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Rnext, worth the wait?

Domino and Notes professionals say Rnext, not R5, has the features they're looking for.

Administrators and developers awaiting Domino Rnext may be hanging on longer than they expected. IBM Lotus now says it might not ship the final version of Rnext before December 2002.

Lotus had initially slated Rnext for release in January 2002, causing many Domino users to avoid an interim upgrade to Domino R5.

Domino and Notes professionals say Rnext, not R5, has the features they're looking for. Rnext boasts more flexible messaging options and a friendlier Notes client interface, support for Java Server Pages, and tighter integration with other IBM products, like WebSphere, DB2 and Tivoli.

Lotus has already baked its server-side enhancements into Rnext, now in its third beta build. The company hopes to overhaul its Notes client UI in time for Lotusphere 2002, Lotus' annual conference scheduled for the end of January 2001.

"We are primarily invested in making client-side changes," says Ed Brill, a Lotus marketing executive. "We are trying to make the Notes client interface appear more consistent with the other [Microsoft] Windows applications people are using."

Brill says Lotus has conducted extensive usability testing on the Notes client, and combed through every line of feedback from its beta testers. "We're analyzing every feature to ensure that Rnext won't require any retraining for current [R5] users."

But if progress on Rnext has been slow-going, Brill isn't about to apologize. He says Lotus is taking its time to ensure Rnext's stability. "We don't want to miss expectations like we did when we were facing the competitive threat of the week [from Microsoft and other vendors]. We're taking our time to make sure the product is fully functional."

Domino administrators and developers who are already already using Websphere and Tivoli may find that Rnext was worth the wait.

"IBM has made closer integration between Notes/Domino and its other software products, especially WebSphere, a high priority," says IDC analyst Mark Levitt. "This should benefit customers who already have or will be using multiple IBM software products for different but sometimes overlapping purposes."

Rnext also takes some code from Tivoli Manager for Domino, which monitors Domino servers and suggests performance enhancements. Part of Rnext's version of the Tivoli product, code-named Vision, is available in the Beta 3 release; the module should be completed by the time Rnext Beta 4 becomes available in November.

Lotus is making steady progress with Rnext, but some enterprises have not seen enough to make them commit to the product.

One Fortune Global 500 pharmaceutical firm, which is converting 60,000 seats to Notes from Microsoft Exchange, recently opted for R5.

"They are trying to concentrate on a known quantity," says Andy Pedisich, president of Technotics Inc., an IT firm working for the pharmaceutical company. "They are looking to 5.0.8 or 5.0.9 to deliver iNotes and solid Sametime. Rnext isn't even a contender."

Lotus is making sure that Rnext's costs will not leave Domino users cold. Brill says that Rnext upgrades will likely be covered by current Notes/Domino subscriptions.

Perhaps the least certain aspect of Lotus' strategy is what the company plans to call the final version of Rnext; Lotus will not be calling it Rnext.

"And we won't be calling it R6, either," says a Lotus insider, "because SAP or Oracle already have that name trademarked."

Ready for Rnext? These links and events should make the waiting easier.

Be sure to join searchDomino's Live Expert Q&A on "Getting Ready for Rnext" with searchDomino expert Michael Lazar, principal CLP for Domino Administration, on October 17, 2001 at 12:00 pm. EDT (16:00 GMT). Michael will answer questions on migrating to Domino R5 and offer advice on how to prepare for Rnext. The Rnext Beta program Read articles, run tutorials and download toolkits and the latest version of Rnext.

InformationWeek: Rnext meets current IT demands Rnext (Beta 2 in this review) increases user mobility and integration with other business applications, writes this reviewer. Programming in Rnext Lotus' Gary Devendorf recently discussed Rnext's new features with Domino developers. View the transcripts here.

Mark Baard is a contributing writer based in Milton Mass.

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