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IBM Lotus: Domino isn't doomed

At Lotusphere, expect to find a Domino-upgrade road map that takes shops through 2005. Will users see a bright functional future for Domino, or an attempt at damage control?

At its annual user conference later this month, IBM Lotus will try to stem the undercurrent of uncertainty rippling among Domino die-hards.

The company's message: Domino isn't going away.

Expect IBM Lotus to deliver a heavy dose of strategy at Lotusphere, including a more clear definition of where the two product lines -- Domino and Workplace -- are heading.

Ever since Lotus introduced Workplace, its open-standards, modular collaboration platform based on J2EE, some users saw the writing on the wall for Domino. Executives, however, insist that the plan isn't to do away with Notes and Domino -- which has more than 100 million users worldwide. Instead, they're pledging ongoing support and will outline a Domino upgrade road map that takes shops through 2005.

"Through successful product updates, we're bringing [users] to the same architectural components as Workplace," said Ken Bisconti, Lotus' vice president of Workplace products. He stressed that Lotus will ensure that the thousands of custom-built Domino applications will continue to be viable.

In fact, Bisconti said, Lotus is deliberately taking "baby steps" on the path to functional parity among the product lines. Some users may even be moving in the Workplace direction without really realizing it.

Bisconti pointed to server consolidation and the Smart Upgrade features delivered in ND6, as well as IM integration, online awareness and a portal-like interface offered in ND6.5, as enhancements designed to bring Domino users to "the same ultimate destination" as Workplace.

ND7, due out late in 2004, will move even closer. It will give businesses the ability to use DB2 -- rather than the traditional NSF database -- as the Domino data store. (Workplace runs atop DB2 and WebSphere.) Ultimately, the option of using a relational database with Domino should mean a faster e-mail client, letting end users benefit from improvements in maintaining views and clearing caches.

ND7 will also feature changes to Domino Designer and WebSphere Studio, including better rapid application development (RAD) capabilities. Plus, it will deliver disconnected mail support for managing e-mail data offline.

At Lotusphere, attendees are also likely get a first look at ND8, though it isn't due for delivery until 2005. In that release, users will enjoy enriched calendaring and scheduling, as well as a new portal interface. The main upgrade perk, however, will be the ability to integrate third-party J2EE-based applications -- such as customer relationship management (CRM) software -- in Domino.

Bisconti said those who fear Domino's demise are those who don't fully understand Lotus' strategy and have fallen prey to Microsoft's attempts to discredit it.

Matthew Henry, a technical architect for the advanced technology team at Greenville, S.C.-based manufacturer Kemet Corp., thinks Lotus is trying to rebound from a major PR blunder. He's looking forward to seeing how the message plays at Lotusphere.

"The fear is strongly there," Henry said. "Two years ago, I walked out of [then-Lotus general manger] Al Zollar's speech at Lotusphere saying 'Domino is dead.'"

But Henry has had a bit of a change of heart after getting a sneak peek at the forthcoming enhancements, including ND7. "I was really fearful when I first heard about what they were doing [with Domino and DB2]," he said. "But they get it. They really, really do."

Getting it isn't the issue -- explaining it clearly is, according to Sara Radicati, president and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based messaging research firm Radicati Group.

"We think they're going to create a ton of confusion in the market, confuse customers and the install base completely," she said. "It's been articulated poorly, as a strategy."

Radicati also said that Workplace sales are sluggish, though Lotus officially says it's pleased with the product line's market penetration.

Bisconti said that existing Domino shops should familiarize themselves with Workplace -- specifically the administrator perks and the Java programming environment -- and create a plan for their organizations to leverage the components it contains. But Lotus isn't pitching Workplace to the Domino installed base, he said. Rather, the target is new customers and existing IBM portal users.

Lotus executives are also expected to talk frankly about their Workplace plans at the user show, including this year's two anticipated releases. In the second quarter, Lotus is expected to issue Workplace 2.0, which will feature a fifth component -- collaborative document management -- as well as the new Workplace Builder, a RAD tool for creating portal-based applications. Workplace 2.5, scheduled for the fourth quarter, will add a disconnected client for offline support and will also enable users access via mobile devices.

Ultimately, however, users will have to decide how to interpret the Lotus message. Will they see a bright functional future for Domino, or an attempt at damage control?

Nathaniel Kanner, a senior systems analyst with New York-based law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLC, thinks Lotus is "trying to gently ease us into the J2EE world." But despite the user hesitation, this Domino developer isn't sure that's such a bad thing.

"The more technology I learn, the better it is for me," Kanner said.


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