From Software Futures, a sister publication Last year it was pretty well common knowledge that Notes was dead because of the Internet, and the mainframe was dead, so IBM was dead. I felt like a mortician. I’m here to tell you it’s more or less Easter at IBM. Notes and the mainframe are back big […]
From Software Futures, a sister publication
Last year it was pretty well common knowledge that Notes was dead because of the Internet, and the mainframe was dead, so IBM was dead. I felt like a mortician. I’m here to tell you it’s more or less Easter at IBM. Notes and the mainframe are back big time largely because of the Net. So said John Landry, formerly one of the leading lights at Lotus, now a consultant at Big Blue, speaking at IBM’s Technical Interchange a few months ago in Nashville, Tennessee.
The aim of this piece is to assess how accurate the above statement is and to determine how Notes has flourished in the past year under its new owner IBM, which acquired Lotus for $3.5bn back in June 1995. We’ll also take a look at the competitors starting to line up to attack Notes, although much of their actual product has so far yet to evolve beyond the slideware stage. Additionally, we’ll investigate the latest announcements emanating from Lotus relating to Domino, the latest Web-enabled a ddition to the Notes product family. The Notes groupware was the brainchild of Ray Ozzie of Iris Associates, a spinout from Lotus which was later acquired back into the fold. A definite point in IBM’s favor worth mentioning here is that Ozzie is still heading up Notes development. Lotus always had big plans for Notes. Way back in September 1993, we remember hearing the company’s then chief executive Jim Manzi boast how there would shortly be 20 million users of the groupware and that Notes was primed for world domination. (The latest Lotus prediction on that much-longed for 20 million figure is that it should be achievable by the end of next year. As of the end of 1995 – the most recent figures that Lotus makes publicly available -there were more than 4.5 million users of Notes worldwide, suggesting that the company has a fair way to go to make that magic 20 million figure.)
Yes, things just didn’t happen as quickly with Notes as Manzi had foretold and the Lotus dream got more and more soured by the less-than-sterling performance of its other software offerings – anyone recall the company’s previous flagship product, the 1-2-3 spreadsheet? – which were soundly trounced and put to the sword by the Demon on the Desktop, Micros oft. An amazing first quarter loss of $17.5m in April last year confirmed everyone’s suspicions that Lotus really couldn’t hack it any more as an independent entity and sealed the company’s fate. And the rest, as they say, is Big Blue history! However, there was no need for the Notes users to worry about the IBM takeover, since head honcho Lou Gerstner made it very clear right from the start that the thing that really interested IBM about Lotus was its groupware software. But don’t go thinking Notes was above criticism. Especially in earlier incarnations it was constantly being criticized for being too complicated to set up and too difficult to use. Also, the fact that Lotus farmed out support to third party organizations often meant that support levels left something to be desired. We took up these points with Jay Fiore, manager of business partner marketing at Lotus, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He admits that the above situation had been the past picture, but insists that his company had significantly improved the situation.Two aspects of the problem have changed. Notes 4.0 (released in January this year) is easier to install and deploy, therefore it is easier to manage and support. At the same time, we have made a number of changes to the support organization here at Lotus. Beforehand, we didn’t give our business partners special treatment, now we have separate support management focused specifically on them, ie, their calls receive a higher priority. We reco gnized that they have slightly different needs. He added that close to 100% of all Notes sales are handled through Lotus’ partner community. Fiore estimates that there are now over 12,000 companies involved in its Business Partner Program, as opposed to a few hundred a few years back. Within the last year and a half to two years, we’ve seen ISVs build applications on top of Notes or integrate their applications with Notes, he says. For customers and for partners that has meant that development cycle times for Notes applications have decreased dramatically because there are about 1,200 Notes applications out there which are close to or completely shrinkwrapped. However, it is the Internet, yet again, that presents, Fiore hopes, a huge opportunity for Lotus and its Notes partners. He points to the company’s demonstration at last month’s PC/Expo in New York which using Domino, the codename for Lotus’ Web application server for Notes, took only five minutes to build a complete Web site incorporating workflow.People who’ve been doing Net development for a while have hit a bit of a wall with the previous Net tools that were available, continues Fiore. They’ve found it very difficult to enable their customers to update their own sites. They’re starting to discover that in the Internet development space Notes is a very powerful tool. It’s adding ease of use and ease of maintenance to the Web which other companies don’t provide. All well and good, we thought, but let’s speak to one of these developers and discover if indeed this is the case.
REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE WITH NOTES, PART 1
V. A. Shiva is president and chief executive of Millennium Productions, Inc, a subsidiary of Information Cybernetics, Inc, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which describes itself as an advanced interactive strategies firm and … a fusion of artists, technologists and visionary entrepreneurs. In existence for the past three years, the startup company began life creating Web sites for the arts community including the likes of the Boston Ballet, and then moved across into providing similar technology solutions for business corporates such as Frontier Health Care Management and Unitel. Millenium Productions expects to do $2.5m in revenue this year and currently employs 15 people. Interestingly, Millennium has come late to Notes, only le arning about it two months ago. Shiva confirms Fiore’s point that once a Web site is up and running, it makes far more sense for the customer to be able to update it themselves, as opposed to passing time-critical information that may well rapidly go out of date back to the Web site designer to be inputted. We wondered what he thought was missing from Notes at the moment? How to link an IP address to a domain name and how to handle multiple domains, which is an area which is handled well by a real Web server, he answers. Domino is an HTTP server. Lotus still needs to move to Web server mode. The guts of Notes seem very solid, but there’s always been the feeling that the user interface isn’t that great. However this is less of a proble m for the Web which is an environment where we can develop interfaces. While Millennium is keeping a weather eye on what Lotus competitors, such as Netscape and Oracle are up to, he sees one of Notes’ key strengths being its longevity. The advanta ge Notes has over them is its six years of hardcore field testing. Notes has been in networking environments where so many things can occur, for example, stack overflows. It has proven its ability through its workflow environment, Shiva explains. U sing Notes, Millennium has been building an online community based around the inhabitants of Boston’s Harvard Square in Cambridge – see www.harvard-square.com. One area it’s employing Notes Agents is in a service it calls SoulMates which it intends to embed in the site. The Agent listens in on what a group of people are talking about electronically and if the topic of their conversation, say, the theater or movies, is one that it thinks you’ll be interested in, it will send you an email message suggesting you might be interested in meeting one of the participants.
REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE WITH NOTES, PART 2
Turning to users, we talked with Alan Baren, manager in the strategic technology group of Coopers & Lybrand, based in Hoboken, New Jersey. The accounting and management consultancy firm has long been a strong supporter of Notes. It signed up for the software in spring 1993. Currently Coopers & Lybrand has around 35,000 seats for Notes and Lotus’ desktop applications suite SmartSuite, with 16,000 of those users in the US. So, how has the experience with Notes gone? I often say that we were too successful, jokes Baren. We had 30 to 40 Notes pilot projects in our first year. In the following nine to 12 months we had more than 2,000 application databases in the US alone plus a very large international auditing application which stores all our audit materials. The real issue with Notes was trying to keep up with demand from our users. We coped with it by increasing our bandwidth and network capability. He maps out three stages in the organization’s implementation of Notes. The first stage was being successful with Notes, while the second involved building up the infrastructure to support the software. The third stage, which is where he sees Coopers & Lybrand right now, is one he describes of management mode, in other words, trying to get to grips with the issues of server consolidation and application integration. With the advent of the Web, central control makes sense, he explains. As an aside, we wondered if, as a comparatively long term user of Notes, Baren had noted any difference since IBM acquired Lotus? I haven’t seen any great difference overall which is a positive thing. he says. Notes version 4.0 rolled out when Lotus had said it would. But I have seen a radical increase in the number of quarter releases and maintenance releases. I haven’t come across anything negative yet, but there’s probably still yet another degree of integration to take place between the two companies. As far as our European offices were concerned, they were hoping that Lotus could leverage the much stronger international support IBM offers in Europe. I’ve not seen if that has happened or not yet. So what does he reckon to Domino? Lotus is working on so many different products – it’s scary. I’m as impressed with Domino if not more so than I was when Notes 4.0 was first announced. Lotus is doing exactly the right thing in the perfect time frame. We’re still in first generation of the Internet publishing model with everyone putting up sites and publishing. We ‘re just going into the second generation of the Web which involves interactive collaboration with clients and workflow processes. Domino really addresses the issue that if you already have the Notes infrastructure you can extend it out to non-Notes users. Baren points out that with Notes as your Web application development environment, you get features, such as file level security all in the one box, whereas competitors offer more of an add-on piecemeal approach. Security is one of the thre e areas in which he believes Lotus is ahead of the pack. The other two are its capability to interface with workflow and its ability to offer threaded discussions on the Web. In the area of security at the document level, he believes that most companies, like Coopers & Lybrand itself, are operating with three levels of security: information for general release, secure information for all its clients, and client-specific information. This three-tier security scheme is one of the first areas in which he believes his organization may start using Domino, which is currently undergoing beta testing at Coopers & Lybrand. Another potential area includes the extending of existing applications to C&L clients that don’t have Notes. A possible use which we’re just exploring right now is the combination of Domino on the server as well as the capability in Notes 4.0 to use our Intranet as a pipeline. One of the issues with our international network is that we have a number of different domains. Our staff who work both in the US and Europe and travel a lot, want to be able to see their mail in the US in realtime. You should be able to hit the right mail server in Europe and be able to get access to your US mailboxes and databases in a more timely fashion, without having to wait for replication cycles. Domino’d support all that really well.
SOMEONE’S AT THE DOOR
While Microsoft’s much-delayed Exchange is finally out in the market, Lotus has some other likely competitors keen to get into its groupware and now Internet space. Namely, Netscape and Oracle. While Netscape seems to be playing a bit of a double game, allegedly in talks with Lotus about licensing Notes replication capabilities, while talking up Orion, its next generation SuiteSpot servers, the capabilities of which sound uncannily like what Notes offers today. Orion is not expected to appear for at least another 12 to 18 months. Meanwhile, Oracle has finally managed to come up with a rival to Notes. Previously codenamed Pegasus, it is now known as InterOffice. Of course, we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Do you remember Oracle’s previous anti-Notes effort Documents? It never really fully appeared and the bits that did were horrendously late. The company variously positioned it as a Notes killer for all of five minutes and then as a companion type product when Oracle was seriousl y thinking about acquiring Lotus. Finally Documents was supposedly ignominiously killed off by company main man Larry Ellison at the relational database vendor’s international user group conference in Philadelphia last autumn, although some of the things we’re hearing about InterOffice sound suspiciously similar to those we heard a while back about Documents.
Well, Notes ain’t dead yet. But as we’ve heard, it’s still pretty early days to assess how well Lotus is performing in the new markets into which it is being propelled by Domino. Especially since the competition has largely yet to arrive on the scen e. As Lotus should know all too well after Microsoft’s Excel gave its 1-2-3 spreadsheet the coup de grace, the innovative leader of the pack typically doesn’t end up owning the market. However, Lotus seems a canny enough player to have at least a few other tricks up its sleeve. Lotus Believes that the Internet and Intranet will spell a huge opportunity to sell more copies of Notes.
By Clare Haney