Caged 'Bluejay' ready for release

Lotus Domino and Microsoft Office aren't talking to each other, and that has Henry Newberry feeling a little frustrated. As a technology director at Cincinnati, Ohio-based Synergistics, Inc., a Lotus business partner, he finds himself playing the role of matchmaker between Domino-based knowledge management software and unwilling Microsoft Office clients.

"Connecting the two of them has been a real pain in the neck," Newberry said. "To do it, we've been able to build only a very rudimentary solution with Microsoft's POP3 [Post Office Protocol] connector for Lotus Notes, one that would maintain some fidelity in our document links."

But now Newberry thinks that iNotes, the Notes Release 5 extension that Lotus announced in January 2000, will form a transparent link between Lotus' popular server and Microsoft's ubiquitous Office applications. "With iNotes, we'll no longer be limited to pointing our applications at a Notes client," he said. "And it will help us to extend our successful offline model [for Synergistics' Prevail software] even further."

While the offline component of iNotes should be available by the end of June, the complete version will not ship until Q3 2000, when it is joined with Lotus' Domino-to-Office interoperability package, code-named Bluejay. Bluejay's other components include Domino Network File Store for file sharing, Domino Collaboration Objects for application developers, and an OLE/DB connector to link Domino with Microsoft SQL Server 7 and Access 2000.

Seamlessly bridging Domino and Office "has not been a trivial task for Lotus," according to GartnerGroup analyst Tom Austin. "To date, no one -- with the exception of a few third-party software vendors -- has made anything beyond a half-hearted attempt at integration."

Lotus is designing iNotes to fully extend Domino messaging to Microsoft Outlook users, and to make Domino e-business applications available to Web browsers. Based on what he's seen, Austin thinks the solution will work.

"With iNotes, Lotus has achieved a deep technical integration -- I'd say it's something like 99% pure -- with Microsoft Outlook," he said. "Outlook users will never know that Exchange isn't running in the background."

Microsoft, meanwhile, appears to be falling short of the mark in its attempt have Exchange Server 2000 match Bluejay's strength. "While it addresses some manageability problems," Austin said, "Exchange remains far less capable on the client side than Domino. In the four years since it shipped Version 4.0, Microsoft has only made very painful, incremental progress in tackling client management in the offline space."

Lotus is already ahead of Microsoft in a number of key strategic areas: collaboration environments, knowledge management tools, browser support, and support for poor communications environments, according to Austin. "Now Lotus is making available for new applications the core replication and communication underpinnings that made Notes so famous," he said. "That is groundbreaking stuff."

Still, Austin expects Lotus to drop the ball on Bluejay's greatest selling point for enterprise customers � its potential business-to-business e-commerce applications. "This is killer technology for extranets, but I think Lotus is going to blow the opportunity to promote it for B2B," he said.

Ed Brill, senior marketing manager for Domino, disagrees. "It's a little early to say how aggressive we will be in marketing this [as a B2B solution]," he said. "But we're confident that we will fit squarely into that space."

Baard is a freelance writer based in Milton, Mass.

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