IBM Drops Lotus Brand, Takes Notes and Domino Forward

IBM has dropped the Lotus brand from its collaboration software products as it prepares to release a new version of Notes and Domino.

In a move that has been a long time in the making, IBM is dropping the Lotus brand and moving forward with the IBM brand, only to identify products like Notes and Domino.

IBM plans to deliver a public beta of IBM Notes/Domino 9.0 Social Edition that will not carry the Lotus brand, Ed Brill, director of social business and collaboration solutions at IBM, wrote in a Nov. 13 blog post. "…This beta is also the point where Notes/Domino will join other IBM software solutions in sporting only the IBM brand—the second-most-valuable brand in the world," Brill said in his post.

IBM's dropping the Lotus brand might be viewed as a historic moment for old-timers, but also as a business-as-usual move by an industry giant. Lotus has been around since 1982, initially as the Massachusetts-based Lotus Development Corp., which released its famed Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet in 1983. IBM acquired Lotus in 1995 for $3.5 billion, primarily to get hold of Lotus Notes, then a wildly popular groupware system developed by Ray Ozzie's Iris Associates that was eating into IBM's profits.

"In a nutshell, the updated branding of Notes and Domino is a continuation of IBM's overall branding strategy," an IBM spokeswoman told eWEEK. "As social business begins to dominate the collaboration market, Lotus must follow suit. It's not about IBM dropping a brand, but more about strengthening the portfolio and meeting customer needs."

Over the years Lotus has seen its share of scrapes and scuffles, as well as triumphs, including when its hard-charging former CEO Jim Manzi tried to take on Bill Gates' Microsoft directly and came out bruised for his efforts. In addition, Lotus pioneered some of the IT industry's big "look and feel" lawsuits, as it charged Paperback Software, Mosaic and Borland with copying the Lotus 1-2-3 interface.

Lotus also had a reputation for innovation and supporting new ideas, both technological and cultural; that's not surprising for a company based in free-thinking Cambridge, Mass. For instance, in 1992, Lotus was one of the first, if not the first, major companies to offer full benefits to same-sex partners.

The death of the Lotus brand is significant in the history of IT, as Lotus technology can be counted among the most notable enterprise software brands in the world. However, that brand was and is not nearly as notable as the IBM brand.

"This is quite a historic moment, the end of an era for an iconic 20th century brand," said Tony Baer, an analyst at Ovum. "IBM's been laying the groundwork for retiring the Lotus name for several years. But don't forget that in its lifetime, Lotus was already reinvented when it went from spreadsheets to 'groupware,' the first real collaborative application—if you're not counting email. Today, collaboration is no longer an app, but a capability that is baked into applications, devices, messaging systems and social networks. Maybe it's not obvious from today's perspective, but Lotus became a victim of its own success."

Judith Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz & Associates and a longtime IBM watcher, concurs. "If you look at IBM's software strategy, it is clear that collaboration services are no longer standalone services," Hurwitz said. "In fact, we are seeing that collaborative and social business services are embedded in everything from data services to converged infrastructure. Therefore, does it really make sense to have a standalone brand when collaboration is part of everything? It is a good move and will definitely help IBM. In many ways, the Lotus brand has outlived its usefulness."