How to get SharePoint and stay on Lotus Notes

You don't have to ditch Notes to use Microsoft's SharePoint

Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration server software is, by many accounts, a huge hit, providing that seemingly irresistible formula of solid technology for free or at a low price.

Paired with Microsoft Office, SharePoint's document collaboration capabilities have proved so irresistible that Microsoft is touting SharePoint, not Exchange email server, in order to lure IBM Lotus Notes users over to the Microsoft stack.

But despite Microsoft's claims to the contrary, migrations from Notes/Domino over to Outlook/Exchange/Sharepoint have been slowing for the past five years, according to analyst David Ferris of Ferris Research.

"Everyone still says that their strategic direction is to migrate to Microsoft. But as a practical matter, those who could easily do it would have already done it," Ferris says. For users still on Notes, porting to Microsoft today "would be too expensive and too disruptive".

The economic downturn and the resulting belt-tightening doesn't help, either.

Enter Silicon Valley software vendor, Mainsoft. The California company was formerly a maker of development tools that allowed programmers experienced in IBM's Java EE environment to easily port their apps to Microsoft's .Net, and vice versa.

But spotting an opportunity, Mainsoft released in May its SharePoint Integrator for Lotus Notes.

"There are lots of people offering to help you migrate. Nobody before us seriously considered a co-existence strategy," says Yaacov Cohen, CEO of Mainsoft.

The software lets users of Lotus Notes versions 6.5 through 8 drag and drop Office documents to SharePoint and back. So simple, yet users such as Nader Chahine, a manager with Manhattan Home Finance, in California, praise the Integrator.

"Without the Integrator, we may have bailed on SharePoint altogether," he says. "My team was rebelling against using SharePoint because attaching and detaching documents from SharePoint to Notes was such a nightmare."

Manhattan pays US$125 (NZ$235) per user license for the Integrator, plus 20% of that annually for maintenance, says Chahine, who calls it "really reasonable".

The next version 1.5 of the Integrator is expected to be available next week. It will add the ability for users to publish their Notes email and metadata to a SharePoint site, too.

Mainsoft also announced the beta release of software that will enable SharePoint to be integrated with IBM's Rational Jazz programming environment. When released in the first quarter of 2009, the tool will enable Eclipse developers to have full access to SharePoint sites and documents, or emails and tasks from Microsoft Outlook.

Cohen admits the Integrator is still "missing support for Notes calendars and offline folders". But he says the Integrator today already "provides superior integration from Notes to SharePoint than Outlook does out of the box".

Ferris is more cautious.

"Whenever you have got different environments, you tend to have some compromise," he says. "It would seem to me that a co-existence strategy will be attractive to many people."

He adds that Notes migration projects are expensive and risky. "

They are this generation's ERP project," he says.

Mainsoft has tight partnerships with both IBM and Microsoft. Cohen says walking this tightrope less fraught with danger than one might think.

"You can look at it both ways. We are helping Microsoft accelerate adoption of SharePoint. But we are also helping IBM to keep users on Notes," he says. "At the end of the day, we are very focused on the end user, who is suffering from the lack of interoperability."

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