Oracle denies Lotus Kona bundle with InterOffice - for now

Oracle has scotched rumours that it will replace its own Hat Trick Java applets with Lotus Kona Java components, and denied claims by Lotus chief Jeff Papows that it will bundle Kona into the next version of InterOffice. But Oracle left the door open for what many would see as a smart move.

The next version of Oracle Corp.'s InterOffice messaging and groupware platform will be bundled with Oracle's Hat Trick Java productivity applets, and will not contain Kona Java components from Lotus, according to an Oracle official.

But Oracle did not rule out the inclusion of Kona in a future version of InterOffice. Kona and Hat Trick are not mutually exclusive in terms of their functionality and could sensibly co-exist in the same application, according to Steve d'Alencon, senior director of product management and marketing for InterOffice at Oracle. "There is minimal overlap between the two products," d'Alencon says.

Some observers have speculated that Oracle might want to replace Hat Trick with Kona, which another Oracle spokesman denies. "We're absolutely committed to Hat Trick," says Ken Montgomery, manager of public relations at Oracle.

Oracle will not even confirm whether it is talking with Lotus specifically about Kona, saying only that there was no chance Kona would show up in InterOffice 4.1, which goes to beta in several weeks.

"[InterOffice] 4.1 is shipping with stuff that was decided on over half a year ago," d'Alencon says. "We've already frozen the code."

InterOffice 4.1 will go to beta with workflow tools, client-side support for the Internet standards POP3, IMAP4 and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), as well as Hat Trick.

Speculation on Oracle's plans arose from comments made yesterday in Tokyo by Lotus President Jeff Papows. Papows said that Oracle will announce next week at Oracle Open World in Tokyo that it will bundle Lotus' Kona into an unspecified future version of InterOffice. Oracle denies that an agreement had been reached.

"We are not making an announcement next week with them," Montgomery says.

Lotus has since downgraded the certitude of its arrangements with Oracle. "There are some discussions going on between the companies" on Kona and InterOffice, but there is nothing to announce, says Bryan Simmons, director of public relations at Lotus.

Analysts say bundling Kona with InterOffice could be a smart move.

With InterOffice, "Oracle has what appears to be a nice scaleable email engine ... but Oracle has a chronic problem delivering useful [graphical user interfaces] to people," says Eric Brown, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Kona, on the other hand, is about client."

"From a product perspective, I think [the bundling] would definitely add strength" to InterOffice, says Heather Ashton, an analyst with Hurwitz Group in Newton, Massachusetts.

From Lotus' point of view, a Kona deal with Oracle could enhance Lotus' Kona strategy, which got a boost last week when SunSoft Inc. adopted Lotus' InfoBus - and thus Kona - technology as part of the standard for sharing data between Java Beans, according to Michael Pinckney, research director at GartnerGroup, a Stanford, Connecticut-based consultancy.

"It would be recognition and visibility for their Kona strategy," Pinckney says

But a deal could also create some market confusion, in that InterOffice is a competitor, albeit not a strong one, for Lotus' own Notes groupware, Pinckney said.

Moreover, InterOffice's position relative to workgroup powerhouses Notes and Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange takes away some of the interest in the rumored agreement, according to Pinckney.

"The fact that they're not one of the top couple of players in some ways diminishes the significance of any bundling deal," Pinckney says.

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