Like clockwork, IBM/Lotus and Microsoft are throwing punches at each other's product lineup just as Lotusphere and its near 7,000 attendees are set to kickoff a weeklong conference.

IBM/Lotus, which opens its annual user conference on Monday, said that Panasonic is rolling out its LotusLive suite of online collaboration software and dropping Microsoft Exchange among other collaboration tools.

Microsoft fired back on Friday, announcing free training for the first 500 Notes pros who sign up and a set of new third-party migration tools to help users move from Lotus to Microsoft.

The pre-Lotusphere sparring is sort of the traditional gateway into the gathering of the Lotus faithful, which takes place at the end of each January. The two companies have a rich history of battling over email seats, collaboration platforms and now online services.

LotusLive is a platform of hosted services such as messaging, conferencing and social networking cast in the likeness of Lotus's on-premises tools. The lineup also includes plug-ins to connect the matching online and on-premises software.

Lotus also listed a number of other companies that have adopted its LotusLive platform, including Trajkovski & Partners Consulting, Collaboration Matters Limited and RealConnections.

But Panasonic is by far the biggest and will add LotusLive's web conferencing, file sharing, instant messaging and project management tools. The company, which will roll out the tools to its global workforce, also plans to adopt LotusLive Connections, a collection of social networking tools. Panasonic said it will migrate employees from Exchange or other collaboration software to LotusLive's e-mail, calendaring and contact management.

Microsoft officials acknowledged that Panasonic is indeed dropping Exchange, but said the total number of Exchange seats the company has represents less than 5% of its workforce.

"This is very consistent with how IBM defines a win," said Julia White, director of Exchange marketing.

She said Microsoft has a number of offers for Lotus users looking to explore Microsoft's wares.

Microsoft will provide free training vouchers to the first 500 Lotus professionals who want to check out Office apps, Exchange and Office Communications Server.

In addition, partners such as Quest, Binary Tree and Casahl Technology plan new migration software. Quest is releasing a new version of its Notes Migrator for Exchange, with support for Exchange 2010. Binary Tree and Casahl will release undisclosed migration tools in February.

Microsoft also is introducing new methods for migrating customer Notes applications to the Microsoft platform that it says are more cost effective and accurate.

January is not the only time the two companies get into heated or public tiffs. In September last year, then-Lotus GM Bob Picciano accused Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and COO Kevin Turner of blowing "a lot of hot wind from Washington" and said the pair wasn't telling the truth in the marketplace about Notes to Exchange conversions.