Lotus previews Notes product strategy

Lotus Development Corp. in recent weeks has previewed its Notes product strategy, which includes Notes-based productivity applications and a new release of Notes. Federal resellers are planning to carry the upcoming products.

At the June PC Expo conference in New York, Lotus unveiled Lotus Components, a bundle of productivity applications that run inside the company's Notes groupware environment. The tools can help end users work in Notes, which typically requires custom programming. The initial product set includes a spreadsheet, chart maker, file viewer, drawing and diagramming tool, comment writer, proj-ect scheduler and a Components template builder. Components is to be available in August.

The company also tipped its hand on upcoming versions of Notes and a World Wide Web-based application server product, code-named Domino II. Notes 4.5 will enter beta testing this month and will add new features, such as support for Java applications, Netscape Communications Corp.-compatible plug-ins and a new security tool that guards against Trojan Horse mail bombs received via the Internet. It also adds support for Secure Sockets Layer 3.0 security services. Domino II, meanwhile, uses only Internet standards and protocols, such as Transmission Control Pro-tocol/Internet Protocol and Hypertext Markup Language to deliver Notes-based object storage and retrieval of objects such as HTML pages, and MIME and JPEG messages. Notes 4.5 will ship in the third quarter of 1996 and will incorporate Domino II technology.

DLT Solutions Inc., a Notes reseller, plans to carry Notes 4.5 and Components on its General Services Administration schedule, according to Ned Miller, vice president of sales and marketing. DLT currently offers Notes 4.1 on its schedule.

Government Technology Services Inc. also plans to carry the new Notes products. Lotus was GTSI's leading software supplier last month, according to a company spokeswoman.

Users run Components by clicking on an icon that appears in the toolbar when Components is installed. That drops down a menu of the components that the user can run and embed in Notes documents.

Each of these tools is available to end users in Notes and can also be embedded by developers, who can use them as part of custom applications. Components will let end users gain more use of Notes, which can be daunting for non-programmers, said Michael Welles, general manager of next-generation products for Lotus.

Using Components, a user simply can invoke a component to put a small spreadsheet in a Notes document to illustrate a point using quarterly financial information, for example. To do this without Components requires an Object Linking and Embedding link to a Windows spreadsheet that must be launched and running to show the spreadsheet, even a small one.

"It should make Notes a more attractive environment for users to use and for developers to develop in," said Michael Pinckney, research director for Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn.

"From the end user's perspective, [Components] is one of the best things that has happened to Notes," said John Head, product manager at Artron Products, a Notes developer and Lotus business partner in Carroll Stream, Ill. "You don't have to know a lot of technical information about Notes to use it," he said.

However, a federal Notes consultant who requested anonymity said one customer is considering replacing all its workgroup applications.

Instead of running large, resource-consuming applications to do calculations and charting chores, Components are small "applets" that do the basic work without all the features that many users do not know how to exploit. The small size of the Components also helps developers who incorporate Components into custom applications, an analyst said.

The initial list of six Components and the template builder cover basic productivity areas without intruding into the application suite market. The question for Lotus when developing Components was which applications to include, Welles said. The company's first inclination was to write many very specific niche tools for users, but research showed that broadly applicable, flexible tools would be more useful, he said.

Mirroring Productivity Applications

The result is a suite of small applications that essentially mirror productivity applications suites, such as Lotus SmartSuite, on a smaller scale. "The biggest omission is a word processor," Pinckney said. That omission was intentional because users already can type in Notes, and adding a word processor would start a debate about which features to include. Lotus' answer was to include none.

Lotus will make the Components Starter Pack available for free to all customers who are covered by maintenance agreements or those who buy Notes before the end of the year. Customers who are not covered by a maintenance agreement and who want to buy Components can do so for about $19 per seat for volume licensing.

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