IBM has finally revealed Notes/Domino 7.

The new edition includes tweaks intended to please users and server software changes aimed at lowering overhead costs by making more efficient use of hardware resources. It also marks a step toward IBM's goal of smoothly blending its legacy Notes/Domino architecture with its newer, Java-based Workplace platform.

But analysts are not convinced that the changes will be enough to halt the slide towards Microsoft Exchange. IBM has been losing market share to its collaboration rival for some years now and there are no signs that this drift has been halted.

Sara Radicati of The Radicati Group said: “We don't see the latest Notes release as changing the overall trend by customers away from Notes. The simple analogy is as with car manufacturers, once a new model is announced sales of the old model begin to slow down and eventually people look to trade in. We see the same happening with Notes.”

Paradoxically, one of the changes made to Notes is to include support for Microsoft Office 2003's SmartTags.

According to Ken Bisconti, IBM's vice president of Workplace, portal and collaboration products, some of the smaller changes have been particularly warmly welcomed. He cited new message markers indicating whether an e-mail message has been sent only to the user or to a larger mailing list as one particularly popular addition. Another new client feature, "save window state", lets users capture all the documents they have open for viewing or modification when they shut down Notes. The software then restarts with everything displayed as it was before the software closed.

IBM's back-end changes include new autonomic monitoring to alert administrators to performance issues and architectural optimisation intended to let customers increase the number of users they can support per server. In IBM's own internal deployments, it saw cuts of as much as 25 percent in CPU usage for a set workload, executives said.

Messaging and collaboration software research company Ferris Research estimates Notes/Domino 7 will have ownership costs that are eight to nine percent lower than those of Notes/Domino 6, which debuted three years ago. In research funded by IBM, Ferris concluded that organisations won't see savings on their general per-user infrastructure costs from Notes/Domino 7 (as they would have from the last release, version 6, which included new network compression technology), but will save on direct hardware and software licensing costs, along with savings from improved user productivity, thanks to improvements in areas such as search and message prioritisation.

The real challenge for IBM is trying to persuade its customers to stick with the company after the forthcoming transition to Workplace. IBM's next Notes/Domino version, codenamed Hannover. This is intended to fully merge the two architectures but already there have been whispering that this upgrade might be a step too far for some IBM users, prompting a further haemorrhage of customers.

IBM is quick to dismiss this. "I know there's a lot of speculation, mostly fueled by our competitors, that there's a major migration in the future for our Notes/Domino customers. Nothing could be further from the truth," said Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM's workplace, portal and collaboration software.

"What you'll see in Hannover is a blending of Workplace technology and Notes technology that will allow our Notes customers to maintain their templates," Rhodin said. There will be no "rip-and-replace" upgrades, he pledged.

But with the launch of Zimbra, an open-source alternative to Notes, IBM might really have its work cut out to keep its customers.