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IBM’s Lotus software division is readying a host of improvements that will bring its fledgling Workplace messaging and collaboration platform closer to feature parity with its flagship Lotus Notes and Domino product line.

While company officials maintain that Workplace and Notes and Domino will remain separate product lines running on parallel development tracks, the planned improvements are aimed at making Workplace more appealing to enterprises in search of a messaging and collaboration platform built on a standards-based, componentized architecture.

Domino developers have long sworn by the Domino Designer RAD (rapid application development) tool. IBM plans to introduce a new developer tool for Workplace called Workplace Designer, in what will likely be Version 2.6 of Workplace and delivered in the first half of next year.

The development tool, based on J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition), will be targeted at the same type of higher-level users who write application scripts in Domino Designer, according to Ken Bisconti, vice president of messaging solutions for Lotus, which is based here.

“We haven’t yet delivered on the full vision of application development in Workplace,” said Bisconti, noting that existing Workplace development tools, such as Workplace Builder, are template-driven tools for business users to design simple applications and customizations.

Click here to read how one version of IBM’s Workplace is targeting the financial industry.

Lotus also intends to support C++ and Microsoft Corp.’s .Net programming environments as Eclipse plug-in modules, which will allow developers skilled in Microsoft technologies to build extensions for Workplace.

The next release date for Workplace, Version 2.5, originally slated for late this year, has slipped to early next year. The software is expected to include a mobile client for the first time, with native support for Pocket PC devices, plus API support to connect Palm OS-based and Research In Motion Ltd. BlackBerry devices to the Workplace server. Version 2.5 will include offline capabilities for the Workplace client, with SyncML support for resyncing with the server once connected.

Early versions of Workplace have proved to be difficult to install, IBM officials conceded, in part because of the complex infrastructure the platform requires, compared with the all-in-one nature of Domino. Version 2.5 is expected to include support for archive install, which preserves the settings and configurations of the previous install.

The technology is similar to that behind the Workplace Services Express offering that IBM announced last week, which is targeted at the small-and-midsize-business space—companies with as many as 750 users.