Q&A: The Future of Notes and Domino

Is the Notes client on its way out? The latest on Notes, Domino, and products shown at Lotusphere, including Lotus Workplace Builder.

IBM’s Lotus Software Group held its twelfth Lotusphere user conference last week, highlighting a new portal for Domino and new version standardization across all of the components in the Domino suite. What was foremost on the minds of most attendees, however, was the future of Notes and Domino, especially in view of moves that IBM made over the last year when it introduced a WebSphere- and DB2-based messaging platform.

We spoke with John Caffrey, IBM’s manager of product management for lotus workplace products, to get the skinny on Big Blue’s plans for Notes and Domino.

Domino is Domino, Caffrey says, and will continue to be an important part of Lotus’ collaboration strategy for sometime to come. Notes, on the other hand …

I’d like to start out by going back to some announcements you made at Lotusphere last year, when you announced a new WebSphere- and DB2-based messaging solution that you were calling Next-Generation Messaging, for lack of a product name. Could you talk about that and about how you position it relative to Notes and Domino?

We talked about it as Next-Generation Messaging a year ago, and it wound up going to market in the second quarter of last year, labeled Lotus Workplace. We’d been in this messaging game for a long time and we’ve got lots of customers and we get lots of requests for can I do this, can I do that. Typically, it’s adding more features, but as we’ve gone back to customers to find out how we’re doing so far, we’ve learned a lot of about our install base, and we found out there are a lot of customers that have populations of users in-house that don’t have any e-mail. So Workplace messaging was really focused at providing basic messaging needs for people who don’t send a whole lot of e-mail. In fact, less important than the individual being able to send [e-mail], it really was the enterprise being able to distribute information to users, really stuff like pay stubs, internal benefits, etc.

Now you also fleshed [Lotus Workplace] out with additional components later in the year, didn’t you?

Yes. In the fourth quarter, we had the second release [of Lotus Workplace], which was also the first release of Workplace Messaging, Team Collaboration, Workplace Collaborative Learning, and Workplace Web Content messaging. We’ve had a fair modicum of success this past year getting customers who are not traditional consumers of Lotus messaging, and there’s been 500 to 600 accounts that have moved over to IBM Lotus over the past year, just because they liked what this had to offer.

Back to the present. There were some big announcements at Lotusphere this year, starting with a new portal interface for Domino. What’s that all about?

What we did with the portal interface for Notes/Domino is say we know that we have an install base out there that loves what they use. We also know that some people want something that’s more lightweight and based on standards. Actually, this hinges on more than that portal look and feel. It’s also about what we did with [Notes/Domino] 6.5.1, where we’ve taken all of the products that live on Domino and synced them all up—document management, instant messaging, collaborative spaces—and saying all of these now live in 6.5.1.

Now we’re delivering this portal look and feel, so if you happen to be a Notes user, or you happen to be a document management user, you can deliver that to your end users, so that over time as you choose to swap out Domino-based technology and swap in the J2EE-based apps, it’s all a consistent experience, it’s a consistent look and feel.

When you talk about swapping out Domino-based technology and replacing it with J2EE-based stuff, it sounds an awful lot like you’re talking about phasing out Notes/Domino. Is that, then, what you have in mind?

Domino will be Domino, it’s not going to go away. There’s lots of applications, thousands and thousands of applications, out there for it. At Lotusphere, we’re already talking about release 7 coming out later this year, early next year, and we’ve talked about release 8 coming out beyond that. Domino is Domino and will always be Domino and is always going to have the tools and technologies for supporting those applications.

We’re not saying to customers that you have to move your applications out. We’re just giving them a different way to manifest these Domino applications out to the end user, manifest them at the desktop. As they go through this period of transition or hybridization, where they’re using their old Domino applications along with new J2EE technologies, we need to provide the right capability at the desktop that will incorporate both of these.

You’ve said a lot about Domino but little about the Notes client. With the portal offering that you’ve unveiled this year, there’s some speculation that Notes’ days are numbered. Is it just reasonable to expect that “fat” client technologies like the Notes client, like the Outlook client, like the GroupWise client, will give way to a rich Web browser experience?

The simple answer is yes. The proprietary connections that we’ve had in place work well, work really well. If you go back to the early days of Notes and Domino, when Domino became Domino, it was because we did try to open up both the client and the server to industry standards. But people, they don’t buy it. They still view it as Notes and Domino, client server technology, what have you. Using Eclipse, the open source based application framework that’s becoming now a framework for embedding both Domino-based applications as well as J2EE, everything we do know will be in the direction of standards. We’re going to continue to support the Notes client, we’re not taking anyone away from there. But we recognize that that’s the direction that everything’s going.

With your portal offerings, are you able to reduplicate the functionality of the Notes client today?

No. That’s one reason why we’re not pushing this yet. We would do it all in a Web browser today except that it’s not powerful, it’s not rich enough, there’s not enough capabilities in a Web browser with the ability to support the fidelity of the applications we’re trying to deliver. Things like drag-and-drop, or offline capability, some of the things that we think are really essential for critical business applications, we can’t do it through something like a browser today.

You mentioned Eclipse earlier. What kind of tools have developers typically used to write applications for Domino, and how are you supporting Eclipse as a Domino development environment going forward?

They used LotusScript, which is not far from Visual Basic. If you were comfortable with VisualBasic, you’d be reasonably comfortable with LotusScript, and you could also include C and C++, you can build your own components, your own programs and then call them [from Domino].

Going forward, we’re primarily moving in the direction of Java. One of the things that was shown yesterday morning was the Lotus Workplace Builder, an assembly tool, really designed for portal-based applications with a collection of portlets or components. The workplace builder is an assembly tool that’s really focused on end users. You can go in and pull a template that might be some expense-tracking application, for example. You want to customize it for your own particular department, and it’s a tool that’s fairly intuitive: You either save it out as an application or save it out as a new template. So that’s one level of customization and capability.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.