WHY LOTUS SHOULD SELL

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Dec. 6, 1989: Lotus Development Corp. introduces Lotus Notes.

June 5, 1995: IBM announces its unsolicited $3.3 billion bid for Lotus. Chairman Louis Gerstner says he wants to put IBM's marketing force behind Notes "in support of the roll-out of that product."

In fact, Notes already is a hot global product among those in the know, and it rolled out long before Mr. Gerstner rolled in to IBM. And IBM is not the omnipotent marketer: It has squandered nearly a decade trying to make a go of OS/2, the Sony Beta of software.

Nonetheless, it's time for Lotus to sell out and let someone else finish the job. Notes software, which allows people at different locations to work together, has the potential to be the killer application of networked computers. Lotus, however, doesn't have the mass or might to complete the game before Microsoft belatedly brings out a rival product sometime in the next year.

There would be no Lotus Notes, now the company's crown jewel, if Lotus Chairman Jim Manzi hadn't stood behind the product. But his marketing has fallen short. If you actually understand Notes, count yourself among the fortunate few.

We first heard about the product early this decade from a Notes customer who explained how this magical software improved communications within his company. Recently, Intel Corp., a company that knows technology and marketing, told us how it was using Notes to connect global ad staffers and agencies, streamlining advertising production while also bringing more people into the loop.

"Notes is a leadership product," Mr. Gerstner says. We agree. We selected it to be one of Advertising Age's Marketing 100 in 1994.

But to become ubiquitous, Notes needs the biggest and best in software marketing. In other words, Notes needs Bill Gates.

That might not fly with the Justice Department. So we think Notes could benefit from a Lotus takeover by another deep-pocketed suitor.

We're intrigued at the prospect of a rival bid coming from the likes of AT&T or perhaps software power Oracle Corp., run by a driven fellow who makes Mr. Gates seem nice. But IBM is up to the task. If Mr. Gerstner markets a winner like Notes as lavishly as he's bankrolled a loser like OS/2, both IBM and Notes could come out on top.

Haven't heard much about Notes? You will.

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