Lotus finds voice amid Web cacophony

Lotus finds voice amid Web cacophony

Newly appointed Lotus Development president Jeffrey Papows recently spoke to IDG's Amy Doan on Lotus' attempt to reinvent itself in a market dominated by the Internet.

IDG: What is the prospect for Netscape's sudden march on the groupware market with SuiteSpot?

JEFFREY PAPOWS: Netscape's interest in groupware, a term we invented, resembles what we have been delivering for as long as six years. It's ironic that they're heading toward a proprietary offering while we're embracing open standards.

Netscape ought to get some credit for brilliantly executing a market ubiquity strategy around Navigator. But I think the company has some very fundamental business challenges ahead in attempting to cobble together a full-service Internet client.

Bill Gates recently mentioned that given the beating Netscape was taking at the hands of [Microsoft's] Internet Explorer, the last move he'd want to follow up with is a run at our groupware space. But welcome to our world, Mountain View. I find it infinitely more complex and competitive than the one Netscape is leaving.

IDG: What could you have done to avoid the current Web mind-share struggle?

PAPOWS: The mistake we made was not speaking particularly loudly about the Internet/intranet functionality in the Notes 4 development, even though we began work on it 36 to 42 months ago. In an exploding marketplace, that silence created doubt about our capacity to compete. If I had it to do over again, I would have been more verbal earlier, despite my discomfort with the industry's track record for vapour.

IDG: How is Lotus planning to tackle this perception issue?

PAPOWS: We're moving into a more mass awareness, mass demand, mass branding effort starting this month. We're clearly saying that we want to own the Web server market with the name Domino 4.5, powered by Notes. Lotus Weblicator will also give up to 40 million browser users a taste of the full-range Notes clients. We're extending the value of the browsers so that they now have direct access to Domino servers over standard URL interfaces. Unlike our competitors, we're delivering the product today. That's a compelling reason for browser users to move to our clients rather than Netscape's or Microsoft's "chalkware".

IDG: A while back you said the IS community shouldn't underestimate Lotus' capability to eat its own children and license the replication function. Is that still true?

PAPOWS: If you're going to have cannibalisation, you might as well set the menu! Weblicator is the first time we've broken out the Notes Object Store and Replication function, but there are no plans to go beyond that yet. We've made that technology accessible in a broad way because our competitive advantage is framed by much more than technology. We have years of in-market product experience and other business advantages that are much trickier to re-create.

IDG: What is the long-term plan for cc:Mail?

PAPOWS: We're committed to the product line, and we'll continue to invest in the high teens [as a percentage of corporate research and development] because there are a lot of emerging markets around the world where the infrastructure is better suited for cc:Mail than for more advanced forms of client/server messaging like Notes Mail. cc:Mail more than supports itself financially. The strategic direction for our Internet and second-generation messaging efforts is, however, Notes. We will move a good number of the cc:Mail bases to Notes Mail, but we're not going to force it, unlike Microsoft. Microsoft made their Mail users turn a hard right toward Exchange, and Microsoft Mail fell off a cliff as a consequence. It's safe to say that five years from now Notes Mail will be far and away the dominant client, but we'll offer concurrent support for the two product lines.

IDG: Microsoft and Netscape have been making almost daily Internet announcements, some more substantive than others. Do you think the World Wide Web is overhyped?

PAPOWS: If you talk to CIOs, most of them will tell you that we are shoving product down faster than they can digest it. The daily Internet announcements are going to continue to happen, here, as well as in Redmond and Mountain View, because no-one is going to be passive enough to get behind.

We go through these periods of relative insanity in our business, but things eventually reach an equilibrium. It's overdone, but a byproduct of the world we live in, of the Web year phenomenon. While it's exciting that the pace of innovation has been quickened, at the end of the day we'd all do well to remember that real IS departments and users have to absorb this stuff. Of course, we're stepping up the pace of our Internet updates and product initiatives just like everyone else.

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