Beta testers and analysts agree Lotus Development Corp.’s upcoming Notes Release 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 R5 is the first to take full advantage of technology from Lotus’ parent company, IBM Corp.

“[They’ve] contributed a tremendous amount of technology to let Lotus completely rebuild the database internals and dramatically improve the performance of the Notes,” he said.

And with beefed-up scalability and more open standards, Austin expects R5 will be two to five times more efficient than its predecessors, easily supporting up to 10,000 users per copy, a big increase from Release 4.0’s 1,200 users.

But by far the most striking change in R5 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 install base of 29 million seats, many IS shops are already well-acquainted with Notes’ 3x and 4x tile-based interface

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