Notes 4.0 tangles with Web

Lotus Development Corp. today will formally roll out Lotus Notes Release 4.0, a pivotal product that has won high praise from federal Notes adherents but faces competition from groupware solutions based on the Internet.

Agencies and resellers began receiving copies of Notes 4.0 last week. The new product is expected to play well among established users, who have made Notes the most popular government groupware package. Lotus has sold thousands of seats of Notes v.3 throughout the government, where it is used to share information and manage document flow. "There is a lot of excitement regarding Notes 4.0," said Ned Miller, vice president of sales and marketing at DLT Solutions Inc., a Notes reseller. "All of our customers are planning to upgrade."

DLT's Notes customers include the Air Force, the Army, the General Services Administration and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

The Environmental Protection Agency, one of the government's biggest Notes users, is planning to migrate to Notes 4.0 as quickly as its budget permits. The agency has 3,700 users running earlier versions of Notes and aims to connect 2,000 more, said George Hesselbacher, Notes manager for the EPA. The EPA was a Notes 4.0 beta tester and received the final version of the software last week. "It's quite a dramatic improvement," Hesselbacher said. "We are thrilled with the product."

Users and resellers said the new release addresses their key concern: ease of use. Notes has been criticized as difficult—and expensive—to install and use. But the new version sports an improved interface, easier administration and new development tools.

While the installed base appears sold on Notes 4.0, the product faces increased competition from so-called "Intranet" solutions.

In this scenario, the Internet server functions as a groupware server, with World Wide Web browsers providing client software.

New Challenger

The Notes market will not go away, "but it will be seriously challenged by what you can do on the Internet," said Jack Littley, vice president and director of corporate development with BTG Inc., the exclusive federal reseller of Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator World Wide Web browser.

Littley said tapping existing Internet resources may be less expensive than licensing copies of Notes for multiple users. He said some of BTG's federal customers are taking the Intranet approach.

Notes supporters, however, counter that the Internet has limitations. Pete Gross, vice president of Computer Sciences Corp.'s Corporate Technology Center, said work flow and security are two areas in which Notes has an edge.

"Notes takes a business process and builds an application to manage the process," said Chip Emmet, director of business applications at US CONNECT Washington Baltimore, a federal Notes reseller. "[Intranet] doesn't address that at all."

And as for security, "Notes has a lot better security than even secure Netscape," the EPA's Hesselbacher said.

Notes 4.0, meanwhile, is reaching out to the Internet with a built-in Web publishing tool and browser that are set up automatically when Notes is installed. As a consequence, the administrative costs of configuring a Web browser for each user is greater than buying each user a copy of Notes and setting them all up centrally, Hesselbacher said.

Internet Counters

Meanwhile, Internet vendors are adding groupware enhancements. Netscape acquired groupware supplier Collabra Software Inc. in November and plans to release a combined product this year.

In addition, Microsoft Corp. plans to make its office applications "Internet friendly."

"The Internet may not provide all the capabilities [of Notes], but in many cases it will give you enough," Littley said.

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