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Lotus pushes e-business

Lotus president Jeff Papows tells a Lotusphere audience that 1998 is the year businesses must adopt Internet-based business frameworks.

    Lotus Development today, as expected, launched its latest groupware messaging package Notes and Domino 5.0, calling the product an e-business mainstay. But users will have to wait a bit longer than expected to get their hands on the software.

    Kicking off his company's fifth annual Lotusphere business and technical conference in Orlando, Florida, Lotus president Jeff Papows told an audience of nearly 10,000 attendees that 1998 is the year businesses must adopt Internet-based e-business in order to compete. Papows charted his strategy for the next year, including plans for a continued assault on the messaging and groupware market, and explained how today's release fits into this scheme.

    The latest version of the Notes and Domino groupware/Web server duo will feature an improved user interface, enhanced real-time messaging features, and support for Java applets, the company said.

    One wrinkle in Papows's plans is that the Notes and Domino 5.0 package has been delayed yet again. The product, due in the first half of this year, will now ship in the second half, said Sean Loiselle, a Domino marketing manager at Lotus.

    That's the second delay for the groupware package. In September, Lotus executives said the software, originally expected by the end of 1997, would debut in the first half of this year.

    Loiselle said the delay was due to an expansion of the software's feature list in response to customer demand.

    Notes R5 will enter beta testing in the second quarter. The software, previously code-named Maui, combines Internet email, calendering and scheduling, personal document management, news groups, browsing, and native HTML authoring into an integrated client that can access standards-based Internet servers. Notes now supports HTML 4.0 and IBM's x.509 client and server certificates. Pricing will be announced later in the year.

    Expected to ship the same time as Notes, Domino 5.0 is the latest version of Lotus's messaging and collaboration software for the Internet, intranets, and extranets, with further support for Internet standards, like LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) v3, and S/MIME, an email security standard. It also features new push services for centralized client updates and graphical planning and administrative tools.

    As an application development and deployment platform, Lotus has widened the Domino 5.0 environment to include more scripting languages and design editors. Adding to current support for such computer languages as Java and C++, the New Domino version will support ECMA-compliant Javascript, HTML 4.0, and XML, according to the company.

    During his speech earlier today, Papows said that the proof that 1998 will be the year organizations move business to the Internet is in the recent growth of the Lotus Notes client and Domino Web applications server software and the increasing volume of market-specific e-business solutions being introduced by more than 18,000 business partners in 1998.

    In 1997, Lotus had strong market momentum, achieving the highest rate of annual revenue growth since 1990, Papows said. During the past year, Domino unit sales increased more than 200 percent, and the number of Notes seats sold increased by 130 percent, bringing the current installed base to more than 20 million, he claimed. The company sold nearly as many Notes seats in the fourth quarter of 1997 as it did in all of 1996, he added.

    The IBM subsidiary's sales growth in 1997 is solid proof that e-business is no longer something companies can afford to ignore, Papows said. "The Internet is impacting business everywhere more quickly than anyone anticipated. As e-business rapidly matures into a networked economy, the question no longer is 'Should we do e-business?' but rather 'How can we best implement e-business?'" he said in a morning speech.

    Analysts say the latest release, backed by a strong strategy, is what Lotus needs to maintain its place in the increasingly competitive groupware market, as companies like Microsoft, and Netscape begin making strides with their groupware offerings.

    "[Microsoft] Exchange is the next big threat to Domino," Giga Information Group analyst Mark Cecre said.

    Many analysts say that one of the newest enhancements that may keep Lotus at the head of the pack is the increased focus on the user interface in the new release, with particular attention to ease-of-use in order to silence complaints that the groupware is too hard to use.

    For example, Lotus Notes R5 combines what users have come to rely on from earlier versions of Notes, cc:Mail, Lotus Mail, Weblicator, and Organizer, into a single client.

    "They've refined the interface and made it much more intuitive," said Ian Campbell, an analyst with International Data Corporation. He considers this to be the closest Lotus has come to completing the process of redesigning its products to meet the demand for interoperability and open standards in the messaging and collaboration market.

    And that is exactly where Papows wants his products to be, because that's where he believes the future of business is. "Lotus products are now assuming a mission-critical e-business role in organizations," he said in his speech.

    In related news, the company debuted the eSuite WorkPlace, a Java-based set of business applications for thin client systems, saying it will enter manufacturing next week and ship shortly thereafter on parent company IBM's Network Station Series 1000 hardware. eSuite WorkPlace includes email, Web browsing, and business productivity applications.

    The company also announced that a preview version of eSuite DevPack, a set of Java applications for building thin-client applications, is now available from the company's Web site.

    In addition, the company rolled out a version of Domino for IBM's AS/400, a full-function Domino server running as a native OS/400 application and built to use AS/400's 64-bit RISC (reduced instruction set computing) technology. The company also unveiled Domino Designer 5.0, an application development tool for Web developers to build high-impact applications.

    Like the latest Domino and Notes release, pricing for these new products will be released later in the year, the company said.