US Report: Domino Web apps fall flat

More than a year after releasing a suite of Domino-based Web applications, Lotus is retrenching its efforts to spur corporate interest in Domino.

Three of the suite's original five applications--Domino.Action, Domino.Connect and Domino.Broadcast--have been cut or consumed by Domino or third-party products. Domino.Doc, for document management, and Domino.Merchant, for electronic commerce, are the two that remain.

According to sources, Lotus is considering dropping Domino.Merchant because of its confused market position and its second-class status to parent company IBM's Net.Commerce merchant server. The suite has been plagued by user indifference and Lotus' inability to articulate the target audience.

But officials maintain their commitment to the product, said Steve Brand, general manager of small-business solutions at Lotus. "[Domino.Merchant] competed internally with Net.Commerce. I was looking at both those products and trying to understand the market. Different people were telling me that one was more powerful than the other," said Notes user Fran Rabuck, president of Rabuck Associates, a PC Week Corporate Partner in Philadelphia. "It wasn't until almost a year later, when the message became clear, even within IBM and Lotus," that Net.Commerce is targeted at the high end and Domino.Merchant is a lower-end product, Rabuck said.

Domino.Merchant suffers from other important drawbacks. "The critical variable in that [commerce]space has always been ease of use. And that's one area where they come up short," said Chris Stevens, an analyst at Aberdeen Group.

Lotus officials acknowledge that Domino.Merchant is being targeted at low-transaction commerce sites. Lotus also has dropped plans to port Domino.Merchant to platforms other than Windows NT. Customers looking for a product that works across multiple platforms or is more scalable will be steered toward Net.Commerce, officials said.

IT shops using Domino but dissatisfied with IBM or Lotus commerce applications will soon have a new option from Binary Tree. The New York developer plans to release into beta this month ezMerchant, a Domino-based application that runs on NT, AS/400 and AIX platforms. The commercial release is set for August.

While Lotus maintains its commitment to the Merchant software, it has backed off other applications in the Domino suite. It appears as though only Domino.Doc is assured of a life of its own.

Instead of continuing development for its Domino.Broadcast push software, Lotus will support Microsoft's Channel Definition Format (CDF) in the upcoming Domino 5.0 server. CDF will enable the Domino server to deliver content securely to CDF-compliant clients, officials said.

Lotus' Domino.Action application, a set of templates to help users create a Web site, was usurped last year by the Domino Intranet Starter Pack. And the role of Domino.Connect either will be added to upcoming versions of the Domino server or offered as new Domino Connectors.

"The Domino apps have all morphed into something bigger and better," Lotus' Brand said. But integrating all that utility into Domino or the Notes client may not be the best answer, said Rabuck. "The criticism of Notes is in its complexity," he said. "Adding all those together--you're damned if you do, damned if you don't."