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Get your shades: Lotus looks bright again

Writer John Vaughan looks back at Lotusphere 2005 and sees good stuff. Some fellows in the Order of Lotus Bloggers also chime in.

While I was at Lotusphere 2005 I went to a session called Gurupallooza. Lotus had all of the Best Practices speakers there. The 'gurus' answered questions from the audience. During the session one person asked what they thought about Notes 7 and the direction that Lotus was headed.

I was planning to write a column covering my general take on Lotusphere, but when I heard the answers that several of the speakers gave to the question posed by the audience member, I thought it might be interesting to gather some of those opinions and present them here along with my own. Several of us are avid bloggers, and links are provided here these blogs.

The first quote I was able to find came right from my own back yard when I walked into the office of Linda Davis. I have been working for Linda for the past four years. 99 percent of our applications are coded in Notes/Domino.

Linda has been a Notes administrator and developer since version 2 and attended the very first Lotusphere. When it comes to Notes her perspective is both broad and deep and I was very pleased when she offered to write something for the column. Her comments, though brief, mirror nicely what the gurus would end up sending to me. All and all, Lotus, and those whose careers are tied to it, may be on the upswing again.

Linda Davis: "The last two Lotusphere conferences (2003 and 2004) left me waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was sure they were going to give us a date at which Notes would no longer be supported. Lotusphere 2005 changed my mind. Now, I see IBM integrating Workplace functionality into Notes rather than forcing us to migrate to a product that diminishes Notes to second-class citizen status. I left the conference feeling pumped and enthusiastic about the future of Notes!"

Linda's take on Lotus' direction, both in terms of where we have been and where the technology is headed, seem to fit with what I have been hearing from many voices in the community.

Three of the Gurupallooza speakers kindly took time away from their families and their consulting practices to put together their thoughts. What follows are their comments, and then I will end with my own thoughts.

Richard Schwartz
"For the past few years, many of the Lotus Notes and Domino faithful have been looking at the J2EE, contextual collaboration and Workplace products touted by IBM and asking, 'Where's the beef?'

Lotus loyalists have been worried that IBM would end up starving Notes and Domino to death before they even came close to writing new software that could satisfy the evolving needs of the collaboration market. Lotusphere 2005 finally proved that there's plenty of beef to go around. We've seen it. It's a little on the rare side in Workplace, but that's ok, because it's real.

The Workplace products are finally showing that they will offer exciting new functionality. The Activity Explorer component is especially interesting, and it's potentially a real groundbreaking approach to collaboration. Integration between Notes and Activity Explorer in the Workplace framework is something that can give new life to a lot of old applications, and is likely to be the first real draw for getting the massive Notes and Domino customer base interested in Workplace.

There's definitely no danger of starvation for people who still aren't convinced that the future lies in J2EE. In fact, the major programmability improvements in Domino Designer 7 are just as useful in a .NET environment as they are for J2EE, and for that matter developers will be able to build lots of exciting new applications with this release, without either J2EE or .NET. On the server side, the performance improvements in 7 should buy everybody at least a year or two of growth on existing hardware, which is a substantial bit of investment protection for anyone who upgrades.

In addition to two new server platforms for Domino 7, the long-sought-after Linux Notes client will become a reality through the Notes Client plug-in for Workplace Client Technology. This is huge. This is the Microsoft-free collaboration environment that many of us have been hoping IBM would build, and they are not throwing away Notes to do it."

Andrew Pollack
"The future of Notes is bright indeed. IBM has ensured the long-term continued use of their core Lotus Notes client and Lotus Domino server by fully incorporating the client side into its Managed Workplace Client. That means you can begin to add new technologies like Workplace to your existing Domino environment and there is no conflict. There really is no such thing as a 'Migration.' The work on the Workplace Designer is outstanding, and this new market is theirs to capture.

The big unanswered question in my mind right now is how important we will be as smaller partner organizations and ISVs focused on individual users or departments within an overall massive rollout.

If IBM fails to provide end users with a way to install tools and utilities into their Workplace Client, which run in addition to the centrally provisioned software, ISVs will have a very hard time, because every tool or utility must then be sold at the very top of the chain and rolled down to each client.

At its surface, this would seem to be a boon for those who manage massive user environments. In reality, as a strategy it fails to consider that end users find local customization critical to the willing adoption of a new platform. Niche tools created by smaller vendors often meet end user needs that are ignored by centrally provisioned software.

IBM's relationships with central I.T. have always been its strong suit. In the past, this has lead to a critical misreading of the power represented by the rest of the user base. The big central I.T. shops want things locked down. Users want things open. This is where the real battle with Microsoft will be fought.

