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Next Domino easier to use

Lotus attempts to fend off increasing competition in the groupware market and to persuade Domino software users to stick with its product.

With its newest release, Lotus Development will next week attempt both to fend off increasing competition in the groupware market and to persuade Domino software users to stick with its product.

The IBM (IBM) subsidiary plans to show off Notes and Domino 5.0, a slicker version of the product intended to silence complaints that the groupware is too hard to use.

The latest version of the groupware/Web server duo will feature an improved user interface, enhanced real-time messaging features, and support for Java applets, sources familiar with the product said.

Due to be launched the first half of this year, Lotus Notes and Domino 5.0 will be debuted at next week's Lotusphere user conference in Orlando, Florida. The much-anticipated release features a slew of enhancements, including more support for real-time conferencing and improved search capabilities for data spread across multiple Notes databases, according to analysts briefed by Lotus.

Analysts also expect Notes 5.0 to include a browser interface featuring improved navigation, enhanced search functions, and push technology.

With this release, International Data Corporation analyst Ian Campbell said he believes Lotus has returned to the core element that has made it the one company to beat in the groupware market space: ease of use.

For a while the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company "has made concerted efforts to integrate intranet and Internet technology into its product. Now it looks like they're back to focusing on ease-of-use," Campbell said.

He pointed to the further enhancements in the user interface as proof of this effort. "They can include as many Internet standards in the product as they want, but if people can't use it, it's no good."

The new Notes client will also include an improved email interface that integrates a calendar and document management interface as well. This caught the eye of Giga analyst Shilpa Agarwal. "The interface enhancements are a major improvement," she said.

Other observers agree, saying users had complained about previous versions as too slow and complicated to use effectively.

One of Agarwal's colleagues at Giga, analyst Mark Cecre, said in its next release Lotus has to eliminate those problems and simplify the product to maintain its dominance in the groupware market. "I'm looking for them to better integrate their product with Windows NT and expect [them to] improve their user interface. Right now, Microsoft's Exchange with Outlook provides the [best challenge] to Lotus's dominance. With [Notes and Domino] 5.0, they now have a chance to maintain the market gap between their product and Exchange."

The release of Notes and Domino 5.0 was slightly delayed from the end of last year to the first half of this one. Developers quietly attributed the delay to wanting to "sync up" the package's release with Microsoft's Windows 98 release. They also pointed to customer complaints regarding 5.0's release being to close to 4.6's, which rolled out in late September.

Also at Lotusphere, analysts say they expect IBM will debut a version of Lotus's popular groupware package for its parent company's AS/400 computer line, building on that product's huge installed base and furthering IBM's e-commerce strategy.

Another highlight at this year's Lotusphere is a look at Lotus's eSuite WorkPlace for the IBM Series 1000 NC, which first saw light in New York City in November.