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.


Andrew Pollack said...

Peter - I think you're 100% right about IBM and Notes, but miss a really important question. Why hasn't Microsoft taken 90% of the market share?

I'm being serious, not just a rabid Notes religious nut here.

The two reasons are first, that despite being right in what you say, the Notes and Domino platform still represents incredible value when "used as directed" (by BP's, sadly, not IBM).

Second, in all the years of IBM's abject failure to understand, embrace, market, and grow its own product; Microsoft has utterly failed to come up with a successful alternative that can truly provide a comparable set of functionality in as compact and cost effective a package.

After 15 years, there's Sharepoint, which in its most recent iteration is actually a functional and useable product -- but it's much closer to being a competitor to Workspace & Portal than to what you can actually do with Notes and Domino.

So, kind of like Karl Marx, you're nearly 100% right about the problem, but also nearly 100% wrong about the solution.

Just my opinion.

pbokelly said...

Thanks for the feedback. We're still working on that 90% market share goal :)

On your point about comparable functionality: I think there's a class/instance issue in this context: when it was necessary to have tightly-coupled and proprietary platforms, Notes had a strong value proposition. But the rest of the market -- including IBM, with WebSphere, as you noted -- has moved on to a more Internet-centric approach, and that's also where SharePoint comes in. For organizations using Windows Server, SQL Server, and Office, I believe SharePoint is a lot more complementary, compact