Lotus president Jeff Papows is playing both sides of the Web equation and walking a thin line between two views of distributed computing. On one hand, Lotus embraces the network computer with Domino as its server, Java as its platform, and eSuite - formerly code-named Kona - as its productivity applications.
On the other hand, Lotus is more cosy with Microsoft than in recent memory, with a messaging and application- development future firmly planted in the 32-bit Windows Active Desktop and Windows NT Server arena. Papows recently discussed this dual approach with IDG's Michael Vizard and Dana GardnerIDG: Microsoft is facing scrutiny by the Department of Justice for the way it markets its browser. What's your view of this?
Papows: I'm very sympathetic to the broad issue of Microsoft's ability to continue to leverage its dominance in certain respects - in a way that makes it very difficult to compete. But that's a kind of metalevel statement.
The browser discussion is more complex. It has some pretty big implications at this point because Windows 98 and the Active Desktop would have to change pretty radically.
It's not just a matter of taking an icon off the wallpaper.
IDG: Lotus has some significant Windows 98 development under way?
Papows: Yes, we have some big development under way, so pragmatically I'm concerned about the cards being thrown up in the air because we're working really hard on [the next version of Domino and Notes for mid-1998 launch] to optimise pretty deeply the levels of integration. If all of this stuff gets thrown up in the air, then obviously it's going to impact our development, like everyone else's.
IDG: We almost fell over when we saw your guys at the Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 launch.
Papows: Yes, that was different. We had had this meeting where I went out to Redmond, and took a bunch of my product executives and met with [Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates] and his product executives for a long day. We agreed that he needed to recognise that Lotus was one of his biggest values, and - from a Windows NT perspective - we probably did more to carry NT into the enterprise in a highly scalable, demonstrable way as a platform than anyone. It is absolutely true.
So I sent an e-mail to him one day saying, "You know, if we were really taking this to its logical conclusion, you'd demo Notes, not Exchange, at the Explorer 4.0 launch because we've got optimal levels of integration, and we wanted to send a message to the marketplace that we're going to continue to work together."
And there was this sort of silence for a couple of days, and then [Microsoft Explorer product executive] Brad Chase called me and said, "This is a really different thing for us, but we think you've got a valid argument and Bill would like you to know that if you want to get people involved in this, we'll do it." We put people on an aeroplane literally the next day and went out and did it. It is a different era than the one that emanated in previous administrations and previous seasons overlooking the Charles River here.
But it's a good thing.
IDG: Our Notes developer readers are really excited to hear that [Notes pioneer] Ray Ozzie is doing something new. What can we tell them to keep them on the edge of their seats?
Papows: There's not a lot to tell because the reality is he's fleshing out a bunch of stuff and he's not landed entirely.
It's been a long time since Ray has been sitting down and writing code, debugging stuff. And it just got to a point where he had enough conceptual thought about some real-time things and some other things that would relate in a very synergistic way to Notes. He wanted to start to organise a team of people and flesh it out.
IDG: will Ozzie take the Web model that Rythmix has today and make it a real- time environment?
Papows: Yes, that's the general frame of reference. Exactly how that will codify itself from a product standpoint, no one knows, but he's real interested. And I think it's a great thing.
IDG: Lotus announced eSuite on November 3. What's the difference between your efforts and those of Corel?
Papows: Corel laid a giant egg on the marketplace. We figured out how to do this right because, interestingly enough, we dealt with more naysayers and more scepticism as a consequence of Corel's missteps. But remember, we have been working on this Kona stuff for a good long time with a lot of people; we're talking about hundreds, not dozens of engineers.
Corel just rewrote existing code it had and wrapped it in Java. We wrote from a clean sheet of paper into a real client/server architecture. We optimised performance and it will deal with the NC realities, because in the NC environment you've got no disk in a lot of cases and no persistence model.
So not only does it have to be client/server, you've got to get a footprint to these things that's in a manageable scale so you can load into main memory. If you can't put it in memory in an NC, you happen to cross the wire every time you touch a control. You've got to have a persistence model somehow.
IDG: How does Java fit into Lotus' future?
Papows: At Lotus, like [its parent company] IBM, we are very invested in Java. But we're invested in it for very pragmatic reasons because a great deal of my operating expense as a company is development-centric, and anything I can do that allows me to write an application in a single instance and test it in fewer places is going to save us a lot of money.
From a strategic standpoint, we're invested in it because my own view of this is that interoperability in the more increasingly network-centric view of the world is not that simple. Interoperability in a network-centric environment is defined by whatever is outside of the firewall, which is another way of saying we have no way of knowing.
You want people to be able to write or conceptualise an application that's going to run with equal fidelity, whether it's running on a Notes client or a browser or whether it's being intercepted by a Unix interface or a Macintosh or an NC or a PC. The only way to do that is Java.
IDG: With Domino/Notes 5.0 supporting Internet Inter-ORB Protocol, Java, and Distributed Component Object Model, you've positioned Notes as a kind of universal container.
Papows: When you think of those as converging as one continuum, which is the case in Notes, as opposed to separate things, which is the case in Microsoft, you have to provide an agnostic piece of glue, because otherwise it just doesn't work.
IDG: Why do I need a full Notes client if the world is going to be very modular and browsers are getting more sophisticated?
Papows: When we first brought Domino to the market and had an open URL interface from a browser to the server, the question was, "Will the Notes client go away?" The reality is we've been doubling the client installed base quarter-for-quarter. The reason I think that happens is because people see value in the integration; there are just certain things that happen on a client to make the user experience what people expect or want.
The appropriations cost of a Notes client or [Microsoft] Outlook or [Netscape] Communicator is a rounding error when you look at the cost of ownership. So at the end of the day I think the browser is an HTML-composing engine. If we had not gotten more and more manic about the openness, instead of shipping 2.8 million clients, we would have shipped less. People don't want to be trapped.
IDG: So I'm sitting here on my Notes client and I'm talking to multiple servers. What is the glue in the client that's going to make that appear seamless and integrated?
Papows: I don't know that it is on the client. The common point of interface between all of it is HTML or Extensible Markup Language or some derivative. That much is obvious because the one constant container is an HTML page. It's the one religious standard that we have in this industry - TCP/IP and HTML, and that's about it. Frankly, it'll get beyond that too, because dynamic HTML is also going to be part of the agreement.
IDG: We hear that you have 26 million seats between cc:Mail and Notes, but that cc:Mail has only one or two point releases left in it. Notes has been pulled out of Version 4.6 as a separate mail product. When should people migrate?
Papows: This is somewhat different than the way Microsoft managed this. It got to a point where it just went cold turkey and said, "There will be no upgrades to Microsoft Mail, it's Exchange, that's it." Microsoft gets held sometimes to a different standard than we do.We would not get away with that. But we are going to go into a mature status, for lack of a better word, by the end of this year with cc:Mail, which means there will be a couple of maintenance releases each year to deal with the ongoing bug fixes, both for the post office and the client.
But there should be absolutely no doubt at this point that we are advising clients to migrate to Notes, and that we will ramp-down aggressively through 1998 the rate of research and development in cc:Mail.
IDG: Analysts speak highly of your position right now in Web-based application development. Is that a story that hasn't been told?
Papows: It's been a bit frustrating because we've got such tremendous application strengths and it has gone sort of unreported. When you focus on static publishing and simple Internet and Web site creation - as opposed to the kinds of interactive applications that really by necessity need to link back to a relational database - then it's a moot point.
I think the market is getting to the point where we're going to be moving past that very simple publishing model. So I think it will become a much more advantageous thing for us in the next few quarters or the next year.