Commentary
6/3/2008
04:06 PM

Does IBM Think Smaller Businesses Are Lotus Eaters?

It has all the buzzwords that smaller businesses love: plug-and-play, turnkey, 30-minute installation, self-healing, built-in management, downloadable, $149 per user. And then there's that other magic word: free! But is that enough to lure smaller business to Lotus?



It has all the buzzwords that smaller businesses love: plug-and-play, turnkey, 30-minute installation, self-healing, built-in management, downloadable, $149 per user. And then there's that other magic word: free! But is that enough to lure smaller business to Lotus?Disclosure: Anytime, I see the word Lotus, my first thought is of the mythic Lotus Eaters that Odysseus bumped into on his way home from the Trojan War. Why, by the way, hasn't Tom Tom or Garmin built an ad campaign around that guy? Anyway, my thoughts drift to the Lotus Eaters, not because I'd prefer to be floating around the Aegean (who wouldn't?), but because stumbling around in a narcotic-induced stupor is how I've felt each and every time I've used LotusNotes (and my Lotus dazes are legion, including one recently).

But pinning my somnambulant baggage on all things Lotus is hardly fair. Though they share the Lotus name, today's formal debut of IBM Lotus Symphony (free) and Lotus Foundations Start (30-minute install) doesn't mean smaller businesses are about to be trapped on an island in a trance, but Microsoft might want to wake up.

Though IBM's releasing the balloons now, Lotus Symphony rolled out in beta last September. Since then, there have been 1 million downloads -- according to IBM -- of the open-source office-desktop software suite -- free will do that. The suite includes documents, spreadsheets, and presentations all compatible with Microsoft Office, based on the Open Document Format, and available in 24 languages. Along with the endless beta that is Google Docs, Lotus Symphony is a notable presence among the swelling ranks of Microsoft Office alternatives.

As Ron Popeil might say, but wait there's more! And this is where the smaller business ears should perk up a bit: IBM is also rolling out Lotus Foundations Start. Now this thing costs, but it's bundled with Symphony and according to Big Blue is designed for smaller business with between five and 500 employees. The carrot being the turnkey, 30-minute install for e-mail, file sharing, remote access, and automatic data protection, plus backup and recovery -- and $149 per user. Then there's the collaboration piece on the IBM Lotus Notes/Domino Collaboration platform -- perhaps that's the stick.

Notably, Foundations Start is positioned as the first of "many appliances" from IBM that target the 5-500 small and midsize market. Big Blue's hardly alone in pursuing this market -- look no further than HP's SMB initiative, or Sage's SMB business suites, or Dell's SMB servers, or Microsoft Small Business Server 2008, or Alcatel-Lucent's UC offering. All of which means more choice for smaller business and that's hardly stuporing.

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