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Playing Domino for e-money

IBM subsidiary Lotus Development announces software based on its Domino Web server for merchants that want to open Web storefronts.

Lotus Development has announced software based on its Domino Web server for merchants that want to open Web storefronts.

Larger companies can use the Domino.Merchant to create and run commercial Internet sites. For smaller firms, Lotus intends to make available a rentable version called Domino.Merchant SPA (Service Provider Application).

"We are going to market with a product that is directly competitive with Microsoft and Netscape," said Keith McCall, director of Internet applications for Lotus. "Both Netscape and Microsoft have a bucket of parts, not an integrated solution."

Lotus says that Domino.Merchant is a fully integrated set of applications that include a Notes server, Web server, configurable templates. The built-in Domino.Action tools can be used to create catalogs, update catalog and pricing information, track sales activity via built-in reports, host customer feedback forums, and build workflow applications.

Domino.Merchant SPA is designed to let users with little or no technical expertise create Internet storefronts that can be hosted by Lotus Notes Public Networks or ISPs.

Both packages will be priced under $5,000, according to McCall, and a commercial version will ship in the first quarter of next year, perhaps as early as January. Microsoft Merchant Server costs at least $15,000 and Netscape Merchant System costs no less than $60,000.

Lotus' timing is good. According to International Data Corporation research, the number of Web shoppers will grow from about 9 million at year's end to 45.7 million by the end of the year 2000. IDC estimates that annual spending on the Web will go from $5.4 billion this year to $116.8 billion by the end of the century.

But the Lotus software enters an increasingly crowded market for creating and running Web storefronts. Microsoft just began shipping its Merchant Server software.

Several companies are pitching software for large, complex sites, including Open Market, Connect, and BroadVision. Netscape also offers both software and consulting to set up Web stores. For smaller sites, iCat's $1,495 product uses templates to get merchants online quickly.

Some analysts, however, think that Domino.Merchant offers broader features than competing software, building in more elements of the sales cycle and offering better control of merchandising and prices.

"Domino.Merchant has a pretty good chance of being a high-volume product compared to some of the products out there," siad Michael Sullivan-Trainor, IDC's director of Internet programs. He thinks it will compete with Microsoft's offering, and expects Domino.Merchant to appeal to companies that already use Notes groupware with its Domino Web server.

While competitors are bundling third-party security and replication into their online commerce offerings, Sullivan-Trainor said Domino.Merchant--with its Notes replication and security features that are considered industry benchmarks--will have an advantage with corporate executives seeking an integrated e-commerce application.

But as companies like Microsoft and Netscape race to add functions that Lotus pioneered in Notes, Lotus still has some work ahead to adapt its products for the Web. Sullivan-Trainor expects the competition will begin in earnest in three to six months.

Domino.Merchant is part of what will become a family of integrated Internet software marketed as Domino.Applications.

Separately, Lotus also said it would add features to integrate its Domino Web server with SAP's R/3, continuing to enhance and expand enterprise connectivity features of Domino. Lotus introduced the SAP R/3 LotusScript Extension for Domino.