Article

Domino-Linux combo slowly gaining ground

Mark Baard

Lotus is peddling Notes and Domino to open source proponents, but are any of them buying?

Domino 6 continues Lotus' support for Linux; it even includes a version of Notes for the quasi-open-source Mac OS X operating system. But users doubt they'll be seeing open-source code on their PCs anytime soon.

"At this company, there is too much inertia with Microsoft Windows to consider a change to another platform," said Scott S., a materials scientist who has experimented with beta versions of open source Notes clients on his computers at work.

Scott requested anonymity, citing a workplace feud raging over the merits of open-source code.

Still, Linux fans remain thrilled at the idea of shedding Windows licensing and upgrade fees, and taking advantage of what they see as Linux's superior administrative and security capabilities.

"Users are looking for ways to get outside of Microsoft's control," said Andrew Pollack, president of Northern Collaborative Technologies, an IT consultancy based in Cumberland, Maine. "And the more technically adept users among them are demanding Linux."

And Lotus seems eager to answer the call for Linux.

"Because it is a part of IBM, Lotus is very interested in promoting the value of Linux by making a larger number of applications available for the platform," said IDC analyst Mark Levitt.

Levitt said users have no reason to fear that they'll receive less support from Lotus for their Linux-based software than those using applications for Windows NT/2000.

"Linux is open sourced, but not all software written for the platform is open sourced," Levitt said. "Software developed by Lotus to run on Linux will have the same development and support as any other Lotus product."

Meanwhile, technological barriers to Linux adoption are falling.

"Most of the technical objections users once had to Linux "are no longer relevant," said Northern's Pollack. "And many of the advantages Windows once had over Linux, such as scalability, have for the most part evaporated."

But Pollack doubts many midsize and large enterprises have the expertise to move their shops over to Linux.

"Linux has stalled," Pollack said, "not because of any technical limitations, but because of the high skills level required to install and manage it."

Until the average user can perform a point-and-click install of Linux, it will remain impractical for deployment in large enterprises. Quipped Pollack, "How many of us know the chipset on our video card?"

A Linux compromise

Nevertheless, average Domino users may soon get their Linux after all, without having to scrap their current Windows applications. Two weeks ago St. Paul, Minn.-based developer CodeWeavers Inc. released CrossOver Office, which runs Lotus Notes and other Windows applications within Linux.

CrossOver is based on an open-source Windows compatibility layer, Wine, that lets users port their Windows applications to Linux. Windows apps require no changes to run in the new operating system.

Domino users still hope Lotus will extend support for open-source code beyond Linux to J2EE, the Java enterprise platform Lotus is adopting for use with Domino 6.

An open-source alternative to IBM WebSphere, the J2EE application server Lotus is pushing on Domino users, could save users tens of thousands of dollars.

"I'd like to see Notes and Domino work seamlessly with JBoss," said Neil Wainwright, president of Mobile Signals Inc., a software developer based in Toronto, Ont. "And I know that some of my clients would like not having to pay IBM for its version of a J2EE server."

JBoss is an open source alternative to the J2EE platform. JBoss includes server, infrastructure, messaging, mail and security components, and is considered by some to be an excellent alternative to WebSphere.

JBoss is free. IBM's WebSphere Application Server Enterprise Edition 4.1, on the other hand, costs $35,000.

Wainwright said Lotus could conceivably make Domino 6 incompatible with any J2EE-compliant alternative to WebSphere, including JBoss. But he hopes Lotus will see JBoss as an opportunity to broaden Domino's market reach.

"I'm hoping they'll recognize that there are different classes of users out there," Wainwright said.

Ultimately Lotus may not be the problem for the champions of open source code. Instead, it will likely be the costs of migration and maintenance for applications whose developers can't be held accountable for any problems.

"Lotus will continue to give users additional options with Linux applications," said IDC's Levitt, "but we don't see significant numbers moving away from Windows, at least in the near term."

Mark Baard is a contributing writer based in Milton, Mass. 

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