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Lotus to shuffle documents

Lotus will try out its Domino Web server at yet in another new market next week. This time, it's document management.

IBM subsidiary Lotus Development wants to try out its Domino Web server in the document management market.

But analysts aren't sure if Lotus has what it takes for this sophisticated specialty niche.

Joseph Forgione, Lotus's vice president of business multimedia products, said the company plans to line up the new plug-in--the Domino.Document Manager--to compete with sophisticated management software from companies like PC Docs and Saros.

The fourth in a growing family of add-ons to Domino software, the new tool will roll out commercially early in the second quarter, the company said.

"It allows you to do many of the things that you can do with Notes but adds more rigorous enforcement and tracking of documents," Forgione said.

He said the software builds a framework for checking documents in and out and routing them through workflow or approval processes. That way people using either a Notes client or a regular browser can edit and post documents stored on corporate intranets. The system can work with all document types, including video and 3D images.

But analyst David Yockelson of the Meta Group said he sees no immediate threat to the document management specialists.

While he said the much lower price tag will appeal especially to Lotus's large installed base, Yockelson said Domino.Document Manager lacks storage management options. He also thinks corporate IS teams will likely be turned off by the amount of redevelopment necessary to make it work with individual company requirements.

"It's such a base level of functionality that I don't think it is going to have a tremendous impact on companies like PC Docs or Saros in the near term," Yockelson said.

While he said Lotus has made some significant strides, the Domino add-on "is missing a number of key components. There is a lot more rigor is needed in terms of storage and process management."

Still, Yockelson and Bob Lewin, an analyst with Dataquest, agreed that platform makers like Lotus, Netscape Communications, and Novell are slowly moving to incorporate traditional add-on software like document management into their offerings.

"Document management is one of the top two or three applications that people are looking at" when shopping for intranet tools, Lewin said.

"The need for version control and check-in and check-out control is downright obvious," said Tom Austin, an analyst with Gartner Group. He said the informal document management tools similar to the Lotus offering will likely create a new market space beside the already established document management heavyweights.

"The vendor that fired the first shot was Novell with GroupWise 5.0," Austin noted. "This raises the ante for Microsoft, which is unprepared."

Microsoft has left development of such tools to third-party vendors. A spokesman reached today said Microsoft has no plans to change its current policy.

The latest add-on is yet another indication that Lotus and its competitors in the Net-enabled groupware market are moving beyond simple features like messaging to offer more robust capabilities that rely on the Internet.

The Domino.Document Manager will head to beta testing next Monday at the Documentum trade show in Santa Clara, California. The beta will be hosted on Lotus's Web server, in an effort to offer "pain-free" trials. By spring, the customers will actually be able to get their hands on the software for setting up pilot deployments, the company said.

Pricing is set at $4,275 per uniprocessor, which can handle hundreds of users, while the multiprocessor version will cost $12,825 and accommodate thousands of users, according to Lotus. However, to make it work with any browser requires an Open Document Management API component, which Lotus will sell separately for $29 per client.