Where is IBM Lotus going with Workplace?: "You've covered the Notes arena since 1994. Why was Microsoft never able to steamroll over Notes, as they had with Excel and 1-2-3?
Tom Austin: Excel achieved feature parity in some areas and significant improvement beyond 1-2-3 in other areas. The bottom line was that Microsoft trumped Lotus not just in marketing but in building better product. Lotus got suckered into hitching up to OS/2 and Presentation Manager, even though it was clear to everyone in the marketplace back in 1989 that Microsoft's priority with ISVs with first and foremost Windows, and then OS/2. But Lotus followed IBM with OS/2, and OS/2 became part of the dustbin of history.
But with Notes, Microsoft decided -- for better or worse -- to take the fight to Lotus over the bigger marketing opportunity, which was messaging, rather than engage in a battle over the deeper functionality of a groupware package with development capabilities. Not only did Microsoft decide not to compete with Notes on functional breadth, they even publicly admitted, 'We're not as good as Notes, but we're just trying to deliver a better messaging platform.' By that time, IBM had bought Notes and they were able to exploit that.
The thing is, Microsoft still doesn't deliver the kinds of capabilities comparable to Notes/Domino. In 1995-96, when Outlook was still in beta, Microsoft knew that one of its weaknesses was the lack of a powerful search capability. Nine years later, it still doesn't have it. This year, Microsoft had to go out and finally buy the technology from a startup called Lookout."
I don't agree with all of the comments in this interview, but I've always had a lot of respect for Tom Austin (I used to brief him, when I was running Notes product management during the mid-90s...) and appreciate his insights.
BTW, in the "small world" context, Lookout was a project created by Eric Hahn, cc:Mail guru who went on to found Collabra and then to CTO of Netscape when it acquired Collabra. Perhaps Eric still agrees with many people at Microsoft who appear to think collaboration == messaging.