Not blinking in a messaging-client face-off, Lotus is preparing the final beta version of Notes 4.6 to compete with Microsoft Outlook and Netscape Communicator.
The company will announce this week that both the Notes 4.6 client and Domino 4.6 server will be in beta versions within three weeks.
Most analysts see Version 4.6's June ship target as a stretch, given that it is just now being polished for a beta version. But even a third-quarter release puts the upgrade slightly behind Communicator's early June release target.
Analysts view Version 4.6 as critical to Notes' competitive prospects. It marks Notes' departure from the familiar tab metaphor to a Web-centric user interface like the one in Communicator and Outlook Express. It also adds Java-applet support, navigator image maps, a Hide From tool, anchor links, and embedded panes.
The addition of embedded HTML will let Notes users forward Web pages with live links without booting up a separate application.
On the server end, Domino 4.6 will support Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP), Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP), and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). IMAP transfers message storage to the server, allowing selective downloads of mail. NNTP is the emerging standard for network news feeds. Lotus has not clarified which version of LDAP will pop up in Version 4.6, but it is likely to be LDAP2, with Version 3 support following in a late 1997 release of the Maui client and server.
Although Version 4.6 checks off some must-have Internet protocols on the server, IMAP4 won't show up in the client until Version 5.0 ships late this year.
"They need IMAP4 in the client [and] the server, but that's a tricky thing because [Lotus is] trying to maintain some consistency with the installed client base," said Bob Lewin, a director and principal analyst at Dataquest, in San Jose, California.
Another major goal of Version 4.6 is easier server administration via a project called Club Med.
That theme is penetrating other Lotus development teams. One is working on Secretariat, a version targeted at small businesses, with simple installation of both the Web server and its "business multimedia" add-ons, such as fax services.
Next week Lotus will also detail time lines and pricing for the entry-level Lotus Go Web server.
What's New in Version 4.6
-- Optional centralized mail inbox
-- Java applet support
-- Embedded HTML
-- Club Med -- simpler administration
-- Browser management
-- Support for IMAP, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, and Network News Transfer Protocol