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IBM readies Notes, Domino updates

DB2 database connections and Web applications tools top list for next version.

IBM plans to add connections to its DB2 database software and a myriad of time-saving tools to the next update of its Lotus Notes and Domino e-mail software for businesses.

Big Blue recently shipped a second release, version 7, of Lotus Notes/Domino and plans to have the final release ready in the first half of next year. The upgrade introduces a new policy of updating all major components of the Notes and Domino family--server software, development tools and the client--and of reducing integration hassles for IT administrators.

Notes' origin dates back to the 1980s. The product was one of the first so-called groupware software packages on the market to combine e-mail, group discussions and document sharing.

IBM, which acquired Lotus Development in 1995, later added an application server called Domino to the product that let users publish Notes documents to the Web. The combined product includes Notes client software and the Domino server application. Both are being upgraded to the 7.0 release level.

Version 7 will include significant changes in all three areas, said Ed Brill, senior manager of messaging and collaboration for IBM's Lotus group. On the server side, IBM has focused on improvements that will enable a single Domino server to handle 50 percent more users than the current version 6.5 does.

"We already have deployments with 10,000 users on a single server, and we think there's room to improve from there," Brill said.

Extensive plumbing work on the server product will also finally enable Notes/Domino applications to exchange data with systems based on IBM's DB2 database software, a capability customers have increasingly demanded as Notes has become more of an all-purpose container for interacting with corporate data.

"It's something customers have been asking for for a while, and it's been a four-year engineering effort to make it happen," Brill said.

For Notes/Domino developers, version 7 will be highlighted by new tools that automatically convert Notes applications into XML-based Web services. The capability could help rebuff efforts by Microsoft and others to recruit Notes developers alienated by Lotus' increasing centralization on the Java 2 Enterprise Edition language.

On the client side, the new Notes will sport a number of features intended to simplify common office tasks, said Heidi Votaw, senior product manager for the messaging and wireless group at Lotus. Those include the ability to reserve corporate meeting rooms directly from Notes' calendar window, the ability to easily view e-mail messages by discussion thread and enhanced support for multitasking. "It allows people to be more productive while stuff is happening in the background," Votaw said.

IBM's Notes and Domino mainly compete with Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client and Exchange server software. The two companies dominate the market, with roughly equal share. Other challengers include Oracle's Collaboration Suite and Novell's Evolution, an open-source e-mail and calendaring product.

IBM has tried to distinguish its software by peppering its applications with instant-messaging functions.

Lotus' IM push was recently challenged by Microsoft's agreement with Yahoo and America Online to promote IM interoperability, but Brill said IBM won't be left behind. Lotus has already introduced tools for building bridges between Notes/Domino and other corporate IM systems based on Session Initiation Protocol, Brill said, and support for public IM services will be the next step.

"We talked with customers about their priorities, and the focus initially was on using IM to connect with customers and partners," he said. "We're hearing more interest now about connecting with public IM systems, and we're working on that."