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Lotus dares competitors to keep up

Lotus Development kicks off the annual Lotusphere show by challenging the competition to keep pace with its roar onto the Internet.

    IBM (IBM) subsidiary Lotus Development today kicked off its annual Lotusphere show by challenging the competition to keep pace with its roar onto the Internet.

    Top executives Jeff Papows and Mike Zisman shared the podium in front of some 10,000 Lotus faithful and outlined plans to extend Sun Microsystems' Java programming language across its product line.

    The duo basked in the parental approval of IBM chairman and chief executive Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Gerstner also painted a rosy future for the subsidiary, underscoring IBM's plans to continue to support Lotus in financial, strategic, and development terms. Gerstner said the two companies have already begun to work more closely on product development, marketing, and sales and will continue to do so during the coming year.

    "The network world is coming fast," said Gerstner, who alluded to his plans to ready Lotus for a serious offensive against Microsoft and Netscape dominance in the Net software arena.

    "Groupware is one battle we intend to win," said Gerstner.

    While Lotus previously announced its "100 percent Java" initiative, it has been part of a year of rapid Web development at Lotus that has dramatically changed its product offerings and expanded its target markets.

    Lotus president Papows, and Zisman, executive vice president of strategy, divulged plans, ship dates, and some prices for new client software to address both Lotus's high-end groupware market as well as stripped-down thin clients for use with network computers.

    The duo also fleshed out the company's Java-component strategy intended to blend Internet communications capabilities with a short list of "classic productivity apps."

    A cross-platform suite, code-named Kona, includes a word processor, spreadsheet, email engine, and calendaring capabilities. Lotus executives maintain the apps will be cheaper to run than traditional productivity software for PCs. They are scheduled to come to market later this year.

    Designed for use on corporate intranets, Kona lets users cull information both from inside the company and on the Net. For example, the spreadsheet program allows access the latest currency exchange rates taken off the Web for use in the spreadsheet calculations.

    Lotus will begin to ship new client software, which the executives say will sit at the company's strategic center, as early as this quarter.

    "We will be as deliberate about our client plans in 1997 as we were in 1996 with Domino" said Papows. Domino, the company's Web server software, was used to bring Notes groupware to the Net.

    Gearing up to sell software for both PCs and network computers, the company's client strategy will be two-fold. The executives announced Lotus Mail Java Edition, a new lightweight browser written in Java. It is expected to by ready for market before the end of the first half of the year. The thin client will cost $35 and will include POP3, SMTP, IMAP, and POP4 support.

    The company is also developing a second lightweight client simply called Lotus Mail, which will provide a migration path for users of Lotus cc:Mail, an older e-mail package. Lotus Mail is due in the first half of this year.

    For industrial-strength groupware applications, the company is developing two "thick" clients--code-named Lookout and Maui. Lookout will be ready in the first half of the year, while Maui will follow in the fourth quarter. They will sport additional support for protocols such as the calendaring and scheduling ICAP standard, IMAP4, and LDAP. Maui will also be the first of Lotus' traditional client packages to support HTML.

    The Notes 4.5 client already added Web browsing capabilities and includes the ability to render HTML documents and store such pages as Notes documents. Yet, the company is working to eliminate the need for Netscape plug-ins by adding additional support for Java, Java Beans and Java applets, and Microsoft's ActiveX components for surfing the Web without leaving Notes.

    With the client and server businesses officially separated, Lotus executives say they will introduce new releases separately as developments mature to add agility to the development process.

    Lotus programmers are also working on a new Domino add-on for customer-service applications. The software will be named Domino.Service. Like the Domino.Merchant e-commerce system and Domino.Broadcast, a Web publishing tool, the Service product will sell separately yet easily integrate with Domino 4.5 groupware. While no ship date was given for the customer service app, the executives reminded the crowd that the merchant product is set to ship in about two weeks.

    Papows and Zisman trumpeted the success of its Notes groupware. Notes's market share doubled to 9.5 million seats since this time last year, they said. Of the 5.5 million new Notes seats installed in 1996, a million were installed in Japan, where the local IBM and Lotus operations worked together to market and sell the product.

    Despite new competition from Netscape later this year and intensified competition from Microsoft and Novell, the executives said they expect to see seats nearly double by year's end to 18 million installed users.

    "We don't intend to give up any ground in [marketshare]," Papows said.

    Domino support for the IBM AS/400 and System 390 will be announced this week, according to Gerstner.

    Gerstner said IBM increased Lotus's advertising budget by 40 percent last year, earmarking an additional $5.5 million in the fourth quarter alone. He said Big Blue will continue to support Lotus--with advertising dollars and joint development efforts that will highlight Lotus's role in adding to IBM's software offerings. Also, IBM plans to bring its customer-support framework to Lotus, an announcement that was met with applause.

    "We must fix the Lotus service and support problem," Gerstner said.