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IBM's Lotus targets e-mail holdouts

New additions to company's Workplace line of business software include products that are aimed at workers who don't use PCs much on the job.

Factory workers and flight attendants are among those whom IBM hopes to outfit with the latest additions to its Workplace software line.

As expected, the computing giant unveiled several new releases Wednesday from its Lotus software division. The new offerings in Lotus' Workplace line of collaboration products include several tools aimed at workers who spend little or none of their workday in front of a PC and thus haven't been issued a corporate e-mail account.

Such personnel would benefit from having an e-mail account they could access from home or a guest PC, said Ken Bisconti, vice president of Workplace products for Lotus. And Lotus aims to make it easy for IT administrators to give them one with Workplace Messaging 1.1, e-mail server software that includes simplified tools for assigning e-mail accounts and an expanded interface for accessing e-mail through a Web browser.

"What we found as we talked to companies is that most of them had a significant population of workers who didn't have e-mail," mainly because of the complexity and expense of setting up an e-mail client such as Lotus Notes or Microsoft's Outlook, Bisconti said. "Even if we gave it away for free, Lotus Notes wouldn't be right for that population, because it's just too complicated."

With Web access becoming more common in the home and elsewhere, "it's getting more feasible to serve that end-user population," Bisconti said.

Light-duty PC users also get a break with Workplace Team Collaboration 1.1, Lotus' collection of tools for managing corporate instant messaging, Web conferencing and access to shared documents. The document management component now includes basic sets of browser-based tools for creating text documents and spreadsheets, allowing workers who don't have productivity software such as Microsoft Office to still handle basic business tasks.

"Our intention is not to try to take on Office," Bisconti said. "We're not saying these are great productivity solutions. They're basic tools that let a different group of workers participate in business processes."

The new Lotus offerings are rounded out by Workplace Collaborative Learning 1.1, a set of tools for delivering and managing online training materials, and Workplace Web Content Management 1.1, a collection of tools for publishing and managing content that's presented on corporate portals and external Web sites.

All the new products are based on Sun Microsystems' Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) software, a foundation that allows more flexibility and lets Lotus tap into related IBM developments in on-demand computing. "I think there's a lot we can do in this area with grid computing, self-healing systems--things like that," Bisconti said.

The Workplace 1.1 products will be available for download later this year. Per-user pricing is $29 for Workplace Messaging, $89 for Team Collaboration and $35 for Collaborative Learning. Web Content Management will sell for $49,999 for each CPU the software runs on.