The Long Goodbye for Lotus Notes

News of Lotus Notes' death was-and is-premature. The Notes faithful must console themselves with this immutable fact: The only thing harder than using Notes is getting rid of it.

With LotusSphere barely two weeks away, its time once again to disinter IBMs late great Lotus Notes. Already, blogs are heating up with the latest confirmation: Notes is still dead. Too bad IBM has not gone the route of Microsoft with Windows 98, executing a planned obsolescence masked by Suns lawsuit-mandated Java virtual machine-ectomy.

Instead, when IT managers ask for guidance on what technology to bet on—Domino or WebSphere—they get a definitive "It depends" from Ken Bisconti, IBM vice president of messaging. Despite his affinity for Notes, Bisconti is well aware of the road map that Big Blue execs have spelled out: wrapping Domino constructs inside J2EE portlets and integrating the Notes legacy with its Sametime and QuickPlace real-time collaboration products. The native Notes data store will slowly fade away as WebSphere and DB2 take over by 2005.

In the absence of closure, the Notes faithful must console themselves with this immutable fact: The only thing harder than using Notes is getting rid of it. Dead Notes may be, but its apps still keep rising at sundown to roam corporate hallways. Most corporate Notes deployments focused on e-mail, but the few apps in which the Notes developer priesthood invested remain embedded in the sinews of the enterprise corpus.

Politically, Notes apps reside on the borders between business units. Notes HR apps are the J. Edgar Hoovers of the enterprise, capturing the sensitive details of where the corporate bodies are buried. Notes seminal delivery of secure replication allowed sales force automation to establish interconnected mapping of complex relationships that could survive individual personnel changes and the loss of rainmakers to competitors.

When Notes collided with the Web, Lotus engineers quickly harvested IBM Web server technology for Domino. With Novell in decline and Netscape struggling to integrate the elements of a collaboration suite, Microsoft placed its bet on a cloned Domino with Exchange 2000s Web Storage System.

What happened? IBM and Microsoft split the messaging market down the middle, but three years later Y2K incarnations of the platforms are pushing up daisies. Microsofts SQL team regained control of its destiny, dismissing Web Storage System in favor of the next-generation "Yukon" and, ultimately, WinFS stores. IBM followed suit. Lotus Development Corp. became Lotus Software division.

Notes? IBM sees the rich client on the ropes with Windows security problems. Once Domino Designer engineers used LotusScript to carve out extended WebMail functionality, then hard coded the results into the Notes client. Now IBM is telling IT pros to merge their Domino Designer and WebSphere development teams and head across the great object-oriented divide to Java development.

But hang on, Betty. Its gonna be a bumpy ride. IBM software chief Steve Mills tells Microsoft Watch newsletters Mary Jo Foley hes driving the Notes installed base "to thin client based on cost." Follow his thinking: "When you run a thin client, the OS is not a critical element. It just as easily could be Linux-Mozilla. ... "

But examine a 34-page white paper Lotus recently released and drill down to a table describing "Application development objectives and available options." There are multiple ways to access applications or data—Notes client, browser, WebSphere Portal or Web services—and 13 different tools, adapters, APIs and future enhancements to construct them.

Its a complex message for a Lotus business partner community packing its bags for Orlando, Fla. Meanwhile, Microsoft has the marketing, the road shows, Visual Studio .Net shipping and "Longhorn" looming. Adapting the Domino services to the thin-client world of the portal is no simple task.

But dont count Notes out. Being dead has been good for the architecture that inspired the Web. As long as IBM keeps the porting path open—from those original Notes apps to Domino to Lotus Workplace portlets to a DB2 alternate store in Domino 7 to an Eclipse assembly tool in 2006—it keeps Global Services busy and profitable.

Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor is editor of eWEEK.coms Messaging and Collaboration Center. Check out the site at for more on IM and other collaboration technologies. Gillmor can be reached at [email protected].