Lotus Downplays IBM Execs Domino Remarks

If Ed Brill doesnt keep a fire extinguisher in his office, he probably should. The Lotus Software senior manager for enterprise messaging has been putting out a lot of fires these days over parent company IBMs stated plans for Domino.

The latest dust-up comes on the heels of IBMs stated plans at Lotusphere in January to remove much of Garnet, the Java-based application development environment in Domino. It was caused by public comments made earlier this month by IBM Senior Vice President Steve Mills that Notes would be fully Websphere-based as early as next year, with DB2 replacing the current Notes file system known as the Notes Storage Facility, or NSF.

Mills comments seem to contradict statements Brill himself has made in the past that NSF will remain in Notes.

Yet Brill downplayed the controversy, saying Mills remarks were consistent with past statements that he and Lotus General Manager Al Zollar have made that relational databases are the future of the Domino infrastructure.

"What Ive said was we wont do it in a rip-and-replace fashion," said Brill, though Mills did in fact say the current architecture would be thrown out. "The NSF architecture has been in place for 12 years. I cant imagine how we could get rid of the tens of thousands if not millions of [Domino] databases out there. In the long term, [NSF] is not the basis for collaborative applications in Domino, but itll be an evolutionary thing. It was always going to be a customer-controlled migration."

Brill said Mills comments should be seen as more of a vision statement of the product road map for Notes and Domino, rather than plans that are set in stone. He said Lotus wont begin to plan the next version of Notes and Domino until after Version 6 comes out in the third quarter of this year.

However, he stopped short of saying that 2003 is an unrealistic target for the release of the newly architected version.

"When you set a goal, you always start with the end destination and say, This is where I want to get to," said Brill. "Then you figure out the steps in the evolutionary process you need to take to get you there.

"The evolution will be a road the customers go down at their own pace."

When asked if customers would have to upgrade to Notes and Domino 6 to get to the next WebSphere- and DB2-based version, Brill replied, "I dont think we know yet."

Domino developers, who will be most directly affected by such a change in Dominos architecture, are still seething over the Garnet controversy. Many again blasted IBM and Lotus handling of this latest issue.

"Their credibility and integrity is at stake," said Dave Taylor, senior systems analyst at T. Rowe Price in Baltimore. "They release Garnet in beta, then they say that Garnet is dropped due to issues with its ongoing support. We find out that they are releasing R6 this summer—aka R-Last—and then we discover they will be following up very quickly with another release that may make R6 and Garnet irrelevant anyway?

"The commitment to the basic structure of Notes has been reiterated, and here they are announcing—if you can call it that—a major change to that plan. How can we believe that IBM is just working on a revamped version of Notes and not cannibalizing the technology into Websphere and DB2?"

James Williams, senior e-business consultant with Digital Union UK Ltd., an IBM Business Partner and software developer in Guildford, England, said the planned move to WebSphere and DB2 was a long time coming, but also faulted IBM for not handling it properly.

"I personally would be more than happy to see this happen simply because people have known about Dominos shortcomings for many years now and with IBM running Lotus now this is not just inevitable but a huge step in the right direction," said Williams. "IBM just needs to consult and inform people."

Nathan Freeman, consulting engineer at Siemens Westinghouse in Orlando, Fla., and the co-founder of the Notes open-source movement NotesOSS.org, said developers are split between whether its a good or bad thing. But he also blamed this on the mixed messages and contradictions coming from IBM and Lotus.

"No one in the general Domino developer community has a decent handle on how IBM would implement such a switch, or even whether it would impact what we do, so its this giant question mark as to what the real losses and gains would be," he said.