Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Leaving Notes: personal perspectives

After revisiting “Lotus Notes: The Long Goodbye” and the extensive and often emotional comments therein, I’d like to share some personal perspectives on the topics.

For those unfamiliar with my background, FYI:

  • I worked at Lotus (and then IBM Lotus) during 1988 – 1998, and used to lead the Notes product management team.
  • I currently work for Microsoft; I joined Microsoft in January 2009, more than a decade after I left IBM.
    • In the interim period, I worked as a communication, collaboration, and information management-focused industry analyst/consultant for the Patricia Seybold Group and Burton Group, and worked in strategy and product planning roles at Groove Networks and Macromedia.
  • My current job is primarily focused on helping enterprises migrate from IBM Lotus products to the Microsoft platform.

With that context established, here’s a summary of my high-level perspective on the history of Notes/Domino and related IBM products:

  • Ray Ozzie and his team at Iris Associates pioneered the “groupware” market with Lotus Notes, on which they started work in December, 1984 (see this page for a history of Notes, and the recent PLATO 50th anniversary site for some related, longer-term history). Notes was in many ways audaciously ambitious, when it was introduced, considering the limited capabilities of PCs and networking at that time, and it reflected both Ray Ozzie’s inspirational vision and Lotus Development Corp. founder Mitch Kapor’s early and strong support (through a Lotus investment in Iris when he was Lotus CEO).
  • Despite the conventional wisdom at the time, Iris (and through it, Lotus) was neither clueless about nor blindsided by the World Wide Web; there was substantive Internet-oriented integration in Notes even before the release of Notes 4.0, in early 1996. IBM acquired Lotus Development Corp. in 1995 because Notes was then a market-leading and robustly useful communication/collaboration platform; Notes was in a nascent product category, but its growth trajectory and customer satisfaction were clearly established. IBM was far more interested in Notes than the other Lotus products of that period (e.g., Lotus 1-2-3), which have now almost completely faded away; if Lotus hadn’t acquired Iris Associates in 1994, I suspect IBM probably would have sought to acquire Iris rather than Lotus.
  • After IBM’s acquisition of Lotus, however, many people at IBM – including many people in senior management positions at IBM Lotus – were more enamored with Netscape, Java, and related market dynamics than they were with Notes (e.g., a couple reality checks, to explain my use of “enamored”: the original “write once, run anywhere” Java value proposition has yet to reach fruition, ~15 years after it was first touted, and Netscape is ancient history, when considered in the “Internet time” scale it once exemplified).
  • IBM Lotus managers hedged their bets, implicitly relegating Notes (by then Notes/Domino) to something of a “legacy” (an industry euphemism for obsolete but still maintained/supported) role, and placing primary emphasis on WebSphere and related products such as Workplace. This IBM strategy contributed to a large number of employees opting to leave IBM/Lotus/Iris in the first few years after IBM’s hostile acquisition of Lotus Development Corp., in part because it was already readily apparent, to many observers, that what would become Workplace was more marketing wishful-thinking than robust product planning, and that the future of Notes/Domino under IBM’s management was not promising. Many IBM customers saw the same patterns and opted to migrate from Notes/Domino during this period.
  • The hedged bet and several product execution failures created big problems for IBM
    • If IBM had bet primarily on WebSphere-based services and tools, and had made the difficult decision to proactively migrate its Notes/Domino installed base to the newer architecture (much as was previously done in migrating the cc:Mail user base to Notes), it might have been able to transfer and revitalize the Notes/Domino ecosystem on a new, Java, and Web app server-based foundation. That’s essentially what IBM tried to accomplish, with Workplace, but the Workplace products failed to gain market momentum (and in many respects simply failed to work as promoted/expected), and IBM’s push to Workplace ultimately wasn’t credible (indeed, it deeply damaged several strategic IBM customer relationships).
    • IBM also continued to maximize its profit from the Notes/Domino base, although the Notes/Domino engineering team was distracted by the Workplace strategy. When Workplace failed, IBM Lotus tried to shift its (engineering, customer, and partner) focus back to Notes/Domino (starting with “Hannover”), but by that time the product was competitively stale and increasingly out of step with market dynamics, especially
      • Modern server operating systems, including, e.g., directory, search, Web, and information rights management services (making the related Domino services redundant)
      • The shift to standards-based Internet architecture and the Internet information model, which Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and other vendors (including IBM, with its WebSphere product family) were all helping to accelerate
      • Modern and Internet-centric application development tools, frameworks, and programming models. While IBM routinely demos Notes/Domino in conjunction with Java and assorted Web-centric technologies, in reality most Notes/Domino application development is probably still done in the Notes formula language and LotusScript, and most of the enterprise customers I’ve spoken with over the last five years still use the Notes client rather than browser clients when working with Notes/Domino applications.
  • IBM also created a strategic problem for itself in that, while its application platform strategy has clearly moved to the WebSphere platform (including related collaboration products such as Connections), it still has an enterprise customer dependency on Notes/Domino for enterprise messaging (e-mail, calendaring/scheduling, contacts, and tasks/to-do personal information management). As a result, IBM’s enterprise customers need to support both Domino and WebSphere platforms (and a third, assembled-from-acquisitions cloud platform in LotusLive, if they’re interested in software as a service), creating a lot of complex and costly customer challenges. Perhaps the most awkward example of this, in terms of product consequences, is the support for XPages in the Notes 8.5.2 client, which entails the cobbling together of Notes, an embedded copy of DB2, facets of IBM’s Web server architecture, XULRunner, and other technologies.
  • The overall result is that Lotus Notes, while originally a bold and pioneering software product is, fifteen years after IBM’s acquisition of Lotus Development Corp., significantly out of step with modern market dynamics, and carrying a heavy burden in application compatibility commitments to an architecture that was initially defined more than a quarter-century ago, and that has been on something of a starvation diet, in terms of engineering resources, relative to its competition, for much of the last decade.
  • In another inconvenient truth for IBM Lotus, Microsoft has been relentlessly and singularly focused on a consistent, coherent, and meaningfully standards-based product family for communication, collaboration, and information management throughout the entire history of IBM’s control of Notes. Exchange has long since overtaken Notes for enterprise messaging in most regions, SharePoint is on a very steep growth curve, and Microsoft’s developer tools, including Visual Studio, SharePoint Designer, Expression Studio, and many facets of Office, are very accessible, powerful, and successful.

I’ll elaborate and continue my “Leaving Notes” series on related topics in future blog posts, including some reasons why I believe Microsoft OneNote 2010 and OneNote Web App will have major roles in advancing the state-of-the-art in collaboration and information management.

For now, if you work for an organization that’s uncertain about whether to continue investing in IBM Lotus products or to join the large and growing collection of organizations worldwide that are moving from IBM products to the Microsoft platform, leave a comment here, contact me directly (peterok at microsoft dot com), and/or contact your local Microsoft account rep and tell them you want to arrange a meeting to discuss Microsoft’s Enterprise Notes Migration solution. My colleagues and I would welcome an opportunity to constructively and objectively explain our perspectives and Microsoft’s value proposition in more detail.

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