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Lotusphere 2007 Impressions: IBM Lotus Notes/Domino and WebSphere Portal

Notes/Domino and WebSphere Portal are both product families that have enjoyed considerable enterprise customer success worldwide.  During the first half of this decade, however, IBM managed to greatly confuse the market about its strategy by introducing IBM Workplace and implicitly suggesting it would ultimately supplant both Notes/Domino and Websphere Portal.  This was particularly perplexing for IBM Lotus customers because Workplace never worked well, and was thus, unsurprisingly, not widely adopted.  For more historical context, review my Notes-focused Collaboration Loop post following Lotusphere 2006.

Lotusphere 2007 was probably the most upbeat and exciting event for Notes/Domino loyalists since the first two Lotusphere sessions (during December, 1993 and January, 1995).  While the pressure is still on IBM Lotus to deliver a timely and robust release of Notes/Domino 8.0 during the first half of 2007, the Notes/Domino-focused sessions at Lotusphere 2007 made it very clear that Notes/Domino is central to IBM’s enterprise communication/collaboration strategy, and that IBM Lotus has made very significant investments in and improvements to the product over the last several years.

Most significantly, the Notes 8.0 client is a radical improvement in user experience and capabilities.  The Notes 7.x product family is functionally powerful but somewhat stale, from a user experience perspective, as it mostly represented incremental changes to the Notes 4.0 model first released in 1996 (see IBM’s “The History of Lotus Notes and Domino” for more details on and screenshots of Notes releases 1.0 through 7.0).  Critically important for IBM, Notes 8.0 is likely to lead to significant information worker demand – i.e., to result in end users asking their information technology counterparts to upgrade to Notes 8.0 sooner rather than later.

From an application developer perspective, Notes 8.0 represents a considerable expansion of Notes as an application platform.  Notes has always offered a broad and integrated set of capabilities for communication/collaboration-focused domains, and Notes 8.0, building on the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP), makes Notes useful for a much wider range of composite applications.  The Eclipse RCP can be considered an open and multi-platform alternative to Microsoft’s .NET Framework in many respects, and IBM has extended it (and weirdly named it Lotus Expeditor) as the platform foundation for Notes 8 as well as Sametime 7.5 and rich-client applications used in conjunction with WebSphere Portal. 

Notes 8 also includes IBM’s OpenOffice.org-derived “editors” for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.  Some organizations will find the editors to be useful alternatives to Microsoft Office applications, especially organizations requiring support for a mix of Linux, Mac, and Windows clients.  The editors are unlikely to restore IBM Lotus to anything close to the market position it enjoyed 15 years ago with Lotus SmartSuite, however.

IBM still has room for improvement in its overall collaborative application development tool story, as it now offers Domino Designer, Lotus Component Designer (a new tool based in part on the recently-retired Workplace Designer), and some new tools such as the Composite Application Editor included with the Notes 8.0 client, but overall the picture is a vast simplification and improvement relative to IBM Lotus’s tools story of previous years. 

On the server side, Domino 8 offers considerable performance, storage, and administration improvements, and also expands the scope of Domino/DB2 integration.  Both Notes and Domino will also be available on a wide variety of 32- and 64-bit platforms, an important competitive differentiator relative to Microsoft SharePoint and Exchange.

Perhaps the most significant news for WebSphere Portal customers is the fact that Workplace is history.  IBM created considerable confusion by offering both WebSphere Portal and Workplace when the two product families had significant overlap, and now the remaining, relevant parts of what was Workplace have been sensibly subsumed into WebSphere Portal.  Developers focused on WebSphere Portal will also be able to exploit the Lotus Expeditor client for beyond-the-browser, rich-client application needs.  With Notes/Domino and WebSphere Portal both exploiting the same technologies and standards, it’s also much simpler to mix and match Notes/Domino and WebSphere Portal application elements and content.

In my next post, I’ll explain how IBM managed to create a new and complementary offering, Quickr, without recreating Workplace-like confusion for Notes/Domino and WebSphere Portal customers.

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