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Scorecard: Expert ranks Domino against Exchange

Even though some believe the battle between Domino and Exchange may be winding down, asked an expert who has experience working with both platforms to compare Lotus' and Microsoft's messaging offerings side by side. It was a tough battle, and the winner slugged its way to a surprisingly narrow victory.

If heavyweight boxing's 1975 "Thrilla in Manila" between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier had lasted seven years, it would have been almost as contentious as the battle for the undisputed championship of enterprise messaging between IBM's Lotus Domino and Microsoft's Exchange.

Ron Herardian
Even though experts believe Domino and Exchange have already fought to a draw, asked Ron Herardian, CEO and chief software architect for Mountain View, Calif.-based Domino and Exchange consulting firm Global System Services Corp., to compare the two products' features and decide which one has the edge in each category.


"Domino runs on operating systems that are more scalable than anything from Microsoft, but Domino itself has so much overhead that there isn't that much benefit." Herardian said there isn't one right answer. "As a customer, you need to see what makes sense for your own company's size and growth."

Advantage: Neither

Slanted comparisons
Even though much of the IT industry compares Domino and Exchange as if they were very similar, Herardian said that's far from true.

He said it's tough to compare the two because of how they treat their respective directories, which are the applications that collect user data, passwords and information about network resources. While Domino's directory is built-in, Microsoft's directories take the form of either NT domains or Active Directory, both of which are closely tied to Windows and not Exchange.

Herardian said that not only does that distinction impact the total cost of ownership (TCO) calculations for Domino and Exchange, but it also affects the perceptions of the IT community.

"People often don't recognize that their Microsoft Windows efforts or their Active Directory effort is partly for Exchange," Herardian said. "When they look at the cost of Exchange [versus] Domino, they fail to recognize they're spending resources on Windows networking and directory technology, and that's built into Domino."

Herardian said Microsoft originally had intended to keep its directory within Exchange but decided it would be more profitable to tie it to the Windows operating system, thereby compelling Exchange customers to commit to a Microsoft-based infrastructure.

"What gets missed is the fact that you have to have all the puzzle pieces to get the whole picture," said Herardian. "So Microsoft may market Exchange as a solution, but it's a solution that involves other products."

Clustering and server sharing

"It's pretty strange, but Domino has built in clustering with the enterprise version of the product, and it's pretty unique for a PC e-mail server product to have that. It's a pretty sophisticated technology, and combined with replication it's very strong. They can cluster across platforms. On the Microsoft side, you have NT clustering, which is a totally different animal."

Advantage: Domino

Ease of maintenance

"With a properly configured system, either Domino or Exchange, I don't personally believe there's a big difference. If you have people who are properly trained and understand the technology, they're going to be equally capable on either system. What I do believe is that it is often misperceived how much belongs to Exchange versus Domino, because in an enterprise where you have Active Directory, that job doesn't count as an e-mail or groupware admin, but it really is." (See sidebar.)

Advantage: Neither

Upgrade issues

"There have been problems upgrading Domino because of the groupware applications people have developed for it. Going from R4 to R5 was quite problematic, but they've done a much better job with [Domino 6]. With Exchange 2000, the biggest hurdle is Active Directory. After that, an Exchange [upgrade] looks pretty easy. Personally, I believe the upgrade from R5 to Domino 6 is much easier than the upgrade to Exchange 2000 because it doesn't require migrating to Active Directory."

Advantage: Domino

Development capabilities

"On Exchange, [developers use] general-purpose Microsoft application development tools, but they are not groupware development tools. The second issue is the engines and APIs that go with them. With Domino, I have workflow that's built in and APIs that let me do database replications."

Advantage: Domino

Supporting end users

"If you have a Windows desktop, everybody's got Outlook. People understand it, and it's easier to use. When you learn to use the Notes client and learn how powerful it is, you can do a lot more, but the average user will never benefit from that."

Advantage: Exchange

Remote issues

"I think right now it's pretty much a wash. There's no major difference supporting remote Notes users versus Outlook. If you're dialing up [using Outlook], then it's pure misery because of the speed, but you shouldn't be doing that. You should be using a VPN."

