Lotus CEO squashes rumors of Notes R5 delay

Lotus will ship Notes 5.0 by the end of the year as originally planned, according to Lotus President and CEO Jeff Papows, putting to rest rumors of a delay that arose after the public beta for the product's new release, due at the end of August, was held back for a few weeks. Company officials then had expressed uncertainty as to whether the beta delay might affect the fourth-quarter shipping target

Lotus Development will ship Notes 5.0 by the end of the year as originally planned, according to Lotus President and CEO Jeff Papows, putting to rest rumors of a delay that arose after the public beta for the product’s new release, due at the end of August, was held back for a few weeks. Company officials then had expressed uncertainty as to whether the beta delay might affect the fourth-quarter shipping target.

“We still plan to deliver by the end of the year, and we are on target,” said Papows, speaking at Lotusphere Europe 98, a four-day event held last week here in Berlin, Germany. The company’s second customer and business partner conference for the year attracted 4,000-plus attendees from across the globe.

The first public beta of Notes Release 5 (R5), currently available on the Lotus Web site, saw 35,000 downloads since its debut two weeks ago, with the CD version slated to make an appearance anytime soon.

While it remains to be seen if Lotus makes good on its promise to meet its Notes R5 shipping deadline, a delay may prove the crucial factor in the company’s now-infamous battle for leadership in the groupware messaging market with archrival, Microsoft.

According to preliminary figures from the Electronic Mail and Messaging Systems (EMMS) newsletter survey, 3.6 million Microsoft Exchange client licenses were sold worldwide during the quarter ended July 31, compared to 3.1 million Lotus Notes licenses sold during the same period.

But the shift in market leadership will not be permanent, and Lotus will reclaim its leadership position in the fourth quarter of this year, provided the company ships Notes R5 on schedule as promised, predicted Eric Arnum, editor for the EMMS newsletter.

Lotus being punctual with shipping Notes R5 will mean more than merely good social etiquette now that Microsoft has revealed plans to add new features to its NetMeeting and NetShow conferencing software in Outlook -- features that are somewhat similar to the Sametime technology already adopted by Lotus in Notes R5.

At its recently held annual Exchange Conference, Microsoft told attendees about new features that will allow Outlook users to monitor whether colleagues are online, and to exchange “peer-to-peer” instant messages.

The new Notes R5 is also equipped to alert users when colleagues come online and to then initiate instant conversations with them.

But while Microsoft’s new features allow for peer-to-peer connectivity where only two people can carry on a conversation simultaneously, Notes R5 gives users the ability to hold conversations with “multiple” parties simultaneously, said Eileen Rudden, senior vice president, communications products division at Lotus.

Lotus may reign in the messaging arena, but the company falls short on other applications, according to some users.

British Airways recently replaced its e-mail system with Notes, but it is using Microsoft’s Office suite that includes PowerPoint, Word and Excel alongside Notes.

“Lotus at the time had the best e-mail, but they were weaker on the other applications,” said Bill McKinley, innovation strategist for the airline.

“It seems as if Lotus doesn’t put a lot of effort into its non-Notes products,” said Ng Kok Liong, manager, Stepwise Solutions, a Singapore-based Lotus Notes developer.

Ng said that he found the implementation for Lotus’ FaxServer difficult, and the product “buggy," a problem which even Lotus’ President and CEO Papows acknowledged.

“I’m afraid we didn’t do a very good job with the FaxServer, and it’s been two years since we came up with a new version for it,” Papows admitted. “But we are addressing this problem, and will be releasing an improved version next month.”

However, Saleem Bikanerwala, principal industry analyst with research organisation, GartnerGroup, feels that Lotus should concentrate solely on addressing the “collaborative computing” market, which encompasses the messaging space, and should therefore withdraw from other markets.

“They don’t have the resources to do everything for everybody,” Bikanerwala said. “Lotus’ focus is very much on Notes, and the other products are just not adding value to its core collaborative computing space,” he said.

“I mean, how does SmartSuite (Lotus’ desktop applications suite) enhance its collaborative computing market space?” Bikanerwala argued, adding that Lotus should concentrate on what it does best, and continue its focus on strengthening its collaborative computing foothold by, for example, further incorporating its eSuite application in Notes.

“Lotus officials have said they will continue to develop SmartSuite because the installed base is still pretty large,” he said. “But SmartSuite will not hold out in the long run because its installed base will shrink when more organizations opt to move towards the more popular Microsoft Office suite.”

A view which Mark Ryan, product marketing manager for Lotus’ Internet applications division, did not agree with, saying that users get a better deal with SmartSuite because it incorporates all the applications which Microsoft can only deliver in four separate Office products.

“The latest SmartSuite release also includes a voice recognition application,” Ryan said. “You don’t get that in Microsoft Office.”

However, Lotus does agree with GartnerGroup’s Bikanerwala that e-mail and messaging is the

company’s main focus.

“Collaborative messaging is where the majority of our clients are spending most of their energy,” said Papows.

While Lotus has also enabled its users to integrate Microsoft applications, such as Word and PowerPoint, with Notes, Papows revealed that his company is not yet prepared to build its products on the Linux operating platform.

There is a highly emotionally charged debate even within Lotus over whether to deliver support for the underdog Unix-like operating system, he quipped, but firmly added that while he felt that Linux is a credible product, there are presently no plans to support it. “Not right now, and at least until 2000,” Papows said.

“Once you’ve given your support, you need to maintain it,” he explained. “But there’s just not enough Linux in the market to warrant support of that level.”

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