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Lotus launches Web-based software for corporate systems

IBM Corp.'s Lotus software unit yesterday rolled out a quartet of new Web-based products that offer a simpler, lower-cost alternative to the company's flagship Notes and Domino groupware products.

"Every desktop comes with a browser, whether you're getting Linux or you're getting Windows or anything else," said Lotus general manager Ambuj Goyal. With the new Lotus Workplace products, the browser and a remote server are all a worker will need to use Lotus e-mail, instant messaging, team collaboration, or electronic learning.

Lotus unveiled its Workplace concept earlier this year, in an effort to integrate traditional Lotus Notes features with IBM's WebSphere software development platform. WebSphere is designed to create "Web services" software, which can be easily deployed over corporate networks or the Internet. The software is based on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java technology, which has become a worldwide software development standard and is easy to integrate with other applications.

Web services software is well suited for easy, low-cost deployment by small businesses, or by large firms with offices scattered around the world. Such firms often resist the large investment needed to set up a full-fledged Lotus Notes system, which requires a complex Lotus Notes client program on each worker's computer, along with one or more costly Domino servers to run the network. Instead, companies often use an assortment of inexpensive but incompatible messaging and groupware programs from different vendors.

But a Lotus Workplace user can pick and choose which features to provide to workers. These are hosted on a remote server, and employees simply download them into standard Web browsers. Each of the programs are designed to work seamlessly together, said Lotus vice president Larry Bowden. "Instead of dealing with a dozen different stand-alone applications that don't work together and need separate sign-ons," said Bowden, "Lotus Workplace products provide customers with a consolidated view."

Genelle Hung, market analyst at the Radicati Group in Palo Alto, Calif., said Lotus Workplace would make sense for many businesses. "This is a pretty innovative way of looking at messaging and collaboration," Hung said. "This is really the right approach."

Goyal said the move toward Java-based Web services reflected IBM's belief that software buyers are less willing to lock themselves into large-scale purchases of software from a single vendor. A 20-year IBM veteran, Goyal said that the company "had a near-death experience" in the early 1990s because of its inflexibility, and has no intention of repeating that mistake.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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