Lotus Developers May Build Garnet Alternative

Membership in a network of Lotus developers committed to an open-source Java development option is growing after IBM said it will replace Domino's Java development tool with an embedded WebSphere app server.

Momentum is building in the Lotus Domino developer community for a new, open-source initiative to create an alternative Java application development environment for the forthcoming Domino 6.

The move comes in the wake of plans that IBM announced last week to remove most of the current Java development environment, known as Garnet, from the final version of Domino 6.

An informal network of Domino developers known as the Notes Open Source Software Organization, or NotesOSS.org (pronounced Notes Sauce) may spearhead such an effort, according to Nathan Freeman, a consulting engineer at Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. and co-founder of NotesOSS.org.

"Maybe the [Domino] developers can work on an open source project to replace what was taken out," said Freeman, in Orlando, Fla. "Were just getting started. Theres no code yet, but were building momentum. A lot of senior, talented Domino developers are joining to work on open source applications deployment."

NotesOSS.org was formed late last year on the Notes.net online developers forum following discussions Lotus developers had about an open-source Notes application Freeman wrote called Lookout Express. The application mimics Microsoft Corp.s Outlook Express interface in a Notes client.

Since IBMs Lotus software unit announced its intention to replace Garnet with a J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) development environment at its Lotusphere user conference last week, the number of developers whove expressed interest in NotesOSS.org has swelled to more than 100, from only about 35 before the show, Freeman said.

"Within two hours of IBMs announcement regarding Garnet looking like reality, members of Notes.Net were already assembling a team to construct JSP [Java Server Pages] deployment tools for Domino 6 on Notes Sauce," Freeman said. "So it may be the case that the developer community solves the tool and deployment problem for itself over the next few months. Well certainly be working hard to ensure the success of that project."

A Lotus spokesman said Cambridge, Mass., company officials did not know enough about what NotesOSS.org was planning to do to comment at this time.

Lotus said it will replace Garnet with an embedded IBM WebSphere application server. How exactly Domino and WebSphere will be bundled and what the pricing model will be has still not been determined.

Lotus indicated that it was removing Garnet—leaving only the J2EE tag library in place—because it produced a non-standard variant of J2EE. While some Domino developers are enthused about better integration with WebSphere and the chance to build purer Java applications, many remain mystified by the move.

"Its a credit to Lotus that they support standards and that they incorporate only mature standards, but the argument rings hollow," said Dave Taylor, senior systems analyst at T. Rowe Price Group Inc. in Baltimore, noting that the HTML editing environment and HTTP stack in Notes could also be considered non-standard.

"Lotus didnt feel the need to pull those or any other item out of the product," Taylor said. "Even if Garnet is not completely standard, its well developed and highly functional, at least through Beta 4 [of Domino 6]. The feeling is that this argument is just an excuse, and not a very good one at that."

"The way that Garnet had been implemented meant that a developer would not be constrained by the rigors of using Visual Age and Studio," said James Williams, senior e-business consultant for Digital Union UK Ltd., an IBM business partner, which develops business-to-business application frameworks built on WebSphere.

"I think the ultimate would have been the ability to use Garnet, and publish the JSPs into the WebSphere environment. It seems to be this concept that has unnerved certain factions within IBM," Williams said.

The new strategy may discourage some Domino developers from ever getting into Java.

"We dont use Java but we see the need for it," said Leif Lagebrand, project manager of IT & New Media at Blekinge Institute of Technology in Karlskrona, Sweden.

"JSP pages in Domino 6 would have been our entry in to that world," he said. "We dont want to set up a new server, WebSphere or other, because that forces us to support, backup, virus-check, learn and so on. That would be too expensive for us."

Lagebrand suggests IBM should have kept Garnet as an entry development environment to publish JSPs to the Apache Foundations open-source Jakarta Tomcat Web application server, with WebSphere the option for a more high-end Web server.

WebSphere would "by no means" be his organizations first choice for a Web server, Lagebrand said. T. Rowe Prices Taylor shared that view.

"As a technologist, Im interested in the best tools for the job with consideration of cost," he said. "For anything short of a large project, I doubt we could justify using our own WebSphere server so I expect we will be exploring other WAS solutions."

Its just missed opportunity for IBM, according to Digital Unions Williams.

"IBM is basically now issuing a statement," he said. "WebSphere Application Developer is the only Java development environment that it is willing to push. The crazy thing here is, [Garnet] would be greeted with open arms by many Java developers if it was given the chance to evolve, but it wont because it cant."