Lotusphere '04: Developers stay true to Lotus

Microsoft may be trying to play off Domino developers' uncertainty, but the message appears to be falling on deaf ears.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Developers at IBM Lotus' annual user show don't seem to be taking Microsoft's development bait.

Last week, Microsoft told Domino developers that Visual Basic .NET and Visual Studio .NET are the best tools for transitioning from Notes/Domino to Web application development. In a familiar pitch, it said that LotusScript and Visual Basic are closely related scripting languages and that programmers can drop their code from one language into the other without making significant modifications.

In published reports, Microsoft has asserted that learning J2EE, the version of Java on which IBM's WebSphere software is based, will be far more difficult for current Domino developers than learning Visual Basic. Both LotusScript and Visual Basic are derived from BASIC, which is more than 30 years old.

But few developers at Lotusphere, where anti-Microsoft sentiment runs high, appear to be taking Microsoft's solicitation seriously. Many Domino programmers are coming to regard Java as an adjunct to their organizations' technology investments, rather than a threat to their livelihoods. Some say they are especially encouraged by IBM Lotus' announcement of Workplace 2.0, the latest iteration of the Java-based collaboration suite.

A developer at one company experimenting with Visual Basic said he was reassured by IBM Lotus' promise not to abandon its Notes/Domino customers but to help them painlessly leverage their Notes applications within J2EE.

"I came here not wanting to hear anything about Workplace, which I thought would mean all of our [Notes] investment going away," said Eric Newsom, assistant director of IT at Thompson Machinery Commerce Corp., a Caterpillar dealer based in Nashville, Tenn. "But from what I've seen, Workplace will run what I've already built, without requiring me to change anything."

Thompson has 140 Notes databases, 100 Notes applications, and 500 Notes seats. Newsom said also that he looks forward to creating new applications in Workplace's component-ized, portlet environment. And he said that -- even with the compatibility between LotusScript and Visual Basic -- his staff would have to finesse each of the converted applications to make a transition to Microsoft work. "I'd rather learn Java [than] go through that," Newsom said.

One analyst also said that Lotus will lose few customers to Microsoft's .NET platform if it releases Workplace 2.0, a Java-based collaboration suite, on time. (Michael Rhodin, Lotus' vice president of development and technical support, this week promised to deliver Workplace 2.0 by June 2004.)

To the relief of skittish LotusScript developers, users will be able to access Notes applications through Workplace 2.0. The new version also includes Workplace Builder, a collection of Java-based templates that developers can use to create collaborative applications, without having to muck around in a new language.

Indeed, executives said that Workplace Builder is simple enough for both administrators and business managers to use to create their own applications.

But IBM needs to produce Workplace Builder, and quickly, to prevent the eyes of 500,000 Domino developers from wandering in Microsoft .NET's direction.

"This is not Microsoft's game to win, but IBM's to lose," said Meta Group analyst Mike Gotta. Workplace 2.0, which is based on IBM's WebSphere Portal software, bridges LotusScript and Domino Designer with the more complicated J2EE language. "Workplace Builder is the linchpin. It provides the abstraction layer for J2EE that was missing for Domino users."

Many attendees at Lotusphere are eager to build Web applications, but they are also balking at the costs they think would accompany a transition to .NET. By adopting .NET, they would be committing themselves to becoming a Microsoft shop, many Domino developers say.

"It depends on where your assets are," said Judy Kikkawa, Domino technical architect at Los Angeles-based Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), which has 825 Notes seats and runs Domino from an IBM iSeries server. "The cost to change your hardware and software infrastructure and systems may be too much."

Both IBM and Microsoft declined to comment specifically about the latest dustup over Java and .NET.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Event: Coverage of Lotusphere '04

Article: Lotusphere '04: Comforting the Domino base

Dig deeper on Domino Resources - Part 5

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