IBM’s LotusLive iNotes More Defensive than Offensive

IBM is getting into the web-based email and collaboration game, but I wonder how dedicated the company will be to seeing the effort through.

While Microsoft is merely using its web-based Exchange Online and Office Web Apps as complements and cloud-based extensions to its Exchange and Office franchises, Google has no desktop-software empire to defend. As such, Google has been more aggressive, packing together more features and functionality and being more ambitious in its online-collaboration aspirations.

IBM is likely to follow Microsoft’s lead, doing enough to staunch Google’s incursions onto its turf, but not doing enough to prevent Google from winning customers that are enthusiastically committed to the web-based model. How many customers there are in that category remains to be seen, but IBM has lost an account or two to Google — Fairchild Semiconductor is one — and Google touts Genentech Inc. and Salesforce.com as customers.

All of which explains the motivation and reasoning behind LotusLive iNotes, which includes web-based email, calendar, and contact-management services. IBM says LotusLive iNotes is ideal for employees that don’t “require all the capabilities of full-featured email and collaboration software, or for employees that currently have no access to company email.”

IBM has limited the market reach of the product, however, by skimping on features and functionality and by limiting the amount of storage allocated to each user. IBM expects LotusLive iNotes to find patronage at small- and medium-sized businesses and at some larger companies whose employees are often on the go and away from their desks.

There’s no question that Google Apps is a fuller collaboration suite. In addition to providing web-based email, calendar, and contact-management capabilities, Google also supplies word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications, plus a video channel. There’s a price differential, though. Google Apps Premier Edition is priced at $50 per user annually; IBM’s LotusLive iNotes starts at $36 per user annually.

Google’s service outages are another factor in the equation. IBM timed this announcement well, just after some notable Google availability issues that could discourage enterprise customers from taking the company seriously as a messaging alternative to IBM or Microsoft. In announcing LotusLive iNotes, IBM took every opportunity to highlight Google’s recent foibles.

I see the IBM move as more defensive than offensive. IBM is taking technology it purchased from Outblaze, a Hong Kong-based company, and using it to extend (but not to replace) its Lotus Notes franchise. Like Microsoft, IBM won’t be in a rush to cannibalize a profitable franchise in email and collaboration.

With web-based technologies, IBM will do what it must do to repel Google, but it will refrain from pushing too far, too fast. The margins on Lotus Notes are better than anything IBM could sustain with web-based services. That is why IBM is touting a hybrid approach that incorporates both server-based and web-based elements.

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