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'Our strategy is single server, single administrative'

E-mail is no longer just a communication tool—it is increasingly being used for business processes. Collaboration and messaging tools are increasingly gaining significance in the corporate world. Edward Brill, Director, Core Infrastructure, Marketing Messaging & Collaboration Products, Lotus Development tells Network Magazine how Lotus is adapting its products to address market requirements. He gives a sneak peek at the upcoming release of Lotus Notes and Domino

"Our aim is to move e-mail from being task-centric to being more process-centric"

What are the key trends you have observed in the area of Messaging?
Earlier e-mail used to be the domain of those who were running an e-business, but now it is used by everyone involved in business. Around 18-24 months ago we noticed that both commercial and government organisations were using e-mail, not just for communication, but also for operations. E-mail is now used for things like process management, for seeking advice or taking initiatives on new products, company strategies, and so on. This means messaging needs to be up and running 24 hours a day, and needs to be accessible from any device.

We also noticed that messaging is used by two kinds of users knowledge workers, those who run the business and make decisions, and those whose work is operational in nature.

The other trend that we notice is that the industry is becoming highly conscious about cost as well as value driving Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) down is as important as deriving value from investments.

Having a messaging system that does much more than e-mail will help businesses derive a whole lot of value.

We have also noticed that synchronous or real-time messaging (Instant Messaging) is becoming as important as asynchronous messaging (e-mail).

How is Lotus adapting its products to address market requirements?
We have adapted our products in line with these trends by providing technology for both types of users. We announced our strategy to segment client access to the Domino Collaboration Server into three brands: Notes, iNotes and Mobile Notes.

The decision maker will continue to use the Notes client. We have observed that productivity and knowledge workers are trying to standardise on a browser, so iNotes was designed to provide the best capabilities to a browser user. Features that were previously available only in Notes are now available in a browser model.

Here's how it works: the Integration Manager allows the user to download a Notes application from the Domino server and work locally in offline mode. This saves on bandwidth. The browser gets an online/offline button to enable the user to work in connected or disconnected mode. Since the user works from a browser it no longer becomes necessary to deploy a Notes client on the user's desktop.

We have a third product called Mobile Notes which is meant for mobile and pervasive devices. We are writing code for specific devices (like mobile phones and Palm computers) to enable users to download applications from the Domino server and work from these devices.

Our strategy is single server-single administrative: The Domino server will talk to Notes clients running anywhere, on any device. We are also trying to address Centralised Messaging, i.e. not having to deploy software clients to the desktop unless it makes sense for a user to have it.

For synchronous messaging we have a product called Lotus Sametime.

Why isn't your Sametime instant messaging product as popular as ICQ or MSN Messenger?
Sametime does not compete in the consumer space. This is a Corporate product. The instant messaging products that you mentioned are more popular because they are easier to deploy on desktops, and can take over virally in a company (user distribution).

Sametime offers centralised scalability, secure messaging (with encryption) and real-time collaboration for e-business.

Can Sametime communicate with MSN Messenger or AOL instant messaging clients?
We understand that there is a market requirement for doing this, so we are in talks with Microsoft and AOL. We recently did some interoperability testing with AOL on a protocol called SIMPLE (Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging). This is one of the instant messaging standards currently being considered by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The testing involves two distinct instant messaging systems, AOL's AIM and Lotus Sametime.

What are the unique features of the next version of Domino and Notes?
The upcoming version of Notes, Domino and Designer is code named Rnext; it is expected next year.

Lotus has a base of 81 million users for Notes and Domino world-wide. So we first address the needs of existing users and then pursue new markets. Our user base wants to protect their investments so we are making Rnext consistent with previous releases of Notes and Domino. That's important from a TCO perspective.

We are also building enterprise-class technology into the product. Rnext will address the need to provide richer integration between business applications, both internally and between partners. We're doing things like integrating Tivoli with Domino. We'll allow Windows 2000 users to use Active Directory instead of Lotus Directory (if they choose to do so). You'll be able to manage Domino from Microsoft Management Console (MMC) instead of using our own administrative tools.

Our focus is to make the product more centralised and scalable. When you run applications in a decentralised environment, the costs go up, because there are several servers and a lot of connectivity.

With Rnext we also want to make changes to the interface. These will not be radical changes but the product interface will look more like other popular (desktop) products.

For the Notes client, we are looking at extending its mobility so you can take more documents with you (on the road) and work offline.

When will these new products be available in India?
This is an important market for us. The market for Notes and Domino grows at 20 percent per annum in India.

Rnext will be launched next year. iNotes has already been launched in some markets and we will soon launch it here. Mobile Notes should be available by the end of this year.

You were involved in the mission to migrate users from BITNET to SMTP at Indiana University. How is SMTP an improvement over BITNET? What's lacking in SMTP? How can an e-mail system be improved?
In the 80's universities used BITNET for electronic communication. It was a store and forward technology that passed through a series of servers. Obviously, it wasn't very efficient. SMTP is based on TCP/IP protocols. SMTP messages are transmitted more quickly since they pass through routers, not intermediate computers.

The thing that is lacking right now is a Universal Directory or Meta Level directories.

We are trying to add value to e-mail with automation technology that's more task oriented. Rnext includes a technology called Swift File. It studies all your e-mail folders and does a text analysis on all messages. Messages are then automatically stored in their respective folders. When one gets 60 - 100 messages a day, a feature like this can certainly improve productivity. Our aim is to move e-mail from being task-centric to being more process-centric.

The author can be reached at : brianp@rediffmail.com

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