Advantage: Neither


"The big problem that Microsoft has is its client-side vulnerabilities, because everything is so closely linked to the OS. So I don't know if it can really ever fix that because you can never run the software on any other OS. But as far as just e-mail is concerned, Exchange isn't as secure as Domino because Domino has always had a PKI, and it still does today. But you do pay a price because there is more administration overhead."

Advantage: Domino

Linux compatibility

"Exchange on Linux? It's just not credible. It'll never happen."

Advantage: Domino

Java and .NET flexibility

"Domino is totally committed to Java, and the strategic direction it's headed in is integration with WebSphere. It's not going to replace the Domino Servlet Manager, which is also a great piece of functionality. Microsoft has provided .NET as a Microsoft-centric way of creating Web services, so that you can have all your servers in a Microsoft paradigm on top of Windows. So if .NET wins and Java dies out, that would hurt Domino because everybody has Java apps on it, but it wouldn't make any difference to Exchange users."

Advantage: Neither

Instant messaging

"Domino has IM; Exchange doesn't. So do you want to have MSN Messenger on your PC, or do you want Sametime, which lets you share whole applications, just like WebEx? Sametime even works on mobile phones, and I can see on my phone whether someone is sitting at their desk." Herardian noted that Exchange 2000 does integrate with Microsoft's MSN Messenger, but doesn't provide the real-time collaboration capabilities of Sametime because it lacks application sharing.

Advantage: Domino

Third-party add-ons

"That's a mixed bag, because there are so many great Domino tools and great Domino applications. Lotus has done a fantastic job in terms of the quality of partners and products, but Microsoft has legions of developers as far as the eye can see, all the way to the horizon. So it's easier and cheaper to find Microsoft developers because there're more of them. Quantitatively, Microsoft definitely has it, but quality-wise Lotus has an edge."

Advantage: Exchange

Vendor support

"In that area, I'm not satisfied with either vendor. Microsoft gives more resources to their business partners, and being an MCSE [Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer] is just an amazing value because it's a Microsoft world. The Lotus [partner] program's got some really great value too. Both are quite generous, but as a practical matter, more of what Microsoft gives you gets used."

Advantage: Exchange

Administration costs

"If you just look at Exchange as a product, then you find the administration overhead for Domino is higher. If you recognize there's an integrated infrastructure on the Microsoft side that isn't just one product, because all the other pieces you need aren't part of Exchange, then I think there's no significant difference whatsoever."

Advantage: Neither

For more information
>>CLICK to read more of's Special Report on Domino vs. Exchange
Coming Wednesday: An honest look at migrating from Domino to Exchange

>>CLICK to view's Lotus Live! Series webcast archive with Lotus' Ed Brill on Domino vs. Microsoft.

>>CLICK for a Tech Tip on choosing between Domino and Exchange 2000

>>CLICK for a Q&A from on the changing role of Exchange

>>CLICK for more articles by News Editor Eric B. Parizo

Development costs

"That's another area where it's hard to get a fair comparison. It's cheaper to develop applications on Windows with Microsoft development tools, unless you're developing groupware applications, in which case the Microsoft solution just doesn't have it. I think the common misperception in comparing them is that Microsoft is cheaper because everybody uses Windows and the tools are abundant, but the only problem is if you want to develop groupware, then the Microsoft tools are the wrong tools."

Advantage: Neither

Per-seat licensing costs

"I think, in general, the Lotus solution is more costly up-front, but if you have a business case for groupware, that's a different story. I think Microsoft's practices are misleading for customers because they make it sound like the client is free -- because it's everywhere -- when it's not. If you're a good Microsoft citizen and you license everything, I think it's still less than Lotus, but it's not much less."

Advantage: Exchange


"With Exchange, the most important consideration [for] any IT professional is that everything doesn't come with Exchange. You're not comparing apples to apples, and when you sit down and do the math, Microsoft doesn't have any compelling advantages, but that depends somewhat on what you're trying to do. If you're a small company using Windows PCs and all you need is e-mail, it doesn't make sense to [implement] Domino. If you're a high-tech law firm with 100 users and you want to have a groupware application and security is a concern, then Domino is a compelling solution. It's a case-by-case decision. There isn't one answer."

Advantage: Neither

Final score:

Domino: 6
Exchange: 4
Neither: 7

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