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Lotus Widens Workplace

BOSTON -- IBM Lotus today added four software tools to its tightly integrated Workplace platform to improve communication and collaboration between corporate users.

They are: messaging, including e-mail, IM and calendar functions; team collaboration, so worker can call online meetings and exchange data; learning, for training; and Web content management, so workers can post information on internal or external sites.

The applications are for large corporate customers in several industries. Lotus also has customized versions, developed with the help of partners such as Retek and KPMG, for retail chains and financial services companies and it is working on others.

"We want to make more people, more productive in more ways than one," Dr. Ambuj Goyal said at an event attended by customers and partners.

Next year, Lotus will add new tools, including one that extends Workplace to mobile devices. A more detailed preview will come at Lotus' annual conference in January.

Workplace is built on programming standards such as J2EE, LDAP, SQL and Web Services. This foundation allows customers to choose one or all of the components without integration hassles.

"We were there in the past and learned our lessons," Goyal said about proprietary coding and its limiting effect.

Larry Bowden, vice president of Workplace products, said some companies spend upwards of 40 percent of their IT budgets integrating systems from different vendors. He called this the "Junkyard Wars" approach after the popular TV show that challenges mechanics to make working vehicles out of scrap parts.

Although Goyal and other IBM/Lotus executives didn't mention Microsoft by name, Workplace will vie with some Office and .NET offerings. Among those supporting .NET is Groove Networks, a maker of collaboration technology founded by Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie. Microsoft also invested $51 million in Groove.

Lotus customer testimonials weren't so subtle. Blair Hankins, CTO of Ascendant Technology, said he believed Workplace was "more mature and open" than .NET.

Oracle also has collaboration tools for enterprise customers. And there are standalone Web conferencing and distance learning firms that will compete with Workplace.

Lotus also said existing Notes client and Domino applications server customers (the install base tops 100 million) won't be stranded. Several versions are in development, Bowden said.

"The Domino application server will be around for the next decade," he said.

That said, Lotus is offering incentives to get current users to add some or all of the new applications, such as 20 free licenses. It expects existing Lotus customers to be the first adopters.

The messaging product is $29 per user, while the team collaboration product costs $89 per user. The learning software goes for $35 per user and the Web content management system is available for about $50,000 per CPU.