For the last 15 years, Notes has been widely considered the premier collaborative document sharing and messaging environment. These days, IBM is aiming to renew that success with Workplace, its Java- and Eclipse-based rich-client collaboration technology.
Earlier this month, Peter O'Kelly, a senior analyst with the Application Platform Strategies service of IT infrastructure research firm Burton Group, gave the SearchDomino.com webcast, IBM's Enterprise Collaboration Strategy: Something Old, Something New, Some Things Acquired, and Deeply Blue. (The webcast is now available on demand on SearchDomino.com.)
As he did earlier this year in an interview with SearchDomino.com, O'Kelly challenged the myth that IBM is swapping out Notes/Domino for Workplace. In fact, he said, IBM Workplace marketing literature points customers running Workplace Services Express to Lotus Domino Express for its messaging, scheduling and collaborative apps.
"This is a pretty clear example of one instance in which IBM is saying, 'If you're already using Workplace Services, you might as well use Domino,'" O'Kelly said. "You're going to see more of those over time because IBM has got a very clear reordering of the product set within Workplace."
Workplace's rich-client technology can provide both the native client look and feel of Notes and centrally managed, multi-platform application provisioning. "The goal here is to have the best of both worlds: the simplicity and ease of administration of Web apps but no compromises on the client side for user experience," O'Kelly said.
Activity Explorer to expand Notes metaphor
A key component of future Workplace releases will be Activity Explorer, which is currently in the prototype stage. It can expand the basic Notes collaboration metaphor still further. This software module is an activity-centric architecture that lets users work in an environment more structured than e-mail but less formal than Quickplace. Rather than choose a specific collaboration tool at the outset, Activity Explorer will offer those tools in what equates to an "activity inbox," O'Kelly said.
"Activity Explorer is a leading indicator of what we see as an important trend in the industry, moving away from having people start with tools or applications and then assemble their own work environments," O'Kelly said. "Adding activities as well as pervasive presence is going to require some major changes, but I don't think that IBM is shying away from the investment required to do that, and I think the Hannover vision is pretty compelling."
"Hannover vision" refers to the next generation of Notes, which IBM unveiled at a usre conference in Hannover, Germany, in June. It remains to be seen whether Hannover, which will be packed with UI advances, is Notes 7.x or Notes 8.0. It could well be Notes 7.5.
More than just a client strategy
Many have surmised that Hannover is primarily, if not only, a client strategy. But O'Kelly views Hannover as the client side of a more concerted strategy that includes the WebSphere J2EE application server and Rational development tools – just as Microsoft Office is aligned with Windows Server and Visual Studio. Hannover, he said, "will have positive impact on Domino in the sense that it will give Domino apps another place to run."
But don't expect Notes/Hannover to have complete compatibility with Workplace. "It would be a strategic error for IBM to go back there and try to get 100% LotusScript compatibility inside Workplace going forward," O'Kelly said. "That isn't to say that LotusScript isn't important, but rather there are other options for developers who want to continue with that."
In order to help Workplace in the market, IBM Lotus has worked to fashion a Workplace Designer development tool that closely mimics original Domino Designer tool behavior. There, as O'Kelly pointed out, Workplace will meet an invigorated Microsoft effort -- its collaboration software stable having added Groove Networks and, with it, Notes originator Ray Ozzie. That Groove purchase, O'Kelly said, will further foment competition among Microsoft, IBM and even Oracle in the collaboration marketplace.