Lotus Wraps Up ‘Missionary’ Work

Training its sites on that constantly moving target known as the World Wide Web, Lotus Development Corp. (Cambridge, Mass.) is streamlining its Domino/Notes environment by jettisoning redundant offerings and eliminating remaining distinctions between applications destined for Web and Notes clients.

Lotus has already dropped or rolled into Domino server several collaborative Web applications, including Domino.Action, Domino.Connect and Domino.Broadcast. Other applications, Domino.Merchant and Domino.Doc, remain as separate product offerings. Lotus initially offered these applications two years ago to "establish Domino’s and Notes’ role as an Internet server and as Internet client," says Andrew Mahon, senior manager of strategic marketing for Lotus. The products were also intended to educate the market on "what was possible or desirable to do on an Internet or intranet site," moving beyond brochureware to automated business processes such as collaboration and workflow. "We’re no longer in that missionary work phase of the market," he says.

While Lotus will continue to offer Domino.Merchant, the role of this electronic commerce software may be limited. Domino.Merchant is not intended for heavy-volume e-business, a role more suitable for IBM’s Net.Commerce. "If you already have Domino and you’re just trying to take an order, that makes sense," says Tim Sloan, analyst with Boston-based Aberdeen Group. "But if you’re trying to build an e-commerce site, starting off with Domino is an unlikely approach. You would be more likely to approach it from an IBM product perspective with Net.Commerce."

Domino.Merchant’s role is that of "an introductory or collaborative front end that works hand-in-glove with Net.Commerce," Mahon explains. Domino.Merchant is designed "to manage the collaborative workflow or review and approval process of content that goes on to the Web site," he adds. "In some instances, Domino.Merchant may be all someone would ever need. Packages such as Net.Commerce and Open Market are big-ticket items. You can get started with Domino.Merchant without betting the rest of your company’s future."

Analysts question Lotus’ positioning of Domino as a pure Web site. Domino may be too costly compared with other Web server products, according to Sloan. "If all you’re trying to do is create a Web server, Domino is unlikely to make your short list." However, Domino shines when implemented to support a collaborative or groupware environment, he says.

"If you already have Domino, and you’re trying to make material available to select business partners, turning Domino into a Web server makes a lot of sense. If you want to put eye-candy on it and have millions of users coming in, then you probably want to move it off Domino and put it into IBM’s WebSphere or maybe Netscape’s server." Lotus’ challenge is to provide the ability to move its huge base of Notes-oriented applications out to more users via the Internet, he adds.

Lotus is addressing this challenge in its upcoming release of Domino (5.0), which will run both as a pure Web server or as a Notes server with no tinkering required to fit an application into a specific environment. "The Internet has become such a art of the fabric of Notes and Domino that we don’t try to split out Internet offerings and Notes offerings," Mahon says. "Early in our Internet days, you had to build one application for Notes and another for browsers."

In later releases of Domino, the Notes application runs over the Web, but developers still need to separately specify Notes or browser functions. "In R5, the application runs exactly the same on a Notes client or on a Web client," Mahon says. "The Domino server will figure out whether the client is Notes or a browser."

Such Internet functionality may put Lotus in a strong position, according to Sloan. "Lotus has had to re-engineer Domino on the fly to make it adhere to more Internet standards, and make it play it that market," he says. "They’ve come a heck of a long way in two years in bringing Domino into the Internet space."