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Domino: Should I stay or should I go?

It is common for Domino shops to consider migrating to Microsoft Exchange, but a migration doesn't always mean cheaper and easier messaging. Experts say before moving to Exchange, decision makers should look at Microsoft's track record regarding messaging technology and reconsider Domino's many strengths.

Developers and system administrators adore Domino for its unified development environment and data store. So why are so many of them considering a migration to Exchange?

Even as IBM's Lotus Software trumpets its recently released Domino 6 as a money-saving platform for server consolidation, Microsoft is claiming an early victory in the integrated collaborative environments market.

"We are seeing more activity heading in our direction than the other way around," said Jim Bernardo, Microsoft's product team leader for Exchange. Bernardo said that recently merged companies that run both Domino and Exchange servers will often migrate to Exchange because they prefer to use Outlook for messaging.

But before they settle for Exchange, experts believe users should look at Microsoft's track record in developing the messaging server and consider Domino's strengths as a platform for building and deploying collaborative applications.

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"Titanium doesn't offer anything that Domino doesn't already have," said Steve Bryant, an infrastructure architect at Fayetteville, Ga.-based Pro Exchange, whose bread and butter happens to be migrating Domino shops to Exchange.

Titanium is the incremental upgrade to Exchange 2000 that Microsoft plans to release in 2003. The new version will have improved e-mail security and expanded support for mobile users, features already available to Domino 6 users.

But comparisons between Domino 6 and Titanium may be unfair. After all, most Microsoft customers are still using Exchange 5.5.

"What we're hearing from Exchange users is that they have not been successful at rolling out Active Directory," said Catherine Lord, marketplace strategy manager for Lotus.

Active Directory is the centralized directory service that users must have in order to use Exchange 2000. Many administrators say the difficulty of installing and managing Active Directory has dissuaded them from upgrading from Exchange 5.5.

Lotus may already be receiving converts from this pool of frustrated Exchange admins.

"I have been hearing of more Notes migrations this past year," said Pro Exchange solutions architect Jayme Bowers. "One reason might be that users don't want to crack the Active Directory nut."

Pro Exchange's Bryant added that Microsoft has also taken some surprising turns in developing Exchange.

"Microsoft has pulled features from the development stream before," Bryant said. "They had an Office XP design tool, but they pulled it at the last minute. Officially, Microsoft said the tool was too buggy. But we think the truth is that they had already shifted their resources to .NET development."

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Lotus' Catherine Lord expects Microsoft to further antagonize users in a few years, when it rewrites Exchange as a .NET-based server. The new version of Exchange is currently code-named Kodiak.

Lotus, which is rankling its own customers by creating more ties between Domino and WebSphere, continues to position Domino as an environment for developing and deploying applications for Notes and its collaborative tools, Sametime and QuickPlace. In fact, it's Lotus' collaborative tools that, in the end, may make it most appealing to Exchange users.

"Lotus' strength has always been in collaboration," said Simon Hayward, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner Inc. "That's what Notes itself has been from the beginning -- a collaboration tool."

Microsoft's development of its own collaboration tool, SharePoint, is lagging behind Sametime and QuickPlace, Hayward says.

SharePoint, which is not a part of Exchange, consists of two parts: SharePoint Portal Server, for document management, and SharePoint Team Services, for collaboration and information sharing. "Compared with Sametime and QuickPlace, SharePoint is relatively new," he said. "And its place [in Microsoft's .NET strategy] is still somewhat confused."

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

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