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Shiny Social Tools Meet Practicality At Lotusphere

Enterprise success with next-generation collaborative software, built around social networks, will require the same attention to deployment, development, and administration that Lotus Notes did.

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Lotus was in the background at Lotusphere this year, overshadowed by IBM's social business push.

No, that's not quite true. If you looked beyond the keynote stage, there were plenty of technical sessions on Lotus Notes and Domino, including some on making Notes and Domino more social, but also lots of nuts-and-bolts tutorials on development and administration. After all, those were the technologies that attendees were most likely to have deployed on a large scale or (in the case of consultants and integrators) to be servicing for their clients.

[ Can't afford to pick wrong? See 10 Questions Before Choosing An Internal Social Network Platform ]

Because social business is my meal ticket, I got the most out of the case studies from TD Bank, 3M, Caterpillar, and others, as well as insights into social business strategy and the coming upgrades to the IBM Connections enterprise social platform.

Social business is exciting precisely because it's 90% vision, 10% reality at this stage. That means the possibilities are endless! Lotus Notes is boring because it has been overwhelmed by the practicalities of system administration and maintenance, including the challenge of integrating and modernizing legacy components--software that was once shiny and new but is now out of step with the latest system architectures and requirements. In the long run, social business technologists will have to deal with all of that. Already, they are facing the demand to integrate backward and meet the owners of platforms like Notes halfway.

Lotus Notes was the "groupware" sensation of the 1990s that cemented Ray Ozzie's reputation as a software innovator and led IBM to acquire Lotus in 1995. Born as a client-server system, Notes entered the Web era with Domino, a version of the Notes application server that worked with either a Notes client or a Web browser. Domino made it possible to create Web-based Notes applications, but many existing Notes applications never made the transition. One of the biggest applause generators in the Lotusphere opening day keynote was for a promised browser plugin that functions as a lightweight version of the Notes client. That would mean that applications designed with a Notes user interface could be made available on the Web without conversion.

Porting Notes applications to other platforms can be challenging because apps that take full advantage of the Notes document-oriented database don't translate neatly to Web architectures that rely on a relational database back end. Fortunately, IBM has replaced some of the early kludgey Domino Web application technologies with XPages, a Web 2.0 development framework that takes advantage of standard Web technologies such as XML, JavaServer Faces, and the Dojo Toolkit for JavaScript and AJAX. The result is a more-accessible and powerful Web user interface builder.

There is even a GBS Transformer utility that can automate the translation of older Notes apps to XPages. Lotus partner GBS claims that can save 90% of the cost of rewriting the applications manually.

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