IBM expands Microsoft collaboration war to office market

IBM's recent Lotus moves are part of the company's larger war with Microsoft in the market for collaboration software.

IBM's move to develop its own suite of productivity applications to compete with Microsoft's Office software is part of a larger war the two companies are waging in the market for employee collaboration applications.

Many companies use Lotus Notes/Domino for e-mail and messaging alongside Microsoft Office for productivity, and each company is trying to leverage the strength and popularity of its core software package to encourage customers to buy other collaboration offerings for a complete vendor-centric stack.

A one-vendor scenario for collaboration could play out in the longer term, and Microsoft already has a leg up on IBM because customers that don't use Lotus/Domino pair Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange Server for messaging with Office. However, at least in the short term, customers using both Lotus and Office have application dependencies that would make it difficult to implement an all-IBM or all-Microsoft environment for collaboration, according to customers attending IBM's Collaboration Summit in New York this week.

With Lotus Notes 8 and related applications like Sametime, Quickr and a new Lotus product called Connections, IBM has linked the facets of its collaboration software together so individuals working in team environments can share information more seamlessly without having to toggle back and forth between different software interfaces. The new suite also gives Lotus more of a unified desktop feel, something users would get when they use traditional Microsoft applications.

In Notes 8, IBM also included office productivity applications based on OpenOffice.org, strategically calling the products "editors" rather than productivity apps to imply that they don't have to be part of an entire separate suite, said Erica Driver, analyst with Forrester Research.

"IBM is saying, 'it's not a big deal,'" and that you don't need an entirely separate suite for word processing, spreadsheets and the like, she said. "They want people to think of these applications as buttons in Lotus Notes. It's a smart move because it commoditizes the basic capabilities [of Office] and forces Microsoft to add value."

To continue its offensive against Office, IBM also this week spun out the productivity apps in Lotus 8 as Symphony, a free, stand-alone suite that is available for download on the Web.

Microsoft is approaching collaboration from a slightly different direction. With Office a de facto standard on the corporate desktop, and Exchange/Outlook a competitive alternative to Notes/Domino with many customers, the company is using its rebranded and revamped portal, Office SharePoint Server, as a way for customers to surface information from back-end applications through common Office apps. The idea is that people are already familiar with Office applications, so it will be easy for the population of employees Microsoft calls "information workers" to use those common interfaces to share project tasks, information and to communicate with one another.

"Microsoft's viewpoint is, 'Everyone loves Office,'" Driver said. "All the other stuff works into those applications."

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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