Lotus talks over Java

Lotus Development discusses plans for Java-based component versions of its desktop applications.

Mike Ricciuti Staff writer, CNET News
Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.
Mike Ricciuti
3 min read
LAS VEGAS, Nevada--IBM subsidiary Lotus Development discussed plans for Java-based component versions of its desktop applications today.

As previously reported by CNET, the company yesterday unveiled SmartSuite 97, the latest upgrade to Lotus's desktop application package.

Lotus Components, available since August in a Lotus Notes-specific version written in ActiveX, will be rewritten in Java and enabled to run in Web browsers from Microsoft and Netscape Communications, according to Jeff Papows, Lotus president.

Component technology allows a user to take an element--a spreadsheet, for example--and place it with full functionality within a different "container," such as a word processor or a Web browser.

Java-based components will also figure heavily in 1998 for Lotus, as the company evolves its applications into containers that can host various application components. Containers are the concept behind OpenDoc, a component technology developed for several years by IBM and Apple Computer. Instead of the old OpenDoc containers, however, Lotus will develop its '98 suite according to Sun Microsystems' JavaBeans specification.

The WordPro 97 word processor is the only part of SmartSuite 97 that acts as a component container, with the ability to use Lotus's current lineup of ActiveX components.

But Lotus officials wouldn't say how extensively their future applications would be broken down into components. They acknowledged that it would be quite handy to offer a word processor that a user could "slim down" by shucking unwanted components, such as a thesaurus or an online help system. But such finely componentized technology might not be ready by 1998.

"We first need a large inventory of components," said Robert Norton, director of product management, "and we're still learning about the requirements."

The first Java components will debut sometime in 1997 in what is likely to be a torrent of Java software from the company in the future. Papows said Lotus and parent company IBM, which has recently launched its own network computer division that figures to make heavy use of Java software, have between 300 and 400 engineers building Java software but declined to provide a firmer delivery date. He said an availability announcement, along with further technical details of the new components, will be made at Lotusphere, the company's user conference scheduled for January in Orlando, Florida.

"We'll enable Components to run in all browsers as Java-based applets," said Papows. He said the new components will not be watered-down applications but will "deliver the same functionality as current office suites."

The current release of ActiveX Components is priced at $49, and includes six applets: Chart, Comment, Draw/Diagram, File Viewer, Project Scheduler, and Spreadsheet. The Components run in Notes' client software.

Addressing comments that the company will soon be only one of maybe a dozen firms providing Java-based application components, Papows said Lotus has one huge advantage over competitors--a ready pipeline for products. "The technology is not overwhelming. The complexity is having channels to bring products to market," he said.

Some analysts see both Lotus and Corel's move to create Java applications as a concession that Microsoft has won the traditional desktop app war. Microsoft has stated that it does not plan to develop component versions of its Office applications.