Lotus makes available first public beta of RNext

Lotus Development Corp. this month released the much-anticipated first public beta of its next-generation Notes client and Domino server, called RNext.

The software, which also includes the next version of Domino Designer, features roaming user and multi-user features, security agents and enhancements to calendaring/scheduling and replication for the Notes client. The Domino server includes new monitoring tools, Web administration, policy-based management for users and servers, server access controls and deeper integration with IBM Corp.’s WebSphere.

The software also incorporates features for ASPs, a market Lotus is now trying to enter. With RNext, Domino features will include the ability to securely isolate multiple customers on a single Domino server and delegate administration. The features are an answer to the big push in the industry to deliver “software as services” instead of shrink-wrapped applications.

Also in that vein, RNext will add further support for Web-based standards such as the Extensible Markup Language (XML). Lotus plans to use XML to open its historically closed development environment. RNext will include a set of classes that make it easier for developers who know LotusScript and Java to use XML.

Lotus said earlier this year that the RNext preview would be available sometime in early April, and the company seems to have hit that mark. Company officials would not say how long the beta would run, only that they anticipate it will extend beyond the end of this year.

RNext may create some migration ripples among Notes users, almost half of which are still using version 4.6 of the product. Lotus would like those customers to move to R5, but they may be inclined to wait for RNext.

In January, Lotus said it was ending development on version 4.6. But last month, based on customer feedback, it revised that statement to say engineering support would continue until January 2002. That could give users time to think about skipping R5.

“We are still encouraging customers to move to R5, but we won’t make that a mandate,” says Don Harbison, director of product marketing for Domino server.

Lotus typically has a two-to-three-year gap between major releases of Notes/Domino. The R5 version was released in March 1999. It is not unusual for the company to have three active versions of the software available.

But there is no doubt that RNext has gained the interest of the Lotus faithful, who have to date deployed more than 78 million seats of the messaging and collaboration platform. Previews of the software at the annual Lotusphere conference in January were standing room only.

The involvement of a general class of beta testers this early in the development process, however, is a shift for Lotus. Company officials said the shift was not made as a way to help alleviate pressures put on by heavy employee attrition last year.

The intent, they say, is to help fine-tune the feature set.

“We want to get that kind of real-world feedback early in the cycle so we know our feature capabilities are on track with users,” said Ed Brill, director of product marketing for the Notes client. “What we can simulate in our lab is nothing compared to the 78 million seats [in production]. It means we can test more scenarios.”

Lotus began testing the software internally last October. A beta was sent to Lotus partners in January, and Enterprise Select Program members received code in February.

The code is not complete, but the features in the beta have all cleared final internal testing, according to Brill.

Harbison said the themes of RNext development are wider, deeper and richer. “Wider in the sense we are broadening the appeal of the infrastructure to a wider audience of developers and focusing on open standards and Web standards. Deeper in terms of integration with other technology, such as security products and WebSphere, and richer in terms of collaboration both internal and external.”

RNext also will move Lotus deeper into the IBM software portfolio, which has gained sharp scrutiny since CEO Al Zollar, an IBM veteran, took over Lotus in January 1999. But RNext will be viewed as another milestone in the ongoing process of IBM tapping Lotus to add collaboration and communication features to its e-business line of software.

The Notes and Domino RNext Beta 1 release is available now from



The Domino server Beta is available for Microsoft Windows NT and Windows 2000, IBM AIX, Sun Solaris/SPARC, and Linux (IA-32) server platforms. The Notes client beta is available for Windows 32-bit operating systems and Macintosh clients. The Domino Designer beta is available for Windows 32-bit operating systems. Future betas will add support for IBM OS/400 and IBM OS/390.

Final pricing and availability were not announced.