Just 14 months ago, Microsoft Corp. senior vice president Steve Sinofsky visited Lotusphere Orlando 2000 and gave his blessing to Lotus iNotes Access for Microsoft Outlook.
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But all that has changed.
Now it appears Microsoft, which helped Lotus produce the product, has withdrawn the blessing. A Lotus Notes marketing director says Microsoft is taking pot shots against the product while waging war against Domino Server. And a Gartner analyst has stepped in to defend the product. Microsoft declined comment.
The controversy surrounds a product that allows administrators to support Microsoft Outlook users seamlessly with messaging services, even after they switch from Microsoft Exchange Server to Domino. Inotes/Outlook actually helps ensure Outlook's survival under a Domino-run shop.
"Sinofsky joined us to indicate that iNotes Access for Microsoft Outlook was a joint effort with the Microsoft Office team, and that he was very pleased with the results," said Ed Brill, director of marketing for Notes and iNotes at Lotus.
Microsoft is confusing prospective Domino administrators with bogus critiques of iNotes/Outlook, Brill said.
Microsoft, for example, is decrying iNotes for Outlook's lack of collaboration features.
But "the Microsoft Outlook mail/PIM client was never designed to be a collaboration environment, thus it is impossible for Lotus to provide such services," Brill said.
He acknowledged that Lotus did sacrifice Outlook features as it rushed to ship iNotes/Outlook with Domino Release 5.0.5, in September 2000. iNotes/Outlook does not support Outlook's iCalendar feature, public folders, voting buttons or "out of the office" automatic reply functions.
"We never committed to doing everything," he said.
Brill acknowledged that Lotus had to make some tradeoffs in second- and third-tier functionality.
But at least one analyst said some of iNotes for Outlook's reputed weaknesses may actually make Domino R5.0.5 more attractive to administrators. Not only that, said Gartner Group Analyst Maurene Grey, but Microsoft's criticisms of the product for its dependence on Notes ID files are not necessarily a negative.
"It's true that, with iNotes Access for Outlook, you have to manage Notes IDs," she said, "but Domino's security model also happens to be one of its greatest strengths."
INotes for Outlook and iNotes Web Access, which extends similar capabilities to Web browser users, may indeed become critical tools for increasingly disparate network environments, she said.
"There is no such thing as homogeneity in messaging anymore," Grey said.
She said a network's users often includes a company's customers and suppliers, as well as remote and mobile workers.
"Users are so diverse now, and all of them have different needs. It's not likely that one product will be able to serve all of them effectively," she said.
Grey called iNotes/Outlook an important step in Lotus' modular approach to messaging and collaboration.
"Let's say that, after a merger, you inherit a whole bunch of Outlook users," she said.
"With iNotes Access for Outlook, you can keep your Domino back-end, without having to go through the increase in help desk calls and training for Notes," she said.
MORE INFORMATION ON THIS TOPIC:
Ed Brill's online memorandum on this issue, "Microsoft Exchange Realty Check" is available at the Lotus Web site.
Domino Off-Line Services, a must read for those who use iNotes for Outlook, is at DOLS.