Lotus promises cost reduction, user control in Rnext

One thing Lotus Development Corp.’s Notes and Domino product manager never has problems with is generating feedback.

“When you have a user product, you can’t even sit on an airplane and without the guy next to you (telling you) he has 10 things he’d like to see in the product,” said Ed Brill, director of product marketing for messaging and collaboration, who was in Toronto Wednesday.

The Cambridge, Mass.- based company released the third beta version of the next Notes and Domino on Tuesday, coded-named Rnext. The final beta will be released in October, then it’s anyone’s guess when the actual full release will see the light of day.

“We’re not going to let some artificial date drive when we ship the product, because we really want something that customers will be able to use in the real world,” said Brill, “We’re not allowing developers to check in code before its done, so you won’t see any partially-baked features.”

The only release date Brill would provide is sometime between January and December of 2002.

What Brill would specify is that cost-reduction and more end-user control will figure heavily in Rnext Domino and Notes. Lotus is currently figuring out how to get more users per server and reduce administrative costs by allowing easier network deployment, data compression, automatic upgrades, multi-user workstations and some more trouble-shooting features. Lotus is working on something with fellow IBM company Tivoli, code-named Code Red, which is designed to fix some problems automatically.

Users will be able to adjust some of their screen layouts, there will be greater inter-operability between calendaring and messaging features, and roaming capabilities will allow users to access Notes and Domino from multiple workstations, said Brill.

But automatic fixes and more user control won’t cut the system administrator out of the loop, promised Brill. ” But we’re doing (applications) in a smart way, that says IT can lock every piece of this down.”

Rnext will not be available for Linux, Solaris or Unix GUIs, since the current install base on those platforms is very minimal, said Brill. Customers are looking for interfaces that look familiar, like Microsoft Office, he said, and Rnext is being designed for Windows and Macintosh environments only.

Lotus has cleared its release schedule for the rest of 2001 as far as messaging and collaboration goes. The most recent and last Notes release of the year is iNotes, Lotus’s browser-based Notes product, announced last month.

The product is designed to recognize several markets, said Brill: customers who wish to Web-enable all of their applications, Lotus’s ASP and ISP partners and companies looking to extend Notes capability from central offices to regional locations. ” The kind of user who’s in a bank branch or a factory, or a kind of person who’s more data-oriented than knowledge-oriented, it’s really designed to be an environment they can work in full time,” explained Brill. Canadian Tire has demonstrated some interest in such a model for its stores, he added.

The iNotes market is growing: last year it accounted for 10 per cent of overall Notes sales, and that number has doubled this year.

Seats for iNotes are about 20 per cent less than that of the full Notes suite ($63 per seat for mail applications only and $98 for the full release), but there are limitations. A concern that many customers have is security, and many don’t want to see their messaging done outside the corporate firewall. Lotus is working on building Notes’s PKI (public key infrastructure) encryption into iNotes, but that could be a long way off, said Brill.

The company has found itself blessed with more R&D cash to spend on such problems this year due to a tighter integration with parent IBM. Over 2001, Lotus has become a corner of IBM’s software group, along with WebSphere, Tivoli and DB2.

The real change that has occurred due to integration is that Lotus has changed its approach to markets. It used to take two or three product releases before the company could really understand where it stood in any given market. Now “we can say, ‘Here’s the business we want to go into, we’ll write the whole business plan up front and here’s what it’s going to look like from start to finish,'” said Brill. “That’s the kind of thinking that IBM brings.”

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