Domino faithful feel back in the fold

Lotus Domino is experiencing a revival within IBM, according to end users who say they couldn’t be happier about the development as the annual Lotusphere conference approaches later this month in Florida in the US.

The Lotus faithful say IBM finally has realised over the past months the importance of Domino in its wide-ranging portal and On-Demand strategy. The company is now clearly incorporating the collaboration software into long-term plans that include IBM’s Workplace collaboration component architecture, the DB2 database and WebSphere.

“I met with a DB2 official recently and he could talk intelligently about Domino and he wasn’t an ex-Lotus guy. I said ‘wow’,” says Jim Cimino, president of Brightideas Software, a Lotus business partner. But Cimino is cautiously optimistic. “I’m hearing a lot and I’m hoping it’s genuine. I’m excited to get to Lotusphere.”

IBM officials say they always intended to keep Domino in the fold even after announcing in October that they would merge the parallel development tracks of Domino and the new Lotus Workplace strategy in 2005. Lotus Workplace is a platform for collaboration services built on Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and the DB2 relational database.

Lotus officials say Domino will become a component of Workplace, won’t be rewritten in J2EE as some users speculated, and that Domino applications and functions eventually will be available through a portal. The portal will serve five types of clients: Notes; a Web browser; Microsoft Office; mobile devices; and a “rich” Java client being built on the Eclipse platform that will work online and offline.

“We had some real concerns that Domino would be the lost child at IBM,” says Scott Pitts, manager of knowledge management infrastructure at Hewitt Associates. The company runs 6000 Domino-based applications for 16,000 users. “The concern was they would drop Domino and focus on Workplace. But we knew they were changing direction when they started to show [product] timelines beyond 2004,” he says.

“We need time to show that we still have a real passion for Notes and Domino,” says Ken Bisconti, vice president for Lotus Workplace products.

In November, Ambuj Goyal, general manager of Lotus Software, announced that not only was IBM working on Notes 7.0, due to ship by the end of this year, but that it also would be followed by Notes 8.0. The new iteration would incorporate features that would let the software act as a powerful client for Domino and also within the Workplace and WebSphere portal architecture. His comments were preceded by an IBM white paper that explained Domino’s position within IBM’s overall collaborative software plans.

“Goyal is promising to commit as far out as he can,” says Andrew Pollack, president of consulting firm Northern Collaborative Technologies. “You don’t need to dump one for the other, you need a better interface between the two.”

He says Domino is good at the department level and as part of a larger platform that includes portals and WebSphere at the corporate level.

“You no longer see that you have to move to J2EE. There was a direction change. IBM won’t admit it, but Goyal figured out how to make the red-headed stepchild a part of IBM,” Pollack says. “This year at Lotusphere they won’t be stepping on the existing customers to highlight the future technology.”

IBM/Lotus officials agree that existing users will get a fair shake at Lotusphere this year, but stop short of saying that Domino and Workplace are back on even par.

“I won’t say we are back to parallel development tracks [for Domino and Workplace], but we won’t force users to move,” Bisconti says. “There will be new life breathed into Domino and the Notes client, and we will take them forward in wild ways with new development methods around network computing.”

He declined to provide details, but says, “Lotusphere will focus on innovation. We’ll highlight what we delivered last year for Workplace, and also show the next stage, including rich clients and a network computing model.”

Last May, Lotus delivered its first Workplace component, Workplace Messaging, and followed that with Workplace 1.1 components, focused on instant messaging, team collaboration, content management and e-learning.

This year, Lotus will deliver additional Workplace components along with a tool referred to internally as Workplace Builder for customising and defining templates that use Workplace components. IBM is also planning the deployment this year of a WebSphere Studio J2EE rapid application development tool similar to Domino Designer that will ease developer migrations to the Workplace platform.

IBM/Lotus also plans to detail a Java-based client developed on the open source Eclipse framework. The client will be able to access Domino through portlets, including a technology called Reverse Proxy Portlets that will provide access to the logic and user interface of Domino applications.

“Really the key change has been that they won’t force users to move at a given time,” says Dave Marshak, an analyst with Patricia Seybold Group. “Beyond that, IBM is using this new platform to look further ahead and produce some exciting things using portals to present services whether they be from Domino or other platforms. It’s not just a coexistence strategy before migrating, but they understand Domino and that it plays a role. And that role can be incorporated into other IBM technology.”

Given that scenario, observers say users will have to carefully plan migrations.

“We forecast that Domino will be around at least through the end of the decade,” says Matt Cain, an analyst with Meta Group. But he says staying on the platform and disregarding modern network architectures is not a viable long-term plan, and users eventually will have to migrate to the Workplace platform or to other products.

“This is certainly a tricky transition period for IBM,” he says.

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