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Is That a Lotus in Your Pocket?

Executives can pocket load Lotus Notes software, data and personal files onto a USB-compatible device such as a flash drive or iPod using features of the 7.0.2 release of IBM's Lotus Notes and Domino, just released.

The solution will also allow users to create blogs from within their Lotus applications and to create RSS feeds  for the content they create.

IBM  is thus adopting what it sees as some of the most productive elements of the consumer Web for its enterprise customers.

By embracing these trends, say analysts, Big Blue is also forestalling the inevitable encroachment by consumer-oriented vendors into the enterprise space.

IBM is certainly acknowledging the needs of an increasingly mobile workforce within its customer base with the introduction of portability into Notes.

The solution will allow users to load their Lotus client, personal identification information, security credentials, bookmarks and other customized elements onto a USB-compatible device, and launch it on any host machine running the Windows operating system.

Moreover, the host machine will run the instance of Notes contained on the flash drive or iPod, thus avoiding version compatibility issues and allowing users to launch the application even if Notes is not installed on the host machine.

Notes files are removed from the machine when the device is unplugged from the USB port, which addresses an important security issue associated with portability.

The new release also provides a blog template and allows users to syndicate their content through RSS, giving them an alternative to e-mail for communicating with colleagues.

Since people use RSS to subscribe to topics or experts of interest to them, these features can be an effective way for executives to rise above the din of ordinary corporate communications systems.

"It's a great way to focus what had been e-mail splatter and bring that into the context of business collaboration," noted Ed Brill, business unit executive, worldwide Lotus Notes and Domino sales.

IBM also believes these features will help customers innovate more easily through more user-friendly and cross-platform collaboration.

"Customers are asking for the ability to leverage Web 2.0 technology," Brill told internetnews.com.

"Whether blogs or wikis or RSS, the question was how to deliver that in an enterprise context," he said.

Gartner analyst Matt Cain noted that IBM is getting the jump on inevitable competition from consumer-oriented companies.

"There's no doubt that companies like Google , Microsoft  -- via MSN -- Yahoo  and AOL  will begin to offer commercial-grade collaborative services to enterprises," he told internetnews.com.

Simon Forge, who follows collaboration and mobile technology for Ptak, Noel & Associates, said IBM is using Web 2.0-inspired solutions as a means of extending its client base outside the enterprise.

It may also be a way for IBM to try a new tack against Microsoft .

Like France and Germany over Verdun, IBM (with Lotus Notes) and Microsoft (with Exchange) have battled over the same terrain for years.

Forge thinks that by making a connection with the iPod, the ultimate in consumer gadgets, IBM may be entirely rewriting the rules of the game.

IBM could conceivably win converts to Lotus e-mail among consumers through a partnership with an ISP running Lotus Domino, he said.

"This is one of the most interesting developments we've seen over the last ten years," said Forge.

Cain agreed that enterprise vendors would be wise to consider pushing into the consumer market, especially since collaboration is being driven on the consumer side.

"Expanding what was previously an enterprise-oriented product into the consumer realm is absolutely one of the requirements for long-term success in the market," Cain said.