Lotus set to uphold the future of Notes

But some customers say the message comes across too late

IBM/Lotus hopes to finally attain what years of earlier efforts have failed to yield: widespread trust among Notes/Domino users that the company remains committed to the platform and its decade-long battle with Microsoft for collaboration-software supremacy.

As customers descend on Orlando for the annual Lotusphere conference, some see evidence the company will win that confidence, but others say that even if the message comes through it will be too late - as too many users are moving on.

At Lotusphere, the company's new general manager, Mike Rhodin, will lead the first public display of the Notes/Domino Hannover client and server, introduce a refurbished Sametime real-time collaboration server and announce full Macintosh support for an interim Notes release later this year.

Such developments are fueling customer confidence.

"Notes isn't going away and we are going to walk away with that knowledge for sure this year," says Bruce Elgort, co-founder of OpenNTF, a project that develops open source software for the Domino platform. "There is going to be Notes 8, 9, 10, and Notes/Domino is not going to morph into Workplace."

Workplace is IBM/Lotus' Java-based collaboration environment that delivers dynamically provisioned, server-managed corporate desktops tailored to a worker's role in a company.

That belief in the road map, however, is not universally shared.

"The message around Notes/Domino is not a little late, it is too late," says Jim Cimino, president of Bright Ideas Software, an independent software vendor that specialises in Domino development. "I used to have dozens of customers and now I have considerably less. They are all moving on to WebSphere or Microsoft's SharePoint Portal. I still think Domino is one of the best development environments ever so I hope Lotus can prove me wrong about being too late."

This is the first Lotusphere that Cimino will not attend in 10 years. "I don't have enough business that I can forecast to justify my company being at the show," he says.

Microsoft has smelled blood in the water for more than a year and this week upgraded existing tools and introduced new ones to help migrate Notes/Domino users to Exchange, SharePoint and its other collaboration tools.

For its part, IBM/Lotus has posted 2005 earnings that showed Notes/Domino as a major revenue engine in IBM's software division, with 10% growth.

Rhodin, in his first Lotusphere appearance as the man in charge, will try to clearly distinguish Notes/Domino from Workplace. He will show how Workplace Collaboration Services and Workplace Managed Client are being developed to more closely align with WebSphere Portal 6.0, slated to ship later this year. The distinction should show that although there are similar underlying technologies in both platforms, Notes/Domino users and WebSphere users will have separate yet complementary product lines.

Besides the Hannover client and server, which are set to ship in early 2007, Lotus plans to introduce a facelift for its aging real-time collaboration platform Sametime. The 7.5 version, which is slated to ship next year, includes a user interface that will include enhanced click-to-call, video, instant messaging and email capabilities.

Ken Bisconti, vice president of IBM Workplace, Portal and Collaboration products, says IBM also will demonstrate social-networking tools being used inside IBM that are slated to become generally available add-ons to Domino later this year.

Lotus says attendee registration is up 15% this year to nearly 5,000 and first-time partners such as Good Technology are investing in Notes/Domino. Good Technology is unveiling a Domino version of its Microsoft Exchange tools for securely accessing collaborative applications from mobile devices.

"We see no wavering on the commitment to Notes/Domino from IBM and we see companies very committed to the platform," says Sue Forbes, vice president of Good Technology.

Bisconti says early Hannover code was the first tool to clearly show how common services and client components are incorporated into products that cut across its portal-centric and Notes/Domino-centric user base.

Hannover not only supports messaging-centric features but will run inside the Workplace Client Technology (WCT) framework supporting traditional Notes applications, newer composite applications and combinations of both. WCT is a rich client that includes a small database, a run-time environment and a synchronisation technology that supports clients and middleware servers sharing application-processing chores.

"These two user bases have very different views of how to get to the same destination, role-based work environments," Bisconti says. "The Notes crowd wants to get there with Notes 7, 8, 9 and 10 while the portal crowd wants to get there through portal evolution, and that can be confusing."

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