Big Blue Unveils Next-Gen Notes

Web 2.0 features give Notes 8 a collaborative edge; industry watchers applaud its platform underpinnings

After more than two years of development, testing, and fine-tuning, version 8.0 of Lotus Notes is finally available.

How could IBM Corp. possibly improve a product that—like Notes—already has almost two decades of development under its belt? Collaboration is the key, IBM officialsargue, explaining that Notes 8 is the most collaborative release of that platform to date. The idea, according to Big Blue, is that Notes 8 recasts the familiar e-mail Inbox as an all-in-one workspace that exposes e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging, office productivity, and other applications.

Call it the most collaborative version of IBM’s signature collaboration suite ever released

That’s the way IBM is promoting it. "Our customers are calling Lotus Notes 8 the 'desktop of the future' because it consolidates all their collaboration tools into one screen," said Lotus Software general manager Michael Rhodin, in a prepared statement. "Collaboration is eclipsing e-mail as the killer app we use daily, whether your virtual desktop is on your desk, in your car, your hand, or your ear."

With the bulk (over 90 percent) of customers running on one of the last two Notes/Domino releases, IBM expects significant upgrade activity.

Notwithstanding its collaborative chops, there’s another reason to celebrate the release of Notes 8: it brings that venerable platform ever-closer to IBM’s vision of a single platform capable of provisioning and managing plug-ins and components from various sources, analysts say.

"IBM needed to modernize its communications and collaboration platform, which has been consistently downgraded for being bloated and closed, requiring highly specialized development practices," says Brad Shimmin, principal analyst for application infrastructures with consultancy Current Analysis. "With this release, IBM has turned the latter of these two issues around by utilizing the Eclipse platform and framework as the programming model, giving enterprise developers the ability to build plug-ins and other client components able to run in both a Notes client and across a wide array of desktop, laptop and mobile devices."

All the same, Shimmin notes, competitors Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Corp. have articulated (and to a degree are executing) similar strategies. "IBM’s singular commitment to open standards … [along with] a very strong share of the messaging market [which Shimmin puts at 30 percent or more], and a software portfolio capable of merging human workflow, collaboration, and productivity requirements, IBM stands poised to turn its … Notes and Domino platform into a truly universal client that can compete with Microsoft’s .NET- and Windows-based solution," he argues.

A Web 2.0-Ready Workspace

Notes 8 gives IBM a Web 2.0-ready workspace that can compete with similar offerings from Microsoft and Sun.

"[These] vendors are actively pursuing the idea of creating a standards-based client platform that melds traditional communications such as e-mail with composite applications capable of touching line-of-business solutions. The result is a highly collaborative environment tied tightly to human workflow-based business processes," he points out.

In this respect, Shimmin explains, Notes 8 boasts several Web 2.0-like capabilities, including out-of-the-box support for many different mashup scenarios. "[I]n its default configuration, Notes 8 offers a combined chat/IM interface, a Google Maps tool for highlighted e-mail contacts, and a custom-application launcher that can also combine RSS/ATOM feeds," he observes. There’s also an office productivity tip, too: Notes 8 ships with integrated spreadsheet, presentation, and word processing tools.

All the same, he concludes, platform modernization is the biggest and best takeaway of Big Blue’s newest Notes release. "[T]he real benefit for Notes customers stems from IBM’s modernization of the Notes platform, adding support for the highly popular programming model offered by the Eclipse platform and framework," he argues. "This Eclipse foundation, coupled with the company’s managed client solution [Lotus Expeditor] … serves as the programming model for Notes 8, giving enterprise developers the ability to build plug-ins and other client components able to run in both a Notes client and across a wide array of desktop, laptop, and mobile devices."

Finally, Shimmin observes, the IBM’s newest Notes revision should be its most manageable—and scalable—to date. "IBM has also added a number of server-side features, which will let the server technology play a more active role within SOA-based environments. The server is now able to provision and deploy composite applications. And Lotus Domino applications can now make direct calls to external Web services."