Notes 4.0 arrives at last as Lotus slips OpenDoc a Mickey

The Rat tunneled his packets on down to the Lotusphere celebration in the home of that
round-eared rodent in Orlando, Fla., late last month. The atmosphere was, well,
Disneyesque.


Lotus and a crowd of friendly faces officially greeted the somewhat tardy release of
Lotus Notes 4.0, complete with a futuristic dance ensemble that looked like escapees from
an Epcot Center display.


But none of the celebrators had any buzz to pass on about the Defense Message System
version of Notes. Questions about its release date brought either blank stares from
Lotusites or mumbles about their project partners or rapid retrograde maneuvers.


The most decisive answer the Rat heard was, "I haven't got the slightest
idea."


One reason the DMS version is delayed is that it took so long to get Notes 4 itself
finalized. Some Lotus business partners were muttering about how long they waited to get
the 4.0 code and how that had delayed their own releases.


Many extensions to Notes still are in beta testing, including the InterNotes add-on for
Internet gateways and Web publishing. An X.500 add-on seems a long way off. Suffice it to
say that Notes DMS may arrive before a balanced budget does. Maybe.


Lotus deserves some slack, though. It has just pushed the biggest-ever upgrade to Notes
out the door, ready for all its platforms at the same time.


The main pretender to the Notes crown, Microsoft Exchange, is multiplatform, too--if
you count Windows 95 and Windows NT as multiplatform.


Considering that Microsoft announced Exchange almost two years ago, Lotus looks as
prompt as Mussolini's trains. Some of Exchange's third-party companion products have been
ready to ship for almost six months.


The rest of the hoopla at Lotusphere centered around another Notes-related product:
Lotus Components, an entry into the world of Object Linking and Embedding controls. Lotus
plans to release a series of Notes-enabled OLE "applets" in March, including a
spreadsheet control, a data query control and a project management control.


All will be embeddable within Notes documents and e-mail and also will work with other
vendors' products that use OCX controls, at least in theory. They'll be viewable from
non-Windows platforms running Notes clients--or, with InterNotes, even Web browsers--but
they won't be editable.


These announcements should at least put Lotus back into the component-based
applications race. But the Rat suspects they've made for a few hot collars at Lotus'
owner, IBM Corp.


For one thing, the components were all developed with Microsoft's Visual C++, not with
any IBM development tools. For another, they'll run under Windows 95 but not OS/2. And
they amount to at least a temporary kiss-off to IBM 's beloved OpenDoc software component
standard.


Lotus has made vague promises about OpenDoc compatibility for Lotus Components and
other OLE control objects, but the Rat thinks some serious smoke, mirrors and black magic
may have to be invoked to make that happen. By the time it does, it could be too late for
anyone to care.


If you care about OpenDoc, raise your paw.


Another possible casualty of the Lotus Components push may be SmartSuite. The OLE
applets that Lotus demonstrated from its Components "starter pack" lack
full-blown features, but there are enough of them to handle most of the applications needs
of Notes users--and with an attractively small footprint and price tag.


Many of the Lotuspheroids in attendance seemed already to have written off the
application suite battle as a loss for Lotus and a win for Microsoft Office. Those holding
out hope for SmartSuite see it in the cross-platform versions of the suite, which won't be
available until late in the year.


Of course, with all that IBM marketing money to spend, there may be hope yet for
SmartSuite. The Rat just doesn't want to hear that they named a college bowl game after
WordPro. The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out
bad packets in cyberspace.


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