Happy birthday, Notes

The news that IBM would exit the PC business generated some nostalgia last week. Let's not forget Lotus played a role in the PC's rise.

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The big news out of IBM last week was the company's impending exit from the PC business. News, of course, is somewhat relative. IBM's sale of its PC business to China's Lenovo may be big news for old-timers who recall the tremendous impact IBM's first PCs had on computing. For young timers the response may be: "So what?"

But the fact is that the IBM PC set the course for computing as we know it for 25 years; it placed both Intel and Microsoft for some time in the driver seat. That the original IBM PC -- inadvertently for the most part -- provided a standard "cloneable" architecture was a key to its success. But let's not forget that Lotus played a big role too.

The IBM PC snuck Trojan-horse-like into corporations. People were sick of waiting for central IT to create budgets. Power users brought in PCs running 1-2-3 and did their own budgets without IT help, thank you very much.

Lotus had a major hand in the next big step in computing. That was to roll together the power of all these standalone PCs. Some of the original Lotus power users ended up in IT departments, in fact. Notes, which celebrated its 15th birthday last week, played an important role in connecting the many PC "islands of automation."

Notes originator Ray Ozzie spoke last week on the birth of Notes. Truth was, Ozzie and crew were reshaping shared minicomputer applications for the distributed PC platform. Ozzie said that there was a little bit of luck involved in the ascent of Notes. When Notes was introduced, corporate re-engineering was in vogue and "horizontal information sharing" became the mandate.

But Notes was not without its limits. Ozzie expanded on this issue earlier this year when he told SearchDomino his latest software creation, known as Groove, works on the assumption that the nature of business has completely changed -- that companies are really loose aggregations of distributed processes. Groove, as opposed to Notes, he implied, starts at the edge and works in toward the center of the corporation.

Of course, a skeptical examiner might say that, in their first days, the PC, 1-2-3 and Notes all started at the edge. At this desk, we don't see any powerful vogue in place today that will allow IBM's new Workplace software to impact computing as Notes during the first run to corporate re-engineering. Maybe there is something we don't see.

What do you think?

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