Microsoft Keeps the Pressure on IBM's Notes, Domino
Published: January 24, 2007
by Alex Woodie
Microsoft rained on IBM's annual Lotusphere parade this week when it unveiled a free suite of tools for migrating Lotus-loving users to its own collection of communication and collaboration tools, anchored by Exchange, Office, and Sharepoint. While the Microsoft Transporter Suite for Lotus Notes won't be available for weeks, that didn't stop the software giant from cranking up its anti-Notes FUD volume knob to 11 and relentlessly beating its unified communications drum.
In the annals of IT vendor warfare, nothing can equal the rivalry between IBM and Microsoft. There may be months or years between battles, and the sometimes-partners may occasionally speak well of each other when duty dictates. But in the end, one gets the feeling that they really, really don't like each other, and would just as soon vanquish the other into the recycling bin of technology has-beens.
That seems unlikely, and in its place, we get long, drawn-out bouts, where each side gets in its blows, but none of them with knockout potential. One of the favorite places they spar is the arena of collaboration and communication, which, since the demise of Novell's GroupWise, is dominated by Microsoft and IBM.
It's probably worth noting here that neither vendor appears to be dominating the other. In fact, both vendors appear to be doing quite well with their respective offerings, with IBM's Lotus division racking up two straight years of double-digit revenue growth, and Microsoft doing likewise. Both vendors are capitalizing on the vast installed base of legacy products, including legacy versions of Domino and Exchange, which both vendors are going after for replacement dollars, and of course, those Groupwise users, who are sitting ducks for replacement. In the end, analysts point to Microsoft having slightly more than 50 percent of the market, which puts Microsoft in the driver's seat, but it's a slim lead at best, and data suggest IBM may be cutting Microsoft's lead.
IBM is hosting its yearly Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida, this week, and one would expect the headlines to be full of stories on the latest enhancements, including the new releases of Notes/Domino, Sametime, and WebSphere Portal Express, and the addition of the new Quickr and Lotus Connections products. Indeed, you can read about these very items in the story IBM Lotus Adds Handles to Information Overload, located elsewhere in this newsletter.
Not to be outdone by Big Blue's annual grandstanding, Microsoft had a few announcements of its own about the direction IBM is headed with the Notes/Domino suite of products, and how users would be better off moving to its Exchange, Office, and SharePoint group of products.
Microsoft has a pretty good unified communications story to sell, and the timing is nearly perfect to tell it, considering the November 2006 releases of Exchange Server 2007 (which adds voice mail and fax serving capability), the 2007 Office system, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, which delivers an XML-based portal for exchanging documents. These products, along with Office Communications Server 2007--a new "voice server" product due in the second quarter--are making big strides in opening up how Microsoft shops communicate and share documents.
Beam Me Up, Steveo
These products give Microsoft timely ammo for the current volley against IBM, which isn't expected to deliver its Notes/Domino version 8 overhaul until the middle of the year. Leading off the latest round is the new migration tool, called Microsoft Transporter Suite for Lotus Notes.
Microsoft says its new Transporter Suite makes its easier for users to migrate from template-based applications in Notes to SharePoint Services version 3. The new suite offers a "unified" interface, where users can plan and execute their transition of messaging and directory services, applications, and data to Microsoft software from Notes.
The software giant is also rolling out 40 new templates aimed at helping users recreate some of the functionality in SharePoint Services that they previously had in their customized Notes application. These templates cover common business workgroup processes, such as sales and marketing tasks, HR and finance processes, business and IT operations, project management needs, as well as vertical applications for education, healthcare, professional services, retail, and financial organizations.
Microsoft is also rolling out a series of role-based templates for SharePoint Services, including templates for sales account managers, financial analysts, staffing specialists, administrative assistants, customer services representatives, IT engineers, and marketing managers.
The Transporter Suite, the 40 SharePoint Services templates, and the role-based SharePoint Services templates will be available within 30 days. More information, and free downloads eventually, will be found at www.microsoft.com/technet/interopmigration/collaboration/default.mspx.
Microsoft tapped its partners to join the fight, including Fujitsu Consulting, the New Jersey-based consulting and services arm of Fujitsu Group.
"With Exchange Server 2007, they have added the key technologies to enable unified messaging," says Jay Lendl, a vice president with Fujitsu Consulting's Microsoft practice. "Today, I would say that a unified Exchange Server, Office system, and SharePoint platform can deliver everything that IBM Lotus Notes or Domino can, but more quickly and more completely out-of-the-box. In fact, I'd say that IBM doesn't have anything near what Microsoft has from the standpoint of messaging and calendaring." Implementation of business intelligence and electronic content management is another area where the Microsoft offering is simpler to deploy, he adds.
Lendl had this advice for Big Blue. "IBM needs to clarify what their mid- and long-term plans are around their messaging and collaboration technologies," he says. "Our clients are concerned and confused by what they are hearing, and not hearing, from IBM. This is also coming at a time when many are getting ready to move forward with a unified communications strategy."
Avtex, a provider of Microsoft-based messaging, contact center, and IP telephony solutions based in Minnesota, is also aligned with Microsoft. "We find that many longtime Lotus Notes customers are considering migrating to the Exchange platform because of the potential to enable unified messaging within a company," says Tim Bakke, a product manager with Avtex. "A lot of customers tell us they want to migrate to a smaller number of trusted vendors. So consolidating messaging platforms from IBM Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange Server, and taking advantage of unified messaging, is attractive to many customers."
Interestingly, IBM might agree with the Microsoft affiliates--the part about Notes/Domino requiring pieces from other vendors to deliver a full solution, not the part the Microsoft offering a superior solution. But it's an advantage, not a weakness, IBM maintains.
In a press conference Monday, Michael Rhodin, general manager for Lotus Notes, emphasized the open development model that encourages third-party vendors to build customized Notes/Domino applications for specific industries and business processes, using open source software. "We don't even have to be involved with partners to plug in," he says. "We find out about partners being plugged into our unified communications platform by word of mouth sometimes."
Rhodin contrasted this with Microsoft's approach, which is proprietary and closed source. "I don't think Microsoft has anything in terms of the credibility or capability in that regard. We have the technical services, the business solution services, and the platform is open," he says. "We now have a real-time collaboration platform with open programming models and tools that allow people to build business-class applications without having to pay tolls to make the thing work."
At the very least, the different approaches Microsoft and IBM are taking with their respective collaboration products are providing customers with choice. And that's always a good thing.
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