Lotus putting 4.6 out to pasture

Lotus Development Corp. is preparing to give IT executives the ultimate incentive to move to R5 – by ending support for the 4.6 platforms of Notes and Domino.

“The current plan is to end support in January 2002,” said Ken Bisconti, the vice-president of the Lotus Worldwide Business Partner organization. “We normally support a release nine to 12 months after the next upgrade.” The R5 code was released in March of 1999. “We extended 4.6 based on Y2K,” Bisconti said.

Development of the 4.6 code base has stopped with Version 4.6.7g, according to Ed Brill, senior product marketing manager for Notes clients. “We are only doing Y2K fixes and those [just ran out].”

At Lotusphere, the company indicated that a little more than half of its customers have moved to R5. That still leaves a sizeable number that will have to make the switch in the coming months. While a percentage of the users are already in the planning or deployment stages, many are also wrestling with upgrades to Windows 2000.

The combination is likely to be an expensive and time-consuming task.

“The combination means that 2002 is coming like a freight train,” said Jon Barton, an executive consultant with Xerox Connect in Alpharetta, Ga. “I think some customers will be strapped with two major upgrades.” But Barton said Lotus must strike a balance between wearing out customers with upgrades and keeping products competitive. The next version of Notes and Domino, known as Rnext, is likely to be delivered sometime in 2002.

“We’ve been anticipating this cut off and we have been testing R5,” said Michelle Monaghan, Notes system administrator for AllTell Information Services, a telecom company in Little Rock, Ark. She plans to begin rolling out 4,000 seats of R5.

But for those that haven’t been planning and have stayed on 4.6, which is known as a stable code base, the comfort zone is shrinking fast.

“We work with lots of big companies that are on 4.6 and I can’t see them getting moved in a year’s time,” said Andrew Pine, network engineer for BitbyBit, a consulting firm in New York. “Our large customers will have an urgency if January 2002 is the cut off date.”

Pine said his customers are staying away from their 4.6 platforms for now because they are stable and instead upgrading their troublesome Windows 95 and 98 clients.

Lotus said no matter when the cut-off date, customers will not be left on a dead end. “The end of support is misunderstood,” said Steve Mills, senior vice-president and group executive for the IBM Software Group. Mills oversees all of Lotus. “We continue to provide support for older releases, but at some point you put a line of demarcation down and say this is where we are no longer going to do code fixes and changes, and you have to move forward if you want to be a 100 per cent current.”

Mills said IBM makes an effort to help customers on older versions of software. “About 99.9 per cent of everything the customers call in on is an existing problem and you can give them the answer you have already come up with for that particular issue.”