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Lotus Positions on the iPhone

Lotus Notes users can now access their e-mail and calendar over the iPhone with Lotus iNotes ultralite, a stripped down version of the application released today by IBM (NYSE: IBM).

Available free to users with a Lotus Notes software license, the smaller version can be accessed through the Safari browser, which is standard on Apple's iPhone (NASDAQ: AAPL).

"When you check on your e-mail, you'll see everything there that's current -- e-mail, calendar and anything else that's part of the Notes client," Kevin Cavanaugh, IBM's vice president for messaging and collaboration, told InternetNews.com.

However, despite the hook in to the iPhone, one of the hottest gadgets on the market, Chris Hazelton, research director, Mobile and Wireless, at analyst firm 451 Group, was not impressed.

"While people may want to access their e-mail on their iPhones, they need to make sure their company has the latest version of Domino Server," he told InternetNews.com. "Larger companies, which use Notes, may not have been aggressive in their IT reinvestments, and may use a version of Notes for several years," he added.

Not so, Cavanaugh said. "Our customer base does a very good job of keeping up with current releases, so the adoption of Notes 8 and its maintenance releases are running faster than our upgrades to Notes 7," he explained.

Lotus Notes 8.0.2 is the latest maintenance release of version 8, which was shipped just over a year ago -- and upgrading is "very simple, you don't have to rebuild your infrastructure or buy new 64-bit hardware or upgrade your directory infrastructure unlike our competitors," Cavanaugh said.

"Once you upgrade your Domino server, it treats the iPhone like another browser-based terminal and you just point your iPhone to it," he added.

Hazelton's other objection is that the iPhone does not let applications run in the background so users will not be able to receive alerts. That makes the iPhone something "for the casual Notes user, not for someone in sales or who needs to be notified when they receive their e-mail," he added.

Cavanaugh brushed aside that problem. "There are all sorts of engineering ways to solve that problem but, in practical terms, I don't see that as a huge usability thing."

IBM has focused on making iPhone access to Lotus Notes secure. "Unlike the BlackBerry, where everything's encrypted on your device, the bad guy can get yr iPhone and find out things stored on it, so we focused on security," Cavanaugh said. "With iNotes, when you close your browser, everything's really gone and bad guys can't find out things from your cache."

Users who want extra security when accessing Notes over the iPhone can connect over IBM's Lotus Mobile Connect virtual private network (VPN), the latest version of which was unveiled in June.

Tony Byrne, founder of analyst firm CMS Watch, said Lotus Notes needs to do something to keep its share of the enterprise e-mail market and stem a long-term decline. That's because corporations using Notes aren't ready to move to Microsoft Exchange because such a move is too complicated, he said. "They have to deal with Exchange and Outlook and user retraining and moving the archives, then Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) will want them to migrate to Active Directory."

Cavanaugh disputes Byrne's view of Notes' weakness. "We have a 40 percent market share, and we're incredibly strong in Europe and Asia, in Japan in particular," he said, adding that the Lotus business grew "over 20 percent in Q2, year over year and 17 percent in Q1."

And now, it's got a Lotus position on the iPhone.