Guest Column: Who Needs Notes/Domino Anymore?

Try as they might, Lotus just can't convince me that the company's new Workplace collaboration offerings don't sound the death knell for the Notes/Domino franchise.

September 24, 2004

4 Min Read
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Try as they might, the folks at Lotus just can't convince me that the company's shiny-new Workplace collaboration offerings don't sound the death knell for the Notes/Domino franchise.

Yes, there is a Notes/Domino version 7.0 in beta now, and IBM's glossy product roadmap commits to a version 8.0 thereafter. I got a glimpse into just what the next release will offer at Lotus' office in Cambridge, Mass., this week. There's lots of presence awareness capability scattered throughout the inbox and calendar, and for the first time partners can embed IM inside custom Notes applications they develop. There's better Web services support for accessing into Domino data, and improved tools for partners to enhance the scalability and manageability of the platform so that fewer servers are needed.

And yet, nearly anyone following the messaging and collaboration space closely plainly sees that it is the component-oriented Lotus Workplace, not legacy Notes/Domino, where IBM is going to commit its resources long-term. Workplace is less expensive, is Web- and/or rich-client-based, and is built in the J2EE-based WebSphere environment. IBM probably won't kill Notes/Domino altogether (eliminating platforms is not an IBM forte -- can you say OS/2?). But there is sure to come a day when IBM isn't selling new versions of Lotus' groundbreaking client/server software, which has lost ground to Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange juggernaut in recent years. It's more likely that IBM will grudgingly support those in the Notes installed base who won't migrate their applications to the new platform, but continue a long-term development investment? I just don't see it.

To many partners, this trajectory seems obvious, but today IBM continues to position Workplace as a Notes/Domino complement and/or alternative collaboration environment for SMB customers or underserved users. That certainly makes sense short-term, but as open-standards-based Workplace gains steam -- and there's a lot of reasons to think it will -" what remains as the impetus for customers to lock into an expensive proprietary platform like Notes/Domino? Even IBM preaches openness as its overarching mantra today.

The other element at play is less acknowledged but makes perfect sense. The WebSphere platform on which the Workplace components are based is primarily homegrown IBM, the pride and joy of the software group. For some time now, the company has pitched WebSphere and its J2EE underpinnings as the foundation for all of its software offerings. Couple that with the fact that a somewhat-reluctant Lotus has never evolved into a full-fledged member of the IBM family (on the surface, maybe it has, but nearly a decade after the acquisition, many Lotus partners still feel that they operate as a separate entity from the mother ship). Knowing that, it seems unlikely that the apple of Lotus' eye, Notes/Domino, will trounce WebSphere as favored platform.Some of the things IBM is doing in Notes/Domino 7.0 and other products seem to telegraph where the company is headed. With version 7.0, IBM for the first time provides native relational database support for DB2, creating an alternative storage base for Notes data and applications. Currently, Domino servers use the proprietary NSF (Notes Storage Facility) to store all data, which keeps these mail servers essentially siloed from the rest of an enterprise. Relational database access breaks up the monolith, to a certain extent, while allowing die-hard Notes ISVs to keep developing applications in the Lotus rapid app-dev environment. Workplace data is already stored in DB2, so this more closely aligns the data sets.

Meanwhile, in what seems an acknowledgement of Microsoft Outlook's ubiquity as a mail client, IBM earlier this year unveiled a tool that provides Domino back-end users with access to Outlook on the front end. To date, 100 customers and partners are piloting Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook, according to Lotus officials.

One ISV I spoke with earlier this week said he thinks the battle between Exchange and Notes/Domino is essentially over, with Microsoft winning. But bottom line is that the competitive situation itself is nearly meaningless, Notes and Exchange are "like Coke and Pepsi," he said, "swapping shelf space over and over." For partners, the challenge will be in deciding to brush up on Java and WebSphere skills and moving WorkPlace front and center in their Notes practices, or taking a look at the next version of Exchange Server and Office System, which sports innumerable collaboration tools as well.

But the venerable Notes/Domino? I'm not so sure that's the platform of the future.

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