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Lotus ships delayed Notes/Domino suite

The frequently delayed Notes and Domino 5.0, or R5, is now posted on the company's Web site, bringing to a close an ongoing saga of release postponements and snags.

Lotus is hoping customers remember the old mantra: good things come to those who wait.

The company has delivered a much anticipated and delayed update to Lotus Development's Notes/Domino groupware package.

Notes and Domino 5.0, or R5, was posted on the company's Web site last night, bringing to a close an ongoing saga of release postponements and snags.

As reported earlier, Lotus CEO Jeff Papows told attendees at Lotusphere 99 that the company needed to work out some bugs and glitches in the software before shipping, and thus committed to shipping the product by the end of February.

The company then quietly sought an extension, until the end of March, to complete its bug-fixing tasks.

The string of delays never put a damper on a full-bore TV ad campaign that has been running for months now.

"I think they made the right choice to wait," said Eric Brown, an analyst with Forester. "Now we'll have to see how well they did."

Notes 5.0, previously code-named Maui, combines Internet email, calendaring 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.

The new product also includes features brought on by a recently announced partnership with Internet powerhouse America Online, in which the two companies will provide a cobranded suite of offerings to users of Lotus Notes R5 and the company's real time collaboration software Lotus Sametime.

The joint effort provides Lotus users with AOL's Web searching capabilities, an Instant Messenger feature, and real-time personalized information from the Web via AOL's My News.

Despite speculation by some industry observers, Lotus has denied that it plans to separate Notes from Domino and sell it as a standalone product.

"We are constantly looking at new ways to market the product, but there is no plan now to do that [ship a separate product]," Paul Davis, a spokesperson for Lotus, an IBM subsidiary, said yesterday.

Domino 5.0 features an improved user interface, enhanced real-time messaging features, and support for Java applets, and foreign languages and currencies--including the Euro.

"I want to see how well it compliments a developer environment for building applications," said Brown. From what he has seen of the product so far, Brown said he thinks "this release will do a lot for Domino as a platform."

Lotus rolled out the second public beta of Notes/Domino R5 on November 15, after delaying the final testing phase by several months. These delays raised red flags for some observers who said it brought the fourth quarter release of the final product into question.

Analysts believe most of the Lotus customers aren't expecting to implement the product on the first day of the release anyway. A lot of them are going to wait until the first service pack, which Lotus has said will ship in Q2, hard on the heels of the first release.

Lotus Notes and Domino competes with Microsoft Exchange in the hotly contested market for corporate electronic mail and groupware systems.

Industry observers say the latest release, backed by a strong strategy, is what Lotus needs to maintain its place in the increasingly competitive groupware market, as competitors begin making strides with their groupware offerings.