John Smart

What is Lotus Expeditor

Lotus Expeditor was announced early this month. We thought we'd provide an explanation of what it is.

By itself, Lotus Expeditor doesn't do anything, but we're extremely excited about it because of what means for future applications.

If you use the web long enough, your web browser will eventually prompt you saying something like "This web page requires a plug-in you don't have. Want to install it?" Shockwave, Flash, Quicktime viewer, maybe the next version of Windows Media Player, they are all plug-ins to your web browser.

Lotus Expeditor is like that. It's just meant to be platform that applications and portlets ride on as plug-ins, except the plugins are much more powerful. Lotus Notes is a plug-in. Sametime is a plug-in. And instead of asking you if you want to download it, it will go to some server that your company's IT staff manages and simply get it, hassle-free, sometimes proactively.

And these plug-ins really aren't harder to make than it was to build them as standalone applications or portlets for a portal server... there is already a huge base of plug-ins available for Lotus Expeditor but in order to use them they must be blessed by IT, protecting your network from malicious or just poorly written plug-ins that your new customer service rep just downloaded off the web.

And Lotus Expeditor provides a basic layer for user identity services. It knows who you are, so all the plug-ins can use that rather than reinvent THAT wheel.

Put another way: Imagine a data warehouse where all information is copied (or federated) into a single place where you can get any information you want... and more importantly mix any pieces of information together into a single report, giving you both the targeted and peripheral vision you need to act quickly. Now imagine that instead of data, it's applications! For a given project or customer, you might use various applications (sales, order tracking, email, project management, etc). What if each of them acted together giving you peripheral vision in everything you're doing? Lotus Expeditor is the chassis on which this all fits. It is not an application, it "merely" enables applications to do this in a secure, manageable, updatable, way, that was built in a way that it can improve faster than anything the competition might do.

Ambuj Goyal had vision when he was leading IBM-Lotus and set everything in motion. It was admittedly executed in the same way that IBM does these things... brilliantly from a technology aspect, but at the expense of the marketing aspect. The marketing aspect failed because IBM was proud of their technology and therefore built an entire new display case called "Workplace" to stick it in and yelled "look how cool this is!" rather than improve the products they already have. It's human nature. It's the same reason why home owners spend thousands on energy efficient furnaces when it would be cheaper and better to update insulation in their attic.

IBM hasn't maintained their position by ignoring their mistakes, though. The effort to call all this stuff "Workplace" has since been dropped and now this great technology is being folded into the rest of IBM products. Here and now is where it gets interesting.

The vision was reusable components, not just allowing customers to make components within a IBM software platforms, but to have the IBM software itself be reusable components, using open source wherever it makes sense. The Lotus team used to have to do everything for Lotus Notes including database engine, programming languages, security, user interface, replication, etc. By breaking up applications into components and thinking hard about how each layer can be a best of breed service to be used by others, Lotus and the other divisions at IBM can compete where they want to, quickly assembling great software by reusing the best software parts available across IBM. In software areas that IBM doesn't want to compete, they have realized it's cost efficient to donate resources to open source movements creating best of breed commodities that are extremely difficult to compete with. Linux and Firefox, for example, are owned by no one and everyone. They grow to maturity fast, and are impossible to kill, even when the best marketers in the tech industry try.

So, when it comes to looking for a thick client to overhaul the Lotus Notes feature set with, IBM started with a great client platform called Eclipse that was open-source, extendable, solid, and already world-tested, and they sponsored it to make it even better, and then wrote some extensions to it that allows for something that even an end-user can install, something a corporate IT staff can maintain, control (if they want), trust, and be willing to support. That's Lotus Expeditor. Add Lotus Notes to that and you get what's being called Hannover, the next generation of the Lotus Notes client that provides some very exciting possibilities. Add instant messaging components and you get Sametime 7.5 that allows for rich plug-ins and suddenly becomes not just an application an instant messaging application platform unto itself that you can mashup with Google Maps and to find the lowest priced gas station near you, for example.

For business managers, it means opening an email and seeing related activities, project statuses, and orders along the edge of your screen, letting you remain in flow. It also means the ability for you to take your portal on the road for off-line use.

For IT managers, it means an enterprise-ready answer to the thick client vs thin client conundrum.

For executives, it means that IBM is on track to provide agility for your organization. If you already have a Lotus infrastructure, you're on the fastest train.

For the Lotus Notes application development community, the chief technologist of Lotus has explains why basing Lotus Notes on Lotus Expeditor on Eclipse is a great move:

  • Eclipse's contribution model allows modification of the Notes user experience and general behavior of Notes in ways never before possible.  You can go beyond just affecting your application "rectangle", making more global cross-application extensions.
  • Eclipse allows development for Notes by those without traditional Notes skills, enabling the expansive Eclipse development community to participate in Notes development.
  • The common platform used throughout IBM (Lotus Expeditor atop Eclipse) allows you to write a plug-in contributing behavior for one product (such as the newest version of Sametime) and have it work in another product (such as Hannover).
  • By standing on the shoulders of others (developing Eclipse and Java as well as extensions), we are able to build a cross-platform product (Windows, Linux, and MAC) much more quickly than if we had to do it all ourselves, greatly improving our time to market and your opportunity to get new value. Eclipse enables us to leverage the skills, creativity, and sheer manpower of the dedicated Eclipse open source community.

For technologists who agree with IBM-Lotus's vision, it's a great time to be alive.