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Lotus's Domino theory

Groupware king Lotus hopes its Domino 4.5 Web server software will corner the market of collaborative applications available "for rent" over networks.

    IBM (IBM) subsidiary Lotus Development is courting software developers who write programs for the Web.

    As part of the effort, the company will begin distributing version 1.0 of its new Domino SPA development kit at the annual Lotusphere event next week. The kits will include the application programming interface (API) specifications, sample code, and an architectural overview of Domino SPA, which stands for Service Provider Application.

    The groupware king hopes to turn its Domino 4.5 Web server software into a standard-bearer for an advancing horde. Collaborative applications will increasingly be available for rent through Internet service providers and Lotus's high-end Notes Public Network.

    Lotus is enlisting the help of the independent software developers by offering them a cut of the profits. Developers can use the APIs to customize software that ISPs and telcos can turn around and rent to the millions who own small and medium-sized businesses or have access to the Net and a Web browser.

    "This opens up the market of small and medium-size business, home-office workers and even consumers," said Lotus spokesman Steven Brand. He said the company hopes the initiative will also attract Web software developers to its already impressive list of 13,000 business partners worldwide, most of whom write on the company's Notes groupware engine.

    Lotus hopes independent programmers will help it swell the number of ISP rentals by retooling offline Notes' applications for the Domino platform and writing new ones as well.

    "We are cutting them in on the deal," said Branch. Separately, Lotus maintains that developers routinely make about $7 in service charges--which include fees for customizing apps, deploying, and then maintaining them--for every dollar their clients spend on Lotus software.

    "Within a year, we hope to have thousands of apps available," Brand said. The Domino apps rental market will get underway in earnest via ISPs nationwide in June, he said.

    Lotus first announced the initiative last fall, when it signed up the national service provider Netcom to conduct the first market trial. The trial got under way this month.

    The Cambridge, Mass.-based outfit is not alone in coveting this still non-existent but potentially huge market. Last month, Oracle began offering 90 days of free email, calendaring, and scheduling apps via Digex, a Washington, D.C.-based ISP that services business customers nationwide. Another company looking to gain an early foothold is Digital Equipment, which also offers Internet collaboration. The company's ForumForum "virtual office tower" Web site is also used to help sell its Forum software.

    The companies seem to agree with Brand that "whoever cracks the code and reaches the general business market first, wins."

    The Domino development kits will include lessons on how to include billing, tracking, and maintenance for the mass-market software applications. Kits may also be downloaded from the company's Web site by developers who sign up to join the company's business partner program.