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InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 1, 2006

3 Min Read

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday's entry about Lotusphere 2006, this post explains more about my perspective on the past, present, and likely future of IBM Lotus Notes. 

The last decade, especially the period between 1998 and 2004, was very difficult for Notes users, developers, and business partners.  Notes 4.0, released in January, 1996, was arguably the last major release of Notes for which IBM Lotus had a clear, crisply articulated, and compelling strategy for Notes.  Notes R5, released during early 1999, was a selectively bloated and buggy release, and it also reflected some of IBM’s uncertainty about the extent to which Notes/Domino was to be recast as a primarily Internet-centric offering.  The Notes 6.x line, starting with the release of Notes 6.0 during early 2002, was a much stronger release, but it coincided with the peak of IBM’s focus on non-Notes communication/collaboration offerings, a situation manifested in confusing messages in IBM’s sales and marketing efforts.

Notes 7.0, released in August, 2005, was welcomed by Notes customers in large part for performance and server consolidation advantages.  Many expected Notes 7.0 to be the last major release, to be subsequently supplanted by the IBM Workplace family, but IBM clearly stated, during Lotusphere 2005, that the “dual-lane highway” (which had been used to characterize earlier IBM Lotus strategy, and which implicitly suggested the end of the road was near for Notes, in favor of the new Workplace product line) was a mistake that had been recognized and corrected.

By mid-2005, when IBM introduced plans for the next major release of Notes, code-named “Hannover,” it was clear that the future for IBM Lotus products was going to be more focused on Notes than the newer Workplace client environment (although, confusingly, Notes is also officially part of the Workplace product family; unless otherwise noted, I’m referring to the non-Notes/Domino/Sametime Workplace IBM offerings when I mention Workplace).  The Notes community, having endured many years of shrinking Notes emphasis in IBM’s communication/collaboration plans, was cautiously optimistic that IBM again had a long-term strategy for Notes.

With Lotusphere 2006, IBM made it resoundingly clear that the future of Notes is indeed Notes.  The Hannover version of Notes, expected during 2007 (after wide beta testing in 2006) will have complete application compatibility with earlier releases of Notes (going back to late 1989, when Notes 1.0 was released) as well as a familiar experience for both users and developers, but it will be built on Eclipse.org-derived rich client technology (as will Sametime 7.5, expected during mid-2006), giving Notes its most significant user interface update in a decade.  I’ve included an early Notes mail client screen shot (from IBMer Ed Brill’s blog) below.

notesmailclient.gif

notesmailclient.gif

The Hannover client will have a similar, post-90s user experience for Notes applications as well, and will support “composite” applications (applications composed from tools, services, and portlets, essentially) as well as pervasive communication capabilities such as contextual presence and real-time channels including instant messaging and audio/video (through Sametime integration).  Hannover will also incorporate the activity management advances pioneered by IBM Research during recent years.  Built on the Eclipse.org-based Workplace Managed Client architecture, Notes Hannover will consistently offer its rich client user experience on platforms including Linux, Mac OS (Intel and PowerPC), and Windows.

To recap, the future of Notes, as recently as three years ago, was a fairly dismal projection, essentially relegated to a plug-in shim to enable limited Notes application integration for the Workplace client (Notes forms and views, to be precise).  With Lotusphere 2006, IBM has made it very clear that the Notes client is still its central focus for communication/collaboration, and that IBM is investing accordingly in development, marketing, and sales.

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