Lotus promises Domino will support Microsoft's Web services framework, .NET, but that's an easy promise to make when few, other than Microsoft enthusiasts, know what .NET actually is.
Lotus and Microsoft have joined the race to provide Web services, the standards-based software components that can ease data transfer between applications across computing networks or even the Internet without the need for extensive custom coding.
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Some believe businesses will one day use Web services commonly, but so far Microsoft's and IBM's Web services doctrines have often emphasized marketing over practical user strategies.
"And no one wants to write code for a loosely-defined marketing term," said Patricia Egan, a Notes/Domino consultant based in Chattanooga, Tenn. Egan was taking a shot at .NET, but doesn't seem to be alone when it comes to fully understanding .NET.
"At the moment, Web services are less about services than they are about hype," said Gartner analyst Simon Hayward. Nonetheless, some researchers are exceedingly optimistic about the future of Web services.
IDC predicts the Web services consulting industry, which includes third-party developers and systems integrators, will double each year through 2006, when it will reach $7.1 billion.
However, Microsoft and IBM have already laid the groundwork for Web services, by contributing to important standards like XML, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI) and Web Services Description Language (WSDL).
The two companies differ though over the role Java should play in developing and delivering Web services.
Microsoft says it plans to support Java coders only with tools that convert Java into its own, proprietary formats. Its Visual J# .NET, a just-released Java development tool, converts Java language code to the Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET format. Another tool, still in beta, will convert Java to Microsoft's new C# .NET language.
IBM, meanwhile, is gradually making Domino into a J2EE-based platform that can use Web services via WebSphere and other J2EE-based applications. It says it hopes that Domino developers will build Web services with IBM tools like WebSphere Studio Application Developer.
Big Blue is also playing nice with .NET by promising to support the framework with standardized, Component Object Model (COM) software from Microsoft. It announced this week that DB2, its database product, will support .NET through Microsoft's COM-based Visual Studio .NET Integration Program (VSIIP).
But the company has said little specifically about Domino's current support plans for .NET, and has not yet detailed its plans to support .NET in Domino NextGen, the J2EE version of Domino slated for release in 2004.
IBM and Lotus declined to comment for this article.
Analysts and users, however, are confident that IBM will find a painless way to support .NET over the next two years.
"As long as IBM supports the COM standard, it should have no problem making Domino assets available through .NET," said Meta Group analyst Craig Roth.
But if Microsoft decides to abandon the COM standard, IBM will likely feel pressured to make an alternative to J2EE-based Web services available to its Domino customers.
"They [IBM] have to," she said, "and I think they will, by evolving their products to work with .NET using whatever tools are at their disposal, or whatever tools Microsoft develops to use with their software."
Mark Baard is a freelance writer based in Milton, Mass.