Beta testers and analysts agree Lotus Development Corp.’s upcoming Notes Version 5.0 will mark an important step forward for the ubiquitous groupware product.
But numerous release delays may have already hurt its market potential, according to one industry observer.
Tom Austin, vice-president and research fellow with Gartner Group Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said Version 5.0 is the first to take full advantage of technology from Lotus’s parent company, IBM Corp.
“[It has] contributed a tremendous amount of technology to let Lotus completely rebuild the database internals and dramatically improve the performance of Notes,” he said.
And with beefed-up scalability and more open standards, Austin expects Version 5.0 will be two to five times more efficient than its predecessors, easily supporting up to 10,000 users per copy, a big increase from Version 4.0’s 1,200 users.
But by far the most striking change in Version 5.0 is the new Web browser-like interface, according to Bart Lautenbach, group manager of application development product marketing with Lotus in Cambridge, Mass. That includes such familiar features as a navigator bar, bookmarks and backward and forward buttons.
“There’s a consistent navigation model (in Notes 5.0), and browser-based controls and navigation,” he said. “It allows you to organize your databases much more systematically.”
Why the change? With an estimated installed base of 29 million seats, many IS shops are already well-acquainted with Notes’s 3.x and 4.x tile-based interface — but millions of Notes users and non-users alike are comfortable with Web browsers, Lautenbach said.
Several less-obvious tweaks have also been made. The Version 5.0 client will feature real-time messaging and new search capabilities. And to help developers build Web-based applications, Notes 5.0 supports HTML as a native storage format. As well, 5.0 will support POP3, SMTP and IMAP4 protocols, meaning users will be able to communicate with any Internet-based e-mail server, as well as Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and the Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP).
Buying Notes 5.0 is actually buying three products: the Notes 5.0 client, Domino Server and Domino Designer. Domino Designer has undergone an extensive overhaul, and has been blended with Web design capabilities in a single interface. It also supports Java as a native development language, and CORBA, COM, JavaBeans and Enterprise JavaBeans, to help users build distributed applications.
Domino Server features centralized client configuration, fail-over and load-balancing support, and real-time access to RDBMS, transaction systems and ERP systems.
Karen Willis, a business technology consultant with mbanx in Toronto, has been playing with various Notes 5.0 betas since rolling out Notes and Domino last January. She said Version 5.0 will help her clear up “infrastructure” issues — making the integration between the Notes client and development environment more seamless. The support for Java is another benefit, she added.
“(And) a lot of the open Internet standards are going to help us, like LDAP integration,” Willis said. “It’s going to enable us to deliver applications more easily.”
But if Notes 5.0 is one of the industry’s most anticipated releases, it is also one of the most delayed; originally scheduled for release in late 1997, Gartner’s Austin doesn’t expect Notes 5.0 until the late first or early second quarter of 1999.
The problem for Lotus, he said, is that organizations using less advanced messaging products such as Lotus’s own cc:Mail and Microsoft Mail are a prime target market. Without a new offering from Lotus, many of those users have been forced by Y2K compliancy issues to look at alternatives. As a result, where once Lotus could have won more than 85 per cent of cc:mail users, Austin expects they are instead looking at 66 per cent.
And despite Web look and feel, Austin said, retraining is still a concern for IS managers. “Lotus is getting a lot of pushback from [users]. Many of those users have developed skills around the old interface, and they’re concerned about the training costs of moving people to the new interface,” he said.
But Lotus’s Lautenbach said users will be able to move to the new interface at their own pace. “Customers do have the fallback to go back to the tile-based approach if they want to, but what we found is that…the browser look and feel is a metaphor people feel comfortable with, and is something that will reduce training.”
Lotus is also changing its marketing strategy, focusing on key vertical markets, such as the banking and financial industry, and targeting an entirely new audience: end users.
“When you have a product like Notes that can work…with a browser-based look and feel, and with its very strong messaging, it really becomes a much stronger end-user product.
“So our ambition…is to attack from three different dimensions: the IT group, lines of business and the end user.”
The second Notes 5.0 beta is available for download at Lotus’s Web site (www.lotus.com/home.nsf/tabs/canada). The full version of Notes 5.0 is expected to be available early in 1999. Lotus Development Canada Ltd. in Toronto is at (416) 364-8000.