Hello, good-bye

As New England welcomes its first world champion in a generation, it's saying goodbye to another from the technology world. Lotus Software Group may still command respect and worldwide market share, but the IBM subsidiary no longer captures the high ground for innovation mind share.

The Lotus brand has slowly faded into the blue during the past few years; signs of the decline include the decision to sell the Lotus building in Cambridge, Mass., and IBM veteran Al Zollar's ascendance as general manager of the retitled Lotus Software. The Lotus brain drain accelerated as key architects Mussie Shore (QuickPlace teamware server) and Paul Haverstock (Sametime instant messaging platform) departed.

At the software division's Lotusphere developer conference at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Zollar committed to fully supporting J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) 1.3 in the Lotus flagship Domino/Notes architecture. IBM has been talking about developing a common stack of services to be shared by Domino and Big Blue's WebSphere application server for two years now, and in recent months IBM has encouraged Lotus to hop on the Web services bandwagon.

But Lotus developers and business partners were also surprised to hear that JSP (JavaServer Page) technology, code-named Garnet in existing beta versions of the next Domino release, was being jettisoned. "You can't have partial compliance with standards," explained Lotus' Art Fontaine on the Notes .Net developer site. "You can't do some of J2EE, and parts of it with a different model altogether."

Garnet was another in a series of iterative bootstraps that started when Lotus engineers leveraged IBM Web server technology to add Web access to the proprietary Notes server as the Internet took off. But IBM's elegant handling of the Lotus buyout began to unravel as Notes creator Ray Ozzie departed and fault lines opened between the Domino Designer and WebSphere teams.

As Lotus moved to capture the knowledge management space with Knowledge and Discovery servers, Domino technologies began to take a backseat to some IBM code. The browser-based QuickPlace server (built on top of Domino) was used for collaboration spaces, but DB2 was used to store most of the data.

Meanwhile, the brain drain accelerated as key Notes developers signed on with Ozzie's Groove Networks Inc. startup as it surfaced after three years of silent running. A year ago, Lotus officials were loath to openly attack Ozzie's architecture, adopting a wait-and-see attitude about Groove's underlying peer-to-peer technology.

Now Zollar openly dismisses peer-to-peer in interviews, and the only collaborative innovation in Orlando was proffered by IBM Research, which showed a QuickSend plug-in that sends short messages to multiple peer clients. You'd think this was a QuickPlace add-on from the name, but actually the project runs on the Domino-free Sametime server.

Whether it's Lotus or IBM that doesn't get p-to-p is open to question. Lotus took its sweet time warming up to Web services, even though its COM (Component Object Model) interfaces to the Domino server could have been used to get there well ahead of Sun, for one. But in an odd reversal, at least one Sun official is touting the elegance and potential of the Groove architecture.

Sun Microsystems Inc. CTO Greg Papadopoulos sees p-to-p as a major element of the evolution of network services. In a time line that moves from client/server to Web applications to Web services, p-to-p (as rendered by Jxta) provides the advanced services of the pervasive age of computing. Jxta's dynamic Unix piping may be Sun's Trojan horse, bringing rich client services to the edges of the network alongside Web services XML data.

Papadopoulos disagrees with Microsoft Corp. HailStorm architect Mark Lucovsky about XML, calling it "wrong" to use XML as a programming environment. But he agrees with Lucovsky about Groove, admiring its deep forays into the core peer services of presence, identity, and edge resources. As Clay Shirky suggests in the comprehensive O'Reilly "2001 P2P Networking Overview Research Report," "With more than US$100 million in venture capital and years of engineering under its belt, Groove has created not only software but also an entire networking architecture."

The O'Reilly report was released in October 2001, post-Sept. 11 as well as at the tail end of the p-to-p hype phase. But Microsoft's release of Visual Studio .Net this week and the unveiling of Groove integration with .Net, HailStorm, and the Tablet PC at the Demo conference mark the overture to merging Web and peer services.

The O'Reilly's Report's Rael Dornfest projects .Net, Jxta, and Groove as winners in the p-to-p infrastructure sweepstakes. He calls .Net "an interesting, often confusing combination of vision, p-to-p, and Web services architecture and implementation." The open-source Jxta is "a bare-bones yet well-thought-out framework on which to build." Groove, "quite simply, works."

Parsing reports that Ozzie has recently spent time meeting with senior Microsoft executives and technologists in Redmond, there's no doubt Web services, .Net, and Office integration were at least three topics under discussion. At a p-to-p conference in Tempe, Ariz., Gene Kan reports the Jxta community status: 80,000-plus downloads in three months, with more than 25 projects involving 5,000 members.

Back at Disney World, Zollar says Microsoft still hasn't figured out replication. And Lotus' Fontaine is making this perfectly clear: "Having a J2EE engine inside Domino doesn't help and, in fact, will probably just confuse and contribute to any feeling that Domino is a 'different animal altogether.' " Sure, a unicorn.

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