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Lotus reveals cc:Mail plans

The long-awaited upgrade will help cc:Mail users migrate to Lotus's Notes software and sway them away from competitors' products.

Lotus Development today revealed its long-awaited upgrade plans to help its huge installed base of cc:Mail users migrate to its Notes software and to keep them away from competitors' products.

The migration plan provides a set of tools and services, and gives current cc:Mail users who pay for a maintenance plan the option to buy Notes and Domino server seats at a discounted price of about $25 per user. Other users not on a maintenance contract can upgrade for about $45, executives said. The offer expires September 30.

The company is still mulling over a plan to give cc:Mail users its upcoming Notes 5.0 client for free, company sources said. A decision is expected closer to the Notes 5.0 rollout later this year.

Company executives emphasized that they have no plans to abandon cc:Mail as a product. However, development of the popular messaging application will be limited to maintenance, or point releases. No major wholesale releases of the product are expected to roll out after Release 9, a spokesperson said. Among today's announcements was the debut of cc:Mail Advanced System Pack Release 8.2, due out next quarter.

The upgrade path outlined today includes a combination of new tools, and services offered by Lotus partners, along with consulting, education, and IBM support programs to help cc:Mail users make the move to Notes and Domino.

The cc:Mail Desktop for Windows Release 6.3, a release for the Windows client, is free to cc:Mail customers with maintenance contracts with Lotus. The product gives the familiar cc:Mail release 6 interface, while providing the upgrade by connecting directly to Domino servers. It also will allow users to leverage the Domino infrastructure, while eliminating end-user retraining, Lotus said.

By also supporting legacy desktop environments such as Windows 3.1 and 486 platforms, the new client provides an alternative to customers not able to buy new desktop platforms all at once, the company said.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based subsidiary of IBM also rolled out an enhanced Notes upgrade tool which will support the latest cc:Mail server software. The tool converts directories and messages so they can be run on the Domino server. The tool is now available on the Lotus Web page.

Lotus will also continue to support organizations who want to remain on the cc:Mail platform. The cc:Mail Advanced System Pack 8.2, includes enhanced Internet support. The pack will be free to cc:Mail maintenance customers and costs $18 for basic users of cc:Mail.

Lotus executives hide little in their plans for cc:Mail users, estimated at about 12 to 13 million users, according to one analyst.

"Ultimately, we want to get them to move completely over to Notes," said Joe Davis, general manager for Lotus at its Mountain View, California office.

But analysts wonder if the migration plan will be enough to keep cc:Mail users in Lotus's camp as Microsoft turns up the heat with its groupware product, Exchange.

Shilpa Agerwal, an analyst with Giga Information Group, points to Microsoft's recent announcement to give the next version of its Outlook 98 messaging client free to Exchange customers for 90 days, as just one example of how the Redmond, Washington-based software giant is trying to grab some market share from Lotus.

"Users of cc:mail aren't going to justify paying for Notes when Outlook is free and Exchange has so much mind share right now. I think the pricing structure Lotus has provided may set up another obstacle," she said.

Steve Layne, vice president of messaging products at Lotus, disagrees. "[Microsoft] can play the price game. They've done this before. But they gouge you in the end with the Client Access Licenses (CALs)."