Lotusphere 2005: Domino Shops Want Roadmaps, but Want to Drive
by Dan Burger
IBM claims there are 118 million Notes users in its Lotus sphere of influence. Approximately five thousand of the lucky ones show up at Disney World every January to immerse themselves in education and training, get a stronger foothold in the present, see a glimpse of the future, and have the opportunity to feel the warmth of the sun in winter. Though there have been years when IBM has well-kept secrets to spring on Lotusphere attendees and the media, this was not one of them.
This was possibly because feedback from recent events put an emphasis on information that is of use today, rather than roadmaps for the future. The fact that the next release of Notes/Domino won't be coming until summer (or later, for some platforms, like the iSeries) also factored into the conference, which took a more roots-oriented approach. The history and tradition of Lotus had their day in the sun this year.
But just because there were no major announcements doesn't mean Lotus has no wind in its sails. Sometimes the media becomes restless if the next big thing isn't served up on a silver platter. In his keynote address, Ambuj Goyal, general manager of the Notes/Domino product line, noted that, in the past year, more than 1,500 customers switched to Notes from competing platforms. He also predicted an increase to 200 million users by this time next year.
If you want to talk about the next big thing (and IBM's public relations wheels never stop turning; they just slow down from time to time), you have to begin with IBM's designated superhero, Workplace 2.5. It's funny, because a lot of Notes/Domino users don't want to talk about Workplace at all. Still, Workplace is the future of Notes/Domino.
Workplace, IBM's Java-based productivity applications that run atop its WebSphere Portal, has been on the scene at Lotusphere for a couple of years now, and most Notes/Domino folks are still not sure what to make of it. IBM talks it up for what it potentially brings to the table: a set of components, such as in-basket, calendar, corporate directory, and team workplaces. Since Notes/Domino already provides these attributes, the idea of having a separate set of Java-based components has been questioned.
IBM bills Workplace as the future of collaboration, but after hearing all the sizzle (and it's got good sizzle), the steak still looks likes it's not quite ready to eat. The biggest problem with Workplace is that it's overly complex in an era when everyone is looking for greater simplicity. To be fair, you have to realize Workplace is still very new. As one IBM executive said, "It will take time before its capabilities are fully equivalent on a feature-function basis to the corresponding Domino-based applications." To better that situation somewhat, new tools aimed at simplifying Workplace application development are included in the latest release, which is expected at the end of the first quarter this year.
IBM foresees organizations mixing and matching Domino applications and capabilities with Workplace components to produce collaborative applications, and also admits that many organizations will choose to stay exclusively with Domino.
For those who are already planning for the transition from their current Notes and Domino to a combination of Notes/Domino and Workplace, IBM released its front-burner feature for Workplace 2.5, a module called Activity Explorer. With this module a user can list projects on the screen, and each can be launched with an instant message or by clicking on the designated PowerPoint or Word icon. It also provides users with the capability to drag and drop the icon to a buddy list, where a coworker can view and edit it.
A year ago, at Lotusphere 2004, the beta versions of Notes/Domino 7 were getting press coverage. Progress is being made; however, many users are only now settling into the 6.5 release. The general availability of Notes/Domino 7 for the Windows and Unix platforms is now expected sometime this summer, and for the OS/400 platform, probably in the fourth quarter.
Because Domino 7 will introduce the capability to use DB2 Universal Database as an alternative data store, the Windows and Unix markets (which are familiar with DB2 UDB) are early targets. Preparing for objections from the traditional Lotus loyalists, IBM executives are quick to point out that DB2 integration isn't intended as a replacement for the Notes and Domino data store (the NSF files). Its purpose is to serve as a supplement for applications that need heavy-duty relational capabilities.
One of the Workplace bugaboos--ease of integration with the Notes client and the Domino server--is being improved in the upcoming release. IBM has also promised the capability to increase the number of users on the same hardware by as much as 80 percent. Scalability, always a Lotus benefit when compared with Microsoft Exchange, gets a serious boost, which makes an already good total-cost-of-ownership story even better.
The Notes/Domino 7 release will be the first to allow Notes applications to run within the Workplace client by virtue of Eclipse plug-ins. Also on the enhancement scoreboard is an "autonomic" tool called Domino Domain monitoring, which is designed to improve troubleshooting. The future Domino will also extend the software with Web services integration, offering the capability to put Web services directly into existing Notes and Domino applications. Other improvements include tweaks for Domino's application design tools, which were previously a basic toolset that depended on templates and that was built for non-technical users. IBM is also keen on application tuning and providing a useful error-trapping feature in LotusScript.
Of the vendors exhibiting at Lotusphere, one that we have reported on in the past, Stampede Technologies, introduced the latest release of its Notes/Domino performance enhancer, TurboGold Enterprise Edition 3.0, and highlighted its first in a series of Web application performance booster products, called WebRider Enterprise Application Acceleration System 1.0. (See "Stampede's Web Performance Software Goes to Market.") TurboGold 3.0 is the latest generation of compression software for native Lotus Notes clients and IBM Lotus Domino servers designed to speed Notes/Domino replication and to reduce the consumption of processor power and network bandwidth. It is tweaked to run on Notes/Domino 6.5.