Lotus' annual user conference, Lotusphere, was overshadowed by the announcement that its long-awaited Notes and Domino releases, R5, will not be shipping until next month.
Jeff Papows, president and chief executive of Lotus, admitted it would be several weeks before customers get their hands on the groupware products.
He said: 'The expected thing is for me to tell you we're shipping this week and I can't tell you that. We need two to three more weeks of polishing to ensure stability and reliability to make the products bulletproof.'
But Papows stressed that the R5 releases were the most ambitious of Lotus' efforts to date, adding: 'R5 is to Lotus and IBM what Windows 95 was to Microsoft.'
He also outlined the vendor's marketing campaign for the products, based around the legend and characteristics of Superman, and described the R5 releases as superhuman software.
One key R5 addition is a user interface designed to make Notes easier to use. It features a browser-like desktop environment, allowing users quicker access to their most frequently used applications - including internet email, news, calendars and Web browsing - all from one integrated source.
But research company Gartner Group has already warned that the late delivery of R5 releases could cost the vendor customers. In a recent report, Gartner said Lotus was under competitive assault from Microsoft and was facing the challenge of maintaining the interest of current and potential messaging customers during the idle time that has resulted from the delay.
Lotus refused to confirm dates, although Papows promised R5 will ship some time in February.
In the meantime, Lotus and its parent company IBM have joined forces to form a research consortium to build and deploy knowledge management products.
The Institute for Knowledge Management (IKM) is sponsored by its members, which include General Motors, Xerox, the World Bank and the universities of Boston and Stanford. Membership is open to any interested parties prepared to pay the annual fee of $75,000.
IKM will be managed by Chris Newell, director of the Lotus Institute; Laurance Prusak, managing principal of the IBM consulting Group in Boston; and David Smith, knowledge management consultant at IBM Global Services.
The first IKM meeting will take place at the end of this month in New York.
Lotus has signed a deal with AOL to provide Notes users with customised news, Web searching and information management capabilities. AOL will provide Notes R5 in addition to daily news from a variety of sources, including the Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg.
NOTES R5 AND THE YEAR 2000 PROBLEM
Papows has publicly admitted that the year 2000 problem could have an adverse affect on sales of the upcoming Notes R5.
At the Lotusphere99 user conference in Orlando, Florida, last week, the head of IBM's Lotus division said: 'No one really knows how the year 2000 issue will take effect. I hope that in the short term, it may accelerate things in the first quarter, because by the third and fourth quarters, people will become more involved in ensuring their systems are fixed.' He added: 'In larger corporates, we are seeing implementations being frozen for the moment as they finish fixing systems. This could have an effect from quarter to quarter.'
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