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April 7, 2005

IBM’s Workplace Express starts to surface

As it strives to keep Lotus relevant in a collaboration world where there are now multiple fronts emerging against Microsoft, IBM has just begin shipping the Express version of its Java and web-based Workplace collaboration offering that offers a subset of the features associated with Notes/Domino.

By CBR Staff Writer

Specifically, Express comes at lower price points, with a 20-seat introductory version available free of charge. It bundles various combinations of portal, email, instant messaging, calendaring, web conferencing, e-learning, document workflow, and web content management functionality, with modules turned on by software keys.

Originally available on Linux and Windows, IBM recently added a version for the iSeries to target small-midsize businesses.

As the junior counterpart to the more established Notes/Domino platform, Workplace certainly faces several uphill challenges. For instance, while Workplace consists of a collection of separate offerings for each of the functions, IBM claims its offering is more integrated than Microsoft Exchange, Outlook, SharePoint, and related products.

Yet until recently, Workplace was largely sold as separate offerings that, ironically, are shipped together but only turned on with software keys. Going forward, IBM is striving to emphasize the integrated nature of Workplace, but is walking a fine line so that it does not turn off prospects that might only be interested in web document workflow sharing.

Another hurdle is that the collaboration market is a lot more complicated than it used to be.

Whereas traditionally it was primarily a battle of Exchange versus Notes/Domino, featuring tightly coupled products with highly proprietary data structures, the emergence of Java, Linux, and open source has changed the rules. For instance, Novell’s Hula, announced last winter at LinuxWorld, will expand the company’s open source Netmail offering to include lightweight calendaring, messaging, and contact management. And there are offerings such as OPEN-XCHANGE available on the Linux platform providing similar functionality.

Consequently, when IBM released Lotus Workplace services last year, its main claim to fame was the fact that it was the first major vendor collaboration platform based on next-generation technology (Hula wasn’t announced until several months later).

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The release of Workplace Services Express provides a more natural SMB niche for IBM’s junior collaboration offering, as it will not match the functionality of the established Notes/Domino platform for some time. And it already has started to draw partners such as iExchange, an entry level CRM project aimed primarily at SMB or department levels of larger enterprises.

On the horizon, IBM plans to web service enable the suite, a development that could conceivably act at odds to deconstruct an offering that IBM is pitching as being wholly integrated. But it offers interesting possibilities of extending collaborative services selectively outside the firewall as web services.

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