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Is it the end of the line for LotusScript?

Despite assurances from IBM Lotus that LotusScript isn't going away, some developers think the writing is on the wall, and they're already starting to learn some new skills just in case.

Domino professionals may not be the most satisfied bunch these days. And one developer, Mike Sobczak, thinks he knows one reason for his colleagues' ennui: Many are just barely holding on to their current jobs, and few are finding fresh opportunities elsewhere.

"Developers are only happy if they can jump ship," said Sobczak, a developer for Bloomfield, Mich.-based NuTechs, a company that writes applications for major automakers and their suppliers. "And right now, they are pretty much stuck where they are."

Must-haves for techies

Don't panic. LotusScript developers have some good years ahead, according to IBM Lotus Software and its business partners. But even the improvements to LotusScript in Notes/Domino 6, which includes support for XML and XSL, as well as support for calling Java classes, suggests a future Domino that is Java-based and integrated with Web services.

Here are some of latest must-have technologies, including XML-based protocols, you'll want to take a look at. "The people who acquire these skills first are going to hold the greatest value for employers," said Stephen Arees, director of business development and marketing at Rave Software Solutions Inc. in New York.

How do your skills match up?

J2EE/WebSphere With the release of its low-end Notes client, Workplace Messaging, which is WebSphere-based, IBM Lotus affirmed its new strategy for the Domino platform. The company is supporting Java training through its business partners, including Rave and the Learning Continuum Company Ltd., a distance learning provider based in Boca Raton, Fla.

.NET Mergers and acquisitions often force managers to make difficult choices. Not every chief technology officer will choose WebSphere for Web applications and Web services. Understanding Microsoft's .NET Framework, C#, and the key components of the .NET Framework class library will make you the go-to person for Web integration.

UDDI and WSDL These are two core technologies for Web services. Businesses use Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) to find and transact with one another. The Web Services Description Language (WSDL) defines Web services and describes how to access them.

WAP/WML Understanding Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) and the XML-based Wireless Markup Language (WML) will help you add value to Notes/Domino and other applications accessed from mobile devices.

SOAP Simple Object Access Protocol, based on XML, ties together disparate applications and devices.

While circumstances for developers like Sobczak could be worse -- salaries for certified Domino developers average $20,000 more than the average tech salary, according to the IT job site -- many remain anxious about their ability to trade on their existing Notes/Domino skills. Less than one quarter of respondents to a recent poll said they are satisfied with their career prospects. Sobczak and others in the Domino development world believe that learning Java is one way they can ensure their marketability in the future.

IBM is signaling to developers that Java is the future lingua franca for the rapid development of Web applications and that WebSphere/J2EE is their ticket to a better career. Career experts, meanwhile, are emphasizing the importance of Web services, markup languages and security standards for future developers.

Sobczak is one of about 40 Notes/Domino developers at NuTechs. While the company is putting off performance reviews and has slowed its rate of hiring, the company is holding up well, despite layoffs and profit losses at many of its client businesses. NuTechs is competing by developing cutting-edge Web and wireless mobile applications for Domino and by learning to incorporate Domino and Java along the way.

"We started playing with the wireless and PDA stuff 18 months ago," said NuTechs chief technology officer Rob Wunderlich. "And now that our customers are asking for it, we're one of the few developers that are able to deliver those products."

NuTechs is also increasingly hiring Domino developers with more than LotusScript and JavaScript skills in their knowledge base. Wunderlich said he is also looking for developers who are familiar with HTML, cHTML (for compact information appliances) and dynamic HTML, and for people who have experience working with iNotes Web Access mail templates.

Sobczak and his co-workers, meanwhile, are tackling WebSphere/J2EE on an informal basis on their own time. Learning Java is a timely, costly and not immediately rewarding undertaking.

"It's tough to spend up to six months working, on top of eight- to nine-hour days, to learn a skill that doesn't have much bearing on what you're doing today," Sobczack said.

He sees the release of IBM Lotus Workplace Messaging, a purely WebSphere-based application, as a bellwether for Domino's Java-based future. "We're absolutely headed down that road," he said. An additional cost of Java training is the fact that WebSphere Application Studio also requires a dedicated PC, he said.

Support from IBM Lotus

But NuTechs CTO Wunderlich said his company plans to subsidize its employees' Java learning. IBM Lotus and its business partners who develop training software are encouraging Notes/Domino developers to start learning the language. And IBM assures its customers that it is not abandoning existing Domino developers and administrators for a new generation of Java developers.

"We are looking to our existing Domino base to go into this era," said Frances West, director of channels and alliances for business development at IBM. "The focus is not on channel recruitment but on the enablement and education of our partners."

West acknowledged that IBM's decision to remove the JSP engine, Garnet, from Notes/Domino 6 led to a "misunderstanding" that caused developers to think they were losing out on an easy introduction to Java development. Now Domino Toolkit for WebSphere Studio, which is due out this summer, will help Domino developers convert their applications to J2EE. "We're providing the training, the education and the tools to make the transition to [WebSphere and J2EE] as smooth as possible," West said.

Some IBM Lotus business partners have already developed WebSphere/J2EE training programs geared toward Domino developers. Many developers, despite budget cutbacks, should expect their employers to support their Java training.

"Training is certainly not funded the way it used to be," said Stephen Arees, director of business development and marketing at New York-based Rave Software Solutions, a provider of online WebSphere tutorials and instructor-led training. "But it's not going to be blanked out of IT budgets altogether. We're seeing a lot of companies that want to get their people up to speed on Java, J2EE and WebSphere."

As for LotusScript diehards, Arees acknowledged that IBM continues to support the language that drives Domino. "You can continue developing in LotusScript for years to come," he said. "But at least start taking some steps toward J2EE and open-source code."

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


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