Tech Industry

Lotus unveils Java office suite

The eSuite is a desktop package of applets that includes email, word processing, and a spreadsheet, all running on any device that supports Java.

NEW YORK--Lotus Development joined a growing league of Java endorsers in unveiling its long-awaited Java-based business applets and tools package here today.

In a theater at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, Lotus president Jeff Papows introduced Lotus eSuite, a set of Java applets formerly code-named Kona.

Lotus, along with Oracle and Sun Microsystems, also used the occasion to launch a new architecture called the "Webtop specification," which the companies are describing as an open Internet standard for Java-based network computing.

The companies said the Webtop specification will allow developers to build applications to a single user interface for network computers (NCs), personal computers (PCs), and other devices. The full specification, which the companies plan to license, will be available "shortly," according to a press release issued today.

The eSuite product line features eSuite Workplace, a desktop package of applets including email, a word processor, spreadsheet, calendar, chart presentation graphics, and an address book. All run on any device that supports Java, including NCs and PCs.

The product line also includes eSuite DevPack, a variety of applets and tools that allows developers to create Internet applications. DevPack also includes LotusInfoBus, a JDK (Java Developer Kit) standard mechanism for data-sharing between applets jointly developed with Java kingpin Sun.

eSuite is an attempt by Lotus to give corporate network users a slimmed-down set of applications that provide only the functions absolutely necessary to a user's routine tasks. The applications are Java "beans," which means they adhere to the JavaBeans standard and can be "glued" together using Java development tools to make new applications. Each bean container can hold other beans, so a word processor document could host a spreadsheet component, for example.

Papows said WorkPlace is expected to be available in the first quarter of 1998, priced at $49 per user, while DevPack will be available the same quarter of 1998 for $1,495 per single processor. Broad beta testing for the WorkPlace applets for PCs and NCs will begin in December of this year.

Lotus's SmartSuite 97 is scheduled for an upgrade that will let it run eSuite applications as early as next year, according to Lotus executives.

During his speech, Papows also highlighted broad support from Sun, Oracle, Netscape Communications, America Online, and Novell, which all plan to use eSuite applets in some form in future products.

For instance, Sun plans to run eSuite WorkPlace on its JavaStation network computer. Oracle said it will offer eSuite applets as an option to its Web-based collaboration and database messaging package InterOffice, while its affiliate company, Network Computer Incorporated, will offer the Lotus suite as an option to customers who use its NC Desktop. And AOL will distribute its instant messaging service, Instant Messenger, with Lotus eSuite Workplace and SmartSuite and Notes as well.

Papows described the newest phase of computer development, led by Java, as the convergence of three technologies--email, groupware, and the Internet.

He insisted that his company is not leaving its flagship SmartSuite product line behind. A large part of the market "is browser-driven. For them we need to take a different approach," he said.

Dominated by Microsoft Office in the business application market, both Lotus and Corel turned to Java to try to pull disgruntled users and network administrators away from the Microsoft-Intel platform's ever-escalating processor and hard disk requirements.

Corel, however, has toned down its Java plans in the wake of larger than expected losses. Meanwhile, Lotus has shifted the focus of eSuite from end-user applications to the user interface and framework announced in conjunction with Sun and Oracle.

Admitted Mary Wardley, a research manager for International Data Corporation, "I didn't see that coming. The company shifted from the importance of the applet to the user interface. I have some concerns whether the commitment to the UI lessens the applet end of the product," she said.

Worse, Lotus may have fallen short on its graphical user interface (GUI) design. "I was expecting more of a Web-GUI look. The Web-like interface is becoming more prevalent in our life. I think they may be bucking the trend by introducing a new [NC]-type interface."

The company delayed the release of eSuite by two months to do some additional tweaking to the user interface.