Lotus Juggling Act

New technologies and standards -and IBM platform integration-vie with backward compatibility.

The most pressing challenge for IBMs Lotus Software division isnt what product it should build next but how to make the products it has work together in the future.

Domino has long been the core of Lotus product offerings, and, based on eWeek Labs tests of a number of new Lotus offerings, Domino will continue to be exploited not only for its enterprise-class messaging capabilities but also for its ability to host applications and serve as a central repository for administration information.

Indeed, the strength of Lotus products is their collaboration capabilities. However, with the current push toward Web services, the business problem evolves from sharing and collaborating within a company to integrating with Web services standards. Lotus needs to find a way to keep delivering messaging, collaboration and document management services to its customers while smoothly building a bridge to the world of J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and IBMs WebSphere development environment.

Even as the former Lotus Development Corp. becomes more deeply subsumed into the IBM culture and product environment, Lotus and IBM officials have been trying to maintain good relationships with Lotus Domino developers. However, as the "Garnet" controversy showed earlier this year, it will be difficult to keep everybody happy over the long haul.

Garnet was the code name for a Lotus project designed to embed J2EE capabilities within Domino, including servlet and JavaServer Pages editing capabilities in Domino Designer. Garnet was available in beta releases of Domino 6, and a group of Lotus developers were none too happy when Garnet was pulled out of the final release of the new Domino platform.

Replacing Garnet in the shipping Domino 6 is Domino 6/WebSphere Entitlement, which allows Domino shops to use IBM WebSphere Application Server 5.0 with their Domino applications.

Organizations that purchase Domino Enterprise Server (not just the messaging server) can download WebSphere Application Server from the IBM Lotus Passport Advantage site. A big restriction with this download, however, is that WebSphere can function only with applications that use the Domino data store; connections to other data sources are not supported under the license.

The Domino and WebSphere platforms may converge in years to come, but it will be a while before that happens in any useful way.

On the development front, Domino Application Server currently is the recommended platform for rapid application development. In addition, because Domino works well with unstructured data, it is a suitable foundation for document management and collaboration applications. Applications that require significant scalability (more than 5,000 concurrent users) should be built on WebSphere.

It wont be easy to go from one platform to another. More than a technology issue, it will be difficult to translate Domino development skills to J2EE and vice versa.

Based on eWeek Labs tests of the raft of products Lotus released in October, it is clear that Lotus powerful technology can benefit customers today but that synergy among the various products must improve for customers to get a complete return on investment (even when taking the whole WebSphere element out of the equation).

Lotus software APIs are substantially different from product class to product class. As a result, application integration is not as easy as it could be.

The road ahead will be a rough one for Lotus—and Domino shops—as it attempts to juggle new technologies and standards with legacy applications and IBM platform integration. Whether Lotus can keep all those balls in the air will go a long way in determining its long-term fate.