Lotus, Netscape, and Microsoft are looking to entice groupware users this year with additional support for Internet standards, Java applets, and browser interfaces - all aimed at simplifying the use of their software.
Lotus Notes, for example, will try to shed its proprietary skin once and for all. The preview of Domino 5.0 at Lotusphere this month in Orlando, Florida, will demonstrate support for Java applets and the integration of Java in Lotus APIs. Certain applets will enable a Web browser to render complex views now only possible via the full-blown Notes client.
Larry Moore, Lotus' senior vice president of emerging products, stresses that "5.0's theme is support for the protocols that are important for management behind firewalls."
This year, Domino will aim for faster, simpler cross-platform use via the Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP), Web Network File System for file transfer, and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).
Netscape this quarter will invade Lotus' replication and application development turf. Netscape has promised to deliver basic replication for its SuiteSpot server line by March and is also developing tools for replicating multimedia files, Java applets, and IIOP-based objects.
Also, Netscape will ship the Communicator client suite for SuiteSpot this quarter. Communicator is compliant with the IMAP4 standard for remote access to a central mail server.
Microsoft will enjoy its position as the first groupware titan to incorporate native LDAP into its software when it ships Exchange Server 5.0 this quarter. Upgrades this year will offer tighter integration between Exchange and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser via ActiveX and Java components.
One analyst watching the groupware struggle stresses that 1997's top priority should be a better understanding of users' decision making.
"Vendors should take a good long look at exactly how managers view groupware within their other systems - whether it is an extension of their email platform or desktop applications, or whether it is truly a distinct intranet strategy," says David Marshak, an analyst with the Patricia Seybold Group, in Boston.
If the latter is true, Marshak says, intranet start-ups such as Boston-based Radnet will likely grab a big wedge of the groupware pie from the big names this year.
Meanwhile, Lotus is coming to griups with the security realities of a more open, Internet-based environment. After unsettling findings in a security audit last month, Lotus has issued maintenance releases to its Domino Web server that prevent unauthorized Web browsers from trespassing onto the servers.
Lotus halted production of Domino 4.5, Powered by Notes, and Domino 1.5 on Dec 20 and has since replaced them with releases 4.5a and 1.5a to patch security holes. Lotus would not detail how unauthorized browsers were tapping the Web servers.
Administrators can obtain the replacement CD directly from Lotus or download the install kit from Lotus' Web site at http://www.lotus.com.