Lotus Development is poised to announce the delivery by July 31 of the first public beta of the next version of its flagship product, Lotus Domino and Notes.
Notes 5.0 will look more like a Web browser to end-users when the one-client-does-all release -- with a completely new user interface -- arrives in final form by year's end, Lotus said.
The first screen to appear in Notes Release 5 is now a user-customisable headlines page rather than the existing regimented workspace with database icons. Users can populate the headlines page with items such as priority e-mails, the day's scheduled events, or links to selected Web sites.
A navigator bar offers browser-style forward, back, and refresh buttons, and a bookmarks feature lets users move quickly to frequently visited databases and views.
Lotus officials said the evolution of Notes toward the familiar Web metaphor would make the product easier to learn for new users and so help companies cut their training budgets.
"Customers had told us they wanted to be able to get end-users up to speed quicker on Notes," said Nancy Preston, Lotus senior manager for Notes and Domino marketing. "We therefore put in a lot of development resources in making the user interface intuitive."
Lotus will also add simultaneous messaging, or chat facilities, to Notes Release 5 under the name Sametime. For example, if the sender of an opened e-mail is still online, the end-user screen will highlight the sender's name in green. Clicking on the name will initiate an online chat session with the sender, and enable collaborative working and the sharing of documents, Lotus said.
Notes Release 5 will have its own instant messaging client, called Coworker, and will include support for America OnLine Inc.'s Buddy List, with its 20 million users, and AOL's ICQ product, with an estimated 11 million users. Lotus estimates it currently has 24 million Notes users.
Lotus has done a great deal of work under the hood on Domino Release 5 and Designer Release 5, using advanced research from parent company IBM, Lotus said.
New features include database algorithms taken from IBM's DB/2 database, an information organisation and discovery tool called Intelligent Projection Clustering Algorithm, and a search engine that can handle multiple spellings and double-byte character sets commonly used in Japanese and Chinese scripts. Notes Global Designer also includes a feature to coordinate publishing Web sites in multiple languages.
The full suite of Notes Release 5 products will be released some time in the fourth quarter, Lotus said, with detailed previews to be made at the company's Lotusphere event in Berlin, in September of this year.
And as well as persuading novice users to adopt Notes, Lotus said the purpose of Release 5 is to make sure that existing Lotus cc:Mail users upgrade to Notes, and not to its only competitor -- Microsoft's Exchange groupware.
"It's going to be a two-horse race from here on out in the messaging space -- Lotus and Microsoft," said Jeanette Medlin, Domino product marketing manager. "And the merging of e-mail and intranet applications is our sweet spot."
Lotus Development Corp. in Cambridge, Massachusetts is at +1-617-577-8500 or http://www.lotus.com/.
For a hands-on review of Notes R5, beta one, see the August issue of New Zealand PC World, on newsstands August 3.