Lotus Finally Opens Notes Client to the World

Lotus Development Corp. is finally ready to share its cherished replication engine and give end users options for client access.

At last week's Lotusphere 2000 conference, the company detailed its forthcoming Domino Offline Services (DOLS), which will open Lotus' replication technology to Microsoft Outlook and Web browser clients.

The move means users will be able to connect non-Notes clients to Domino with the option of running applications offline before connecting to the server and replicating changes. But while DOLS opens up client-side options, it will require applications to be DOLS-enabled.

"The question is, will companies be willing to retrofit their applications?" says Matt Cain, an analyst with Meta Group in Stamford, Conn. "It won't be easy to do. You'll have to examine how application logic is exposed."

Lotus has already DOLS-enabled one of its applications, QuickPlace 2.0, which will ship later this year.

DOLS is actually a tool kit for assembling chunks of code to run on non-Notes clients. Lotus has prebuilt code, which it is calling iNotes, for Outlook and Web browsers. The iNotes code will allow Domino mail, calendar and task services to be used offline through Outlook. With a Web browser, users can get those services plus offline access to Domino DOLS-enabled applications.

"With DOLS, we can get away from the Notes client and avoid its overhead on the desktop," says Gregg Smith, senior software specialist for American Express Technologies in Phoenix. "The key is to get an interface that looks like the Web but is really Notes underneath."

Lotus went down this path with little success a few years ago with a client called Weblicator, which was designed to provide replication to Web browsers.

The DOLS tool kit allows subsets of Notes client code, such as Java, MAPI, security, database and replication services, to be packaged and installed on client software. The code, which can be upwards of 18M bytes, can be automatically downloaded from the Domino server or distributed on CD.

"Lotus is finally allowing users their client of choice," says Jonathan Spira, an analyst with the Basex Group, a consulting firm in New York. "The most important aspect is the ability for non-Notes clients to work offline."

Even before DOLS ships later this quarter, Lotus is already planning improvements.

"We are working with partners to develop mechanisms such as the ability to initiate a database discussion from Outlook," says Jeanette Medlin, director of collaboration product marketing. "And we are exploring the option of starting a QuickPlace from Outlook." QuickPlace is a tool for creating "team" workspaces.

Medlin did say, however, that Lotus will not turn Outlook into a Notes client.

Lotus officials say Outlook support is necessary because a large number of their customers have access to Outlook through Microsoft Office.

Ironically, Outlook also is the client Microsoft is using for the Digital Dashboard interface on its knowledge management infrastructure, which the company will position against Lotus' similar offering, code-named Raven.

The first version of DOLS, which is supported in Domino 5.03, will run on Windows 95 and 98 clients and NT servers. An OS/2 version will follow.

Lotus also will increase its base Domino client access license from $40 to $50 per seat to include DOLS-enhanced clients. A server licensing version will let users run DOLS-enabled applications to anonymous users located outside a company's firewall.

Also on the client front, Lotus introduced Mobile Notes, which lets handheld devices access e-mail, calendar and directory services in Domino. Lotus plans to add support in the future for the Wireless Access Protocol, XML and offline use.

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