Lotusphere: Lotus Notes R5 appears worth wait, users say

Perhaps in part because of the Y2K problem, most attendees at Lotusphere in Orlando, Florida were unfazed by news this week of the continued delay of Lotus Development Corp.'s Release 5.0 (R5) of its Notes groupware and the Domino server portion of the software.

Most attendees applauded, instead of hissing and booing, at the announcement that R5 will ship next month, rather than be launched at the show as many anticipated, a response which Lotus President and Chief Executive officer Jeff Papows, who delivered the news, admitted he had not expected.

Lotus will spend US$100 million on the R5 launch, its biggest campaign ever, but attendees' attention was already riveted to R5 at the annual Lotus user and developer conference held here.

"They really have dozens of new features," said Stephen Strecansky, Notes infrastructure manager with Towers Perrin, a management consulting company in Philadelphia that has 8,000 Notes users.

One management feature which especially got Strecansky's attention is R5's ability to give managers visual representation of their servers in a number of ways, including by hierarchy, release and operating system.

"I'm responsible for 120 servers worldwide," Strecansky said. "I'm like, 'is Singapore (Notes) 4.6a or 4.6?'"Strecansky said he spends a lot of time writing Lotuscript to go out and look in directories and servers to find out what release his servers are running, information which Lotus has now made easy to discover in R5.

"What I do will change," he said.

R5's network-monitoring features were also singled out as a "major enhancement" by Norman Phillips, a project manager with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"That was one of the key features they didn't have before," Phillips said. "It was becoming a nightmare to try to keep up with it and manage it."

Strecansky of Towers Perrin also welcomed Lotus' decision to put Notes e-mail into SMTP format instead of proprietary Notes format. Previously, Notes mail was created in Notes format and had to be converted to SMTP to be sent via the Internet, he said. That task is invisible to the user but does make demands on the network, he said.

"They're no longer doing the conversion (and even) your Notes-to-Notes e-mail will be SMTP format," Strecansky said. "That'll save a whole bottleneck for us."

The enhancements of the Domino Designer portion of R5, including the use of standard HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and Web development concepts, were cited by an IT analyst at a pharmaceuticals company in New Jersey who asked not to be identified. Creating frame sets and outlines is very difficult to do in older versions of the software, and the ability to store an entire Web site in Domino without having to design it in Domino will be very helpful, the analyst said.

Another user, who tested R5 in beta, praised the new look of the Notes upgrade, which moves away from the concept of databases. R5 is designed around the concept of a browser with bookmarks and frames so that users theoretically do not have to leave Notes to access their other applications.

"The (older Notes) was rather antiquated," said Lillian Kelley, a Notes and Web design consultant with Technocrats in Bow, New Hampshire. "Notes and the browser -- having it all together I think is great."

But the enthusiasm for R5 in evidence at Lotusphere may not translate into immediate sales, because of the looming change of the calendar to the year 2000. Lotus announced this week that Notes' installed base increased 14 million in 1998, with 5 million users added in the fourth quarter alone, but those rosy figures may be difficult to duplicate in 1999, executives from Lotus and its parent IBM Corp. admitted yesterday.

"I think in larger corporations we are seeing them opt for a (purchasing) freeze," said John M. Thompson, senior vice president and group executive of IBM software group.

Lotus' Papows provided a different perspective.

"Nobody really knows exactly what Y2K is going to do to time-and-attention spans and purchasing," Papows said. In fact, Y2K may prompt a spurt of R5 adoption during the first two quarters of this year before users impose a freeze, he said.

R5 will need to be available soon if there is going to be any spurt, many Lotusphere attendees said. While many attendees were wowed by R5, most said they will indeed shortly go into a deployment-freeze mode because of the year 2000. Given that most companies want to conduct their own testing before deploying new software, Lotus is cutting it close by pushing the availability of R5 to February, attendees said.

Towers Perrin's freeze starts in June, which means "we probably won't move to R5 'til 2000," Strecansky said.

Phillips of Procter & Gamble agreed with that timeframe.

"We're probably not going to make any changes in the latter part of the year, in preparation for the year 2000," he said.

However, the specter of Y2K will not prevent all attendees from implementing new systems this year, including Lineu Carlos Andrade, technical manager at Banco Itau S.A. in Sao Paulo, which has 6,000 Notes users.

"I work in a bank. I finished this (Y2K) subject last year," Andrade said.

Lotus is on the Web at http://www.lotus.com/.

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Rebecca Sykes

PC World

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