

Lotus has been trumpeting the knowledge management movement for about two years now, culminating in last month's release of its new groupware package Notes/Domino R5.

Over the past 8 to 10 months, Microsoft has ratcheted up its knowledge management strategy, bringing together teams and workgroups under its knowledge management umbrella, which falls under the Business Product Group, led by senior vice president Bob Muglia.

Although Lotus began publicly touting its knowledge management strategy over the past two years, David Marshak, an analyst with the Patricia Seybold Group, said Notes has been a knowledge management product for ten years.

"Lotus customers have been using Notes for knowledge management for a longtime now. Microsoft is considerably behind in this area," Marshak said.

"When Lotus talks about knowledge management they describe it as an application, like locating expertise," he said. "Microsoft talks about it in technical terms, not in the context of applications. Microsoft still has long way to go there, too."

For example, the upcoming Windows 2000 and the "Platinum" version of Exchange have a lot of strong knowledge management enhancements, like searching capabilities and XML, said Marshak.

"On the technical side Microsoft will be very competitive, but on the contextual level they still have a ways to go," he added.