To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Lotus Software's death have been greatly exaggerated.
Founded as Lotus Development Corp. in 1982, the once independent entity soon became a collaboration powerhouse thanks to its popular Notes and Domino messaging software. However, Lotus has faced a continuous tumult in recent years thanks to executive shuffles, layoffs, and integration with parent company IBM Corp., which bought Lotus in 1995.
Despite troubled times Lotus is rising again, this time on the wings of Notes and Domino 6, the latest messaging release launched in beta last month at Lotusphere. However, even it is embroiled with controversy. Some developers are unhappy with the product's evolution, and others believe Notes and Domino will soon be assimilated by IBM's WebSphere product line. Regardless, Lotus' platform remains one of the most viable enterprise messaging systems available today.
Aside from stout messaging and collaboration features, Notes and Domino have earned a reputation as a strong foundation for custom application development. Ed Brill, senior manager of enterprise messaging at Lotus Software, said Notes and Domino 6 allow the development of Notes software at a lower cost than in the past thanks to improved tools.
Another highlight of Domino 6, Brill said, is the ability to manage multiple users with the same hardware, which is an area competitors have had an edge over Lotus. Through what is essentially a kiosk system, a user in an enterprise can move from terminal-to-terminal or site-to-site and still access his or her messages and other profile-based information from a central server.
"That's a big cost savings for a company," said Brill, because it eliminates a user's reliance on any single client computer. It also reduces the need for more expensive laptop computers because a frequent traveler can access his or her information from any company computer.
At the same time developers are fuming after Lotus' recent decision to drop native support for Java Server Pages (JSP) from Domino 6 in favor of an embedded version of IBM's WebSphere application server, which supports Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) version 1.3.
Without JSP support, developers must either abandon Domino/JSP Web projects in favor of other J2EE approaches or spend time and money building workarounds with third-party tools.
"In the short term, the decision raised the ire of a lot of people because it was handled poorly from IBM's perspective," said Michael Lazar, a Domino developer and chief executive of Illini Consulting Inc. in Crystal Lake, Ill. "It was almost like [JSP support] was promised to be there, and then they pulled it when people had been using it for a few beta cycles."
Losing JSP support won't affect most Domino enterprises, Lazar said, because of the advanced nature of JSP Web development, but some Lotus business partners that planned to build on the technology have been left in the lurch.
"We decided that rather than ship a non-standard [Java] implementation, we'd look to other parts of the IBM software group for a best in class" approach to Java development, Brill said, noting that the commitment to J2EE does not hardwire the Domino community to WebSphere as some have feared.
Yet some still believe Notes and Domino 6 will be too expensive with the added cost from WebSphere. Brill said it's too early to talk about pricing figures when the final product won't be released until the third quarter.
"We clearly understand customers don't want to have to buy multiple pieces of infrastructure," said Brill. "We have a couple months before we ship and we're going to figure out the right thing to do" about pricing.
The JSP decision caused some to wonder how much longer Notes and Domino will be independent of WebSphere, or if the Notes and Domino platform will survive at all.
"There will absolutely be a Domino 7 and Notes 7," Brill confirmed. He said Domino 7 development is already underway and that the platform will continue to grow and evolve at least through 2005.
David Ferris, president of Ferris Research in San Francisco, Calif., said Notes and Domino still own approximately 25% of the enterprise messaging market, and many decision-makers consider it "just too much of a pain" to move to a new platform because of legacy application development investments.
However, many enterprises running Notes and Domino today still use Release 4, which was first released in 1996. Lazar said those companies, now almost two releases behind, may face tough challenges when they upgrade to Notes and Domino 6. Lazar said the move from Release 5 to Notes and Domino 6 is not very painful, but upgrading from Release 4 is a "tremendous jump" because of a new interface and advanced server features.
Overall, Notes and Domino 6 offer compelling options for both newcomers to the platform and those with experience running an existing version.
Lazar said Domino is still great at handling workflow, e-mail and calendaring. He also noted a recent study by The Radicati Group that demonstrated Lotus' messaging products are often cheaper than Microsoft's, contrary to popular belief.
Ferris said the cost of migrating to Notes and Domino 6 is less than going to Exchange 2000. Since such a move requires significant cash and manpower regardless of the platform, he said an enterprise should determine its priorities -- such as interoperability, application development needs, or strictly cost savings -- well before making a decision.
Said Lazar, "If cross-platform compatibility is a key question, Domino is as good a choice as you could ever find. You will not be married to a single vendor for your operating system or third party tools."
>>View SearchDomino's Featured Topic on Notes and Domino 6.
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