IBM's best chance to win this battle is to balance the needs of the end user with those of central IT. Local applications should run in a secure, bounded environment but should be controlled and deployed by the user. As a strategy, it helps ensure user acceptance and opens the field to thousands of smaller ISV's who will create niche products and help close the deals. IBM should not forget that Solitaire played a larger part in selling Windows than did Excel."

Rocky Oliver :
'Timbuk 3 sang: "The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.' That quote rings true, now more than ever - if you're a Lotus collaborative technologies professional. Now, if you had asked me about the future of Notes last year, I would have not been as sure of the answer. There was a time between the purchase of Lotus by IBM and the ascension of Ambuj Goyal into the top spot at Lotus when the future of Notes/Domino specifically, and even Lotus in general, seemed murky at best.

We had the 'Notes is '80's technology' quote by Steve Mills, the 'two lane highway' roadmap, and a host of other reasons to question the future of Notes/Domino. Then a paradigm shift happened - IBM finally 'got' what Notes/Domino and Lotus are all about, and they realized the true value proposition that Lotus brings to the table with its collaborative technologies. I don't know this for sure, but I have to believe that the person who first 'got it' at the executive level was Ambuj. He saw that Notes/Domino is not easily duplicated in other technologies, and he also realized something much more important - the community surrounding Notes/Domino is where the true value lies. The Notes/Domino community is passionate about their technology of choice, and they work miracles on a daily basis with it. This community is not afraid of change, but by the same token they do not want to face a 'rip and replace' scenario.

Lotus Software now has a clear, concise message on the future of Notes/Domino. Notes/Domino is a 'first class member' of the Workplace initiative, and it will evolve over time to better fit within the strategy. Notes/Domino will continue to do what it has always done - it will adapt and morph to fit the evolving business needs of the client base, and the Notes/Domino community will continue to evolve along with their beloved product.

This follows a long-standing tradition for Notes/Domino: when the Web became important, Domino evolved to support HTTP, and the community evolved along with it; when scripting languages became important, Notes/Domino introduced LotusScript, and the community embraced it; when Java became widespread, Notes/Domino supported it, and the community began to work with it; and now that standards such as J2EE, XML, Web Services, X.509, etc. are becoming necessary to work effectively, Notes/Domino evolved to keep pace - and often to set the standard - and our user community will evolve along with it.

Notes/Domino will undergo some major changes in the not-too-distant future. However, like all species, evolution and adaptability are necessary to survive and thrive - and Notes/Domino has proven, above all else, that it is a survivor."

John Vaughan
For several years Lotus Software has been defining a new direction for Notes with the Workplace initiative.

We in the Lotus community have been increasingly exposed to Websphere, Websphere Portal and the vision for Workplace. Many of us had a hard time understanding why IBM kept marketing these expensive and complicated products to our community.

Not many of us wanted to extend our development cycle. Not many of us wished to pay for additional licensing, or add more hardware to our environments, or spend an entire week installing Workplace. For Notes shops, the vision never sat quite right even though there was great promise in the ideas propounded by IBM. We've been waiting to see how it would really shake out on the ground.

At Lotusphere 2005, IBM demonstrated a compelling vision of the future. As of Notes 8 we will be able to access Workplace portlets and Notes applications in one seamless interface. We will not have to have a Workplace server on the backend but we will be able to add one.

Workplace Express installs to one box in about twenty minutes on Linux and about forty minutes on Windows. IBM customers will see more of this installation paradigm in the future and I am quite sure we will see it in Workplace.

The new rich client in Notes 8 will bring more than just Notes and portlets to the desktop. It will bring new development options and new end user capabilities.

The architecture is very rich, and once you know the lay of the land you can plug into it in many interesting ways. There will be native editors built on Open Office code for word processing and other MS Office-like products. And there is an amazing new tool embedded in the rich client called Activity Explorer that, taken by itself, would almost make the new client worth the price of admission.

The best news for us Lotus die-hards is that we will still have Notes, resident and native in the new client. Lotusscript is not going to disappear! We will be able to continue to develop Notes applications with familiar tools. And the new Workplace Designer is being developed with the same paradigms that we are used to in Notes Designer.

Notes is becoming more powerful, extensible and interesting. If you thought your Lotus career was going down the tubes because of the direction IBM was taking us, think again. J2EE is not going to clobber Notes. Workplace is not going to swallow Notes. At Lotusphere 2005 we saw the proof.

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