In an exclusive SearchDomino.com study, users sent a love letter to IBM Lotus that contained an ominous postscript: "Don't render our beloved platform obsolete."
The research, which was conducted this summer, captured users' strong allegiance to Notes/Domino as messaging, collaboration and development software, but it also uncovered anxiety about the technology's future -- specifically, its ability to survive in a WebSphere-dominated world.
Nearly 95% of the survey's 440 respondents said they feel positive about the platform, citing improved communication, business processes and knowledge management as the biggest benefits of running Notes/Domino.
Yet, when asked about the WebSphere application server, which IBM has established as a cornerstone of its open-standards, J2EE strategy, SearchDomino.com readers were decidedly less enthusiastic. Only 14% said they were embracing WebSphere and the new options it brings.
Virtually all of the respondents were IT staff (60%) or IT managers (33%). Half indicated that their organizations have more than 1,000 Notes seats; one in every five respondents is running more than 10,000 Notes seats.
The majority of those who took the survey (59%) work in the United States. Twenty-four percent are based in Europe.
When asked about IBM Lotus' effectiveness in continually improving Domino, users gave the company high marks -- most notably in scalability. On a one-to-five scale, with one "not at all effective" and five "very effective," 58% gave IBM Lotus a four or five.
Chris Warner, a senior data consultant at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif., recalled days when his company struggled to have 100 users on a single mail server. Today, the health care services firm has thousands of employees working off of one Domino box. He credited IBM Lotus for the scalability enhancements. In addition to Notes, Kaiser Permanente runs IBM Lotus Instant Messaging, Lotus Team Workplace and other Lotus software.
Users gave IBM Lotus good grades in most areas. On the one-to-five effectiveness scale, 40% gave the company a four or five for training/learning, 35% did so for business partner availability and 37% for service and support.
In interviews following the online survey, respondents praised IBM Lotus for fostering a devoted community of users willing to help one another tap Notes/Domino to solve business problems. They highlighted the IBM Lotus DeveloperWorks Web site (formerly Notes.net), among other resources.
Deloitte & Touche project manager Mike Nemec, who holds administrator certifications in R4 and R5, said that users of Lotus technology are the company's best evangelists.
"The coolest thing was one time at Lotusphere, seeing a beta of R6 and people were cheering," said Nemec, who's based in Deerfield, Ill. "This was a software presentation, and people were cheering like it was a Cubs game."
Respondents also applauded Lotus for improvements to Domino's Web development capabilities. Fifty-four percent ranked efforts in that area as a four or five on the effectiveness scale.
One director at a large health care supplier said his company has relied on Domino since the mid-1990s "for rather elaborate, complex distributed applications, developed quickly and inexpensively." Among other projects, Domino is the basis for the company's sales force automation system, said the director, who requested anonymity.
He hailed the simplicity of working with Domino, but at the same time reflected developers' uneasiness over what the future holds, saying WebSphere's distributed, Java-based development environment isn't appropriate for his organization.
"When you reach the pain point where you open up code and consider other things, then you open up everything else for consideration, too," he said. "Where we're going, [WebSphere] doesn't really fit."
The survey captured the anxiety. Forty-four percent cited uncertainty over WebSphere and a need to know more about the relevance of the new development options. Another 29% insisted they like Domino and don't have the time or resources to learn new skills or a new product. Twelve percent had no opinion.
IBM Lotus senior market manager Arthur Fontaine said he hears the same worries expressed by users and business partners, and he's been reassuring the Domino community that the technology isn't disappearing, as many fear.
"Change equals trauma, and people are afraid we are going to change what they know," Fontaine said.
He concedes that a certain degree of change, though, is afoot.
A movement is under way to unite application development under a common J2EE framework, and Fontaine said that WebSphere is a key cog in that wheel. Domino has always worked for fast development and for solving smaller business problems. The goal now, according to Fontaine, is enabling this mature platform to "play better in a larger ecosystem."
Lotus has already released a rapid application developer (RAD) toolkit to help developers make a transition to WebSphere. Issued this summer, the Lotus Domino Toolkit for IBM WebSphere Studio 1.0 is a set of WebSphere plug-ins that developers can use to pull Domino objects into IBM's Web application platform.
Fontaine said that these enhancements were not designed to "make Domino obsolete." Lotus says its plan is to make Domino, along with WebSphere, DB2 and other IBM technology, important components of its Workplace line, a modular, J2EE-based approach to delivering collaboration and development capabilities.
The job outlook
As Domino experiences change, so will the careers of some users. Fontaine's career advice for today's Notes professionals includes keeping Domino skills fresh, but building new Java skills, including an understanding of a multi-tiered development environment.
When asked about their career outlook, Domino professionals were split about what the future would hold, though roughly half of them said they see themselves at the same company in three years (see chart). Roger Carter just hopes he has a job. The Boston-based Domino developer and administrator is currently unemployed and working on a master's degree in software engineering. He said he has J2EE skills but still can't find work.
"I'm excited as the next person about WebSphere. But if this product is as popular as [IBM says] it is, how come my phone isn't ringing off the hook?" he asked.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Developers' advice: Ask a question to expert Brian Mahoney
Best Web Links: Notes messaging platform