After a year, IBM finally decided to fix its Bluehouse fiasco. At Lotusphere 2008, IBM announced a SaaS-based sharing service for documents, contacts, activities, and meetings. However, it (1) didn't include e-mail and (2) was reserved for companies of fewer than 500 employees. Given that implementations of SaaS-based solutions in the market (e.g., Google Apps) always begin with e-mail, and that large enterprises (IBM's bread and butter) were looking for SaaS solutions as a way to save money, at announcement this was a really broken product. We told IBM that--they did the, "Yeah, right" thing--and we started referring to it internally as Outhouse.
Fast forward a year. At Lotusphere 2009, IBM announced that they were adding e-mail to the solution, giving it a new name (LotusLive), and making LotusLive available to companies no matter what their size. Much better, but still behind the market curve (which I'll get to). The part I found interesting was that IBM Lotus at a press/analyst briefing admitted that although the analysts had universally panned the lack of e-mail in January 2008, it was only when early customers also expressed their displeasure that IBM finally decided to fix the e-mail problem by buying Outblaze, a Hong Kong-based e-mail provider in January 2009.
So compared to last year, Bluehouse (now LotusLive) is a much better product. However, that's faint praise.
Where IBM did make a smart move was on the branding. LotusLive is the umbrella term for IBM's online offerings. This is in stark contrast to Microsoft, which seems to delight in confusing both customers and analysts with a plethora of terms: Office Live Workspace, Office Live Small Business, Windows Live, and the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite. (This may be changing, as Microsoft is apparently going to merge the Office Live and Windows Live brands).
LotusLive supports web conferencing, collaboration, and e-mail, but the e-mail offering is balkanized. For lightweight mail, you use the web-based iNotes client (or a POP3/IMAP client) with the Outblaze backend. If you want full-featured mail, you use Lotus Notes Hosted Messaging. In short, there are two different e-mail engines at work here, which does not bode well for large clients that want to switch back and forth between SaaS and internal e-mail. This is a discussion I have with clients all the time, and the ultimate dream is to be able to turn a knob and seamlessly alter where e-mail is hosted. The mailboxes migrate behind the scenes, licensing is taking care of automatically, and the business is able to tune its e-mail engine to map to what the business needs from month to month.
This is the vision that Microsoft is marching toward--how fast that marching will occur is up for debate--but Microsoft understands that software plus services implicitly demands that the two become fully integrated. IBM gets that at a user interface level--"Click to Cloud" is IBM's term for being able to easily store information in the cloud--but hasn't yet declared that it is willing to do the heavy lifting to fully integrate the e-mail backends.
In summary, IBM's SaaS story is much better than it was a year ago, but the story still doesn't have the happy ending that enterprises ultimately want.