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Lotus strikes back

Lotus fights off competition from Microsoft and Netscape by unbundling its Domino Web server from its Notes groupware and building a Java client designed for network computers.

IBM subsidiary Lotus Development is fighting off competition from Microsoft and Netscape Communications by unbundling its Domino Web server from Notes and building a Java groupware client designed for network computers.

The company plans to unbundle the Domino Web server from its popular Notes groupware engine and sell the two pieces as separate products to gain a chunk of the Web server market, independent of its flagship Notes groupware, according to the company's strategy guru Michael Zisman.

The Java client will provide Notes-like capabilities such as workflow routing, email, and group discussions to the network computers that Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems plan to launch into business and consumer markets next spring.

"We have made a decision to separate the branding of Notes and the Domino Web server...We really see distinctions between our client business and our server business," said Zisman in a telephone interview from Anaheim, California, where some 1,500 Web developers have converged this week to talk about Domino. Domino will still be bundled with the next generation of Notes, version 4.5, he added.

Lotus is being pushed to pursue a new market because Web server companies like Microsoft and Netscape are crowding on Notes's groupware bailiwick with new collaborative intranet tools. Although the company has been trying to bridge the gap between Notes workgroups and intranets for months, the decision to go directly into the Web server market is the most dramatic indication of the pressure the Internet has brought to bear on Lotus.

The decision was foreshadowed last month when Lotus announced that it will sell Notes's highly regarded replication capability as a standalone Internet-ready product, called the Weblicator, for $29 each starting next quarter. Weblicator extends a critical piece of Notes technology--replication--to standard Web browsers.

Zisman said the company will continue to launch new Web-based tools. Next month, for example, the company plans to launch Domino.Action for easy Web site construction and Domino.Marketing for building e-commerce sites. "We are now building [the products] on top of Domino for these huge vertical markets," he said.

But Lotus is anxious to appear not to be abandoning Notes. "We are not walking away from our client business," said Zisman. Instead, he said new opportunities are emerging for the Notes client, since competitive groupware products from Microsoft and Netscape now encompass technology legitimized by Notes, such as workflow routing and group discussions. "The market went through an initial euphoria with browsers," said Zisman. "Now it's moving toward an integrated client with more powerful capabilities, like the one in Notes."

Lotus plans to start pitching its traditional Notes client as a high-end tool to companies looking for a more powerful client than standard browsers. But Zisman said the company will address the low end with the new Java client.

The company hasn't set a launch date yet, but Zisman said the Java-based client and some other new tools will debut sometime next year.

The company will also roll out a series of advanced services to corporate customers. It will also sell Notes mail access licenses for $35 each to let companies that use Notes give their associates mail boxes on their Domino Web servers.