Lotus greets developers with open arms

Lotus Development Corp. wants to expand the usability of its Notes and Domino integrated messaging and Web application platform, and means to make it easier for more people to write Domino applications.

Those were among the key messages delivered to the 1,500 software developers who converged on a surprisingly chilly San Francisco recently for the DevCon ’99 conference.

Lotus is addressing the mobile market by working on a technology called Domino Runtime Services that will let Web-based Domino applications be downloaded for off-line use in a browser. That means notebook users can take these corporate Web-based applications (such as supply chain, customer relationship management or employee self-service) on the road, and then synchronize data when they return to the office.

The underlying technology includes ActiveX controls and Netscape plug-ins, which install from Domino Release 5 servers. The application logic and the necessary data is then downloaded locally to the clients (often a 10MB to 18MB file).

With Domino Runtime Services, “you co-locate on the same platform as the browser,” said Nick Shelness, chief technology officer for Lotus. The proposed benefits are for connected as well as mobile users, as more work is done locally, reducing bandwidth use and server loads.

“Network latency goes to zero. It’s a much better browser experience than you normally get,” said Cliff Reeves, vice-president of product management for Lotus. Beta-testing on Domino Runtime Services is planned for Q4.

Being open

Being “open” is the hottest (and most politically correct) trend in modern software development. And Lotus is definitely embracing the concept.

“We’ve consistently been asked to improve our tools and languages support,” Reeves said. “We’re taking a rich set of APIs and just making them more acceptable to more tools.”

More specifically, Lotus announced its Domino Application Server will soon support Microsoft’s Component Object Model (COM) technology. The Lotus toolkit for Microsoft COM is expected to ship as part of Domino Version 5.02, due in October. That should open Domino up to developers who are familiar with Microsoft Visual Studio and Inprise Delphi, for example. Moreover, Lotus said it will be easier to build Domino and Notes access directly into Windows applications.

As well, Lotus said it will also support the Macromedia Dreamweaver 2.0 and Microsoft FrontPage 2000 Web design environments by Q4 with the Domino Design Component Software Kit, which will extend Domino features to the Dreamweaver and FrontPage environments. Designers will be able to build Domino-based e-business applications, for example, without needing to learn Lotus development tools.

“A trend I feel is interesting is the way Lotus is making Domino more open to the rest of the world,” said conference attendee Richard Morochove, a Toronto-based consultant and president of Morochove & Associates Inc.

Greg Michetti, president of Edmonton-based development and consulting firm Michetti Information Solutions Inc., called COM support “the most interesting announcement of the conference…indicating a shift towards the Microsoft way of doing things.”

Michetti added: “In a way, they seemed to be appealing to the thousands of programmers familiar with Microsoft Visual Studio by saying, ‘Hey, you already have the skill sets to work in Domino and Notes; so c’mon over here.'”

Lotus also announced plans to increase support for Extensible Markup Language (XML). Without supplying timeline specifics, the company said it will be providing integration with standard XML tools, native storage of XML, plus runtime API support for standard XML libraries.

Further on the openness front, Lotus announced it will ship Notes and Domino Release 5 for Linux by the end of this year. Getting approval for the project was a political struggle at first, said Steve Lyons, project manager for the Unix team at Iris Associates, which is Lotus’s development arm. “But we just went out and did it. We took the approach that it’s a lot easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”

Yet Lotus management apparently warmed to the idea. In fact, Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system, was the keynote speaker at DevCon. He talked about the benefits of working on an open platform like Linux.

“You don’t have contracts and obligations, you have friends you want to do things for. It makes for a much better way of living.”

Domino Workflow 2.0

Lotus is now shipping Workflow 2.0, putting its mark on the ProcessWare product from Germany’s ONEstone, acquired in April.

Michele Deziel is general manager of the Web application market for Lotus, based in Cambridge, Mass. She noted: “We created a term called groupware. Now at this point, I wish we hadn’t, because it’s pigeonholed us in some areas, now that the Web is popular.”

She said workflow capability has been a key area of Notes and Exchange, and there are more than 20,000 Lotus business partners around the world developing workflow and collaboration applications. However, now Lotus is moving workflow up a notch, with “enterprise-level workflow applications.”

Ken Allen, manager of product marketing for Domino Workflow, calls the product “process management for the enterprise.” He said it’s not just a relabelling of ProcessWare, because Workflow 2.0 is now integrated with Domino.Doc, Lotus’s document management application. “Customers want to see that integration,” he said.

Workflow includes: the software core called the Domino Workflow Engine; the Domino Workflow Architect, the visual interface for developers to design and manage workflow processes; and Domino Workflow Viewer user interface. Domino Workflow Engine starts at US$9,995 per server, and US$60 per workflow user. Architect starts at US$2,495 per developer.

According to Allen, target markets include: product development, accounts payable, purchase order processing, expense reports, human resources requisitions, sales force automation, complaint handling and call centre applications.

Steve Cappo, senior manager of knowledge management product marketing for Lotus, hinted that announcements on the knowledge management front are pending, as Lotus and its parent company — IBM — work together to address such important areas as business intelligence, knowledge discovery, collaboration, knowledge transfer and expertise sharing.

Based in Montreal, Michael Gold is North American marketing manager for Paris-based Sharing Technologies, a workgroup specialist. He said Lotus developers are very focused on “how they share information, and especially how they store that information for legacy applications in the Notes environment.”

Casselman is a freelance writer in Calgary who specializes in high-technology reporting.