IBM is reassuring users, again, that it has no plans to ditch the Notes/Domino platform and that its gradual transformation into Lotus Workplace will be smooth and successful.

The company says it will release Notes 7.0 by the middle of next year and that customers will find a natural integration between Notes/Domino and Lotus Workplace, a collection of components that run on WebSphere, the DB2 database and Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE).

Lotus also says the 2.5 release of its Workplace client, which is due later this year, will include native access to Notes applications. A new development model will also be familiar to Notes/Domino users, the company said.

"The path to Workplace for Notes/Domino customers is to adopt the successive version updates in the Notes/Domino road map," says Ken Bisconti, vice president for Lotus Workplace products. He says the road map will include Notes 8, 9 and 10. "Customers can expect that the Workplace technologies will be incorporated into the Notes/Domino road map."

For example, the first support of IBM DB2 as an optional data store for Notes/Domino comes in version 7.0, and lets users store Domino data and applications in the database. But Bisconti was quick to note Domino's native NSF data store will exist as long as Notes/Domino does.

The database option gives Lotus an edge on Microsoft, which earlier this year again delayed plans for a database back-end for a future version of Exchange. Also in 7.0, Lotus is expanding its instant messaging to include an interactive calendar. Lotus said earlier this year that Notes 8 would become a client-side component that runs within the larger Workplace framework.

"If you are sitting in a Notes environment, the message is comforting and clear about what you should do," says David Marshak, an analyst with the Patricia Seybold Group. The difficult part is where users should jump into Workplace, Marshak says. "If I have Domino, how do I add to it? Do I use components? Those individual decisions are still difficult," he says.

Lotus is hoping to calm Notes users who remain anxious about its future. A report earlier this year by the Radicati Group predicted that over the next four years, Lotus would lose market share as the Workplace platform is under development. Lotus' market share will fall from 24 percent to 17 percent in 2008, while Microsoft's will grow from 31 percent to 33 percent, it predicted.