IBMs Lotus Software divisions plans to continue to support and enhance its existing Domino collaboration platform in parallel to developing next-generation Java technologies are winning mostly applause from the Domino developer community.
But questions still linger over how long that commitment to Domino will last and how customers and partners will choose which technology path to follow.
Wednesday at the IBM DeveloperWorks Live conference in San Francisco, Lotus Vice President of Worldwide Development and Support Jeanette Horan detailed Lotus technology road map, revealing parallel technology tracks, one for Domino as it stands now, and another for a new collaboration platform built on J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), using IBMs WebSphere application server. Developers will also be able to combine elements of both technology tracks.
Richard Schwartz, founder of RHS Consulting Inc., a Lotus business partner in Nashua, N.H., said the move by IBM was expected.
“Its what we developers need to meet the real needs for collaboration,” he said.
While much of the talk at DeveloperWorks was about Lotus next-generation platform delivering so-called “contextual collaboration”—collaborative applications embedded as Web services into other applications—Schwartz said theres still a place for a more traditional collaboration platform like Notes/Domino.
“Users dont work in one context all day, every day,” said Schwartz. “They need to collaborate in many different contexts, and frequently they need to collaborate in an ad hoc way that isnt specific to any one context. They also need to be able to get a global view of all their collaborative work from all contexts. Those are the roles that the traditional Notes and Domino tools are tailor-made for.”
The J2EE-based component approach in the next-generation platform would provide in-context collaboration in combination with that.
“Its clear to me that both paths have their legitimate place for a long time to come,” Schwartz said.
How long remains to be seen. Horan promised that a Version 6.x of Domino would follow about 18 months after this summers release of Version 6. Horan said during an online chat with reporters Thursday that technology track would continue beyond Version 6.x “as far out as I can see.”
“We have so many Domino developers today that love the platform and want to keep using it, so we plan to keep evolving it and allowing it to participate in hybrid application environments,” she said.
What Version 6.x will entail isnt clear either. Horan said Thursday that it is too soon to discuss specifics of that release.
Stan Rogers, a Notes/Domino analyst at CGI Information Systems & Management Consultants Inc. in Markham, Ontario, said 6.x will likely allow Domino developers to leverage WebSphere capabilities like J2EE and a relational database management system, while WebSphere developers will get Domino rapid application development capabilities.
“Domino capabilities as Web services sound like a very good idea to me, and are a part of what Im already trying to accomplish the hard way through homemade parsers and made-up XML schemas,” Rogers said.
He hailed the parallel development paths laid out Wednesday, saying they would prevent an enterprise or developer from having to choose between mutually exclusive options.
“Domino [with or without the Notes client] will continue to do the things it does best without requiring a separate [Web application server],” he said. “WebSphere will still be there as a WAS for those who do not require Dominos special talents. Tying the two together to get the best of both worlds, however, will not require a post-grad research team at MIT.”
But theres concern, too
However, the multiple tracks customers and partners can take are causing some concern among Domino developers too.
“It does present developers and consultants with some decisions to make … as IBM [is] now giving us a much broader range of products to support/deploy/manage,” said Amanda Gibbs, Domino developer at Lloyd McKenzie Ltd., a Lotus ISV partner in London. “All IBM Software Partners will have to decide how they can move their businesses in the direction[s] IBM is signposting.”
“Were working on a white paper to help [customers and partners] make these decisions,” said Horan Thursday. “It really depends on what the app characteristics are.”
There was no talk Wednesday of when DB2 will replace the current Notes Storage Facility (NSF) as Dominos data store, another issue that has rankled the Domino community. Rogers said this change will likely occur in the version after 6.x.
Horan said Thursday the decision to use DB2 instead of NSF has not been made yet, though she did say that the Lotus development team is working closely with the DB2 team to make changes in DB2 that will make any changeover from NSF “seamless to users.”
“[Domino] will still be there,” said Horan. “We may choose over time to embed new capabilities, but our commitment to application backward compatibility will still be there, so any internal updates should be transparent to users and developers.”
Rogers said developers need to hear more of that kind of talk from IBM and Lotus.
“The message that Domino will still be there when all is said and done is no louder than the little Who voices in the Dr. Seuss tale [Horton Hears a Who],” he said. “If that doesnt change, and soon, wed better hope there is an elephant or two around to hear them.”
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