Lotusphere, the annual meeting of Lotus Software, carries one clear message: its messaging and collaboration tools are stronger than ever. However, this year there is an important subtext: convincing third-party developers there is still room for them alongside IBM's software services business. The Lotus Notes messaging system and Domino application server remain giants in the corporate world. Throughout the week-long event, general manager Al Zollar and most of his management team pointed to the scores of Fortune 500 enterprises running beta releases of Lotus Notes and Domino 6. This includes some of the leading lights in the Lotus 100,000 User Club, which counts Phillips, General Motors, Daimler Chrysler, PricewaterhouseCoopers and, naturally enough, IBM among its members. Lotus claims to have 90 per cent of Fortune 100 and Global 1000 businesses on Lotus software. According to Mark Levitt, analyst with research group IDC, there were nine million Notes and Domino users in Asia-Pacific last year, ahead of Microsoft with six million, Teamware with 1.1 million, Novell with one million and other vendors with 900,000. As Mr Zollar told his keynote audience: 'AOL delivers an estimated 194 million consumer e-mails per day. We believe our Notes customers are approaching twice that volume.' So is there really a problem? According to many smaller Lotus developers, there is. Lotus has traditionally relied upon third-party developers to sell and integrate its software, but IBM's growing domination of the software services and middleware business continues to threaten many Lotus partners. Meanwhile, as the corporate messaging market develops into a two-horse race alongside Microsoft's Exchange, many partners, particularly those dealing with the small enterprise, have been understandably nervous. According to Mr Zollar, the solution is simple: increased reliance on open standards and a new deal for partners. 'It is very straightforward. First of all, we are not going to pay our sales people for selling our services anymore. So our sales people will only be able to achieve their sales targets based on software licence revenue, not on services revenue.' From now on, when Lotus gets a sales lead, it will pass the lead to a local developer. 'We have told them that the small and medium-sized enterprise space, however you calibrate it, is going to be covered exclusively through partners. Our face-to-face resources are actually going to focus on making the partners successful, not on closing end customer contracts. So those things together will give our partners probably better opportunities and far clearer opportunities than they've had with us before,' he said. Mr Zollar said that aside from Australia, he had not yet received any response from Asian partners. 'In general, our partners are very positive on this direction because we have. Previously they had seen that Lotus sales people were [encouraged] to sell Lotus services and therefore partner services would have a tougher time getting in.' However, possibly the most crucial announcement this week concerned the switch from the Java Server Pages (JSP) standard used in Domino to Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE). JSP was created by Sun Microsystems as a dynamic scripting language to grab information from databases in much the same way as Microsoft's Active Server Pages had done, and it has proved every bit as popular. While JSP support will remain in Domino, the code has been frozen and will no longer be updated. The move to J2EE would enable Lotus to concentrate on its collaboration tools, while shifting the Java delivery to other platforms such as IBM's Websphere, said Mr Zollar. This change alone could prove expensive, and at a time when many Asian small and medium-sized enterprises are leery of making further investment in information technology, the cost of a Notes/Domino upgrade plus a new Web server could be prohibitive. Mr Zollar acknowledged the problem, but dismissed it. 'First of all, every small company wants to be a big company. 'As those customers grow, they will deal with the complexities of having more than one business, more than one product, maybe even more than one location, and that's really where our value proposition begins to shine. 'People can always say 'should I wait on the thing, or should I buy now?' 'Well, we think the reason people should buy now is that they can create value now. 'And hopefully they have the faith then to allow our future innovations to deliver more value,' he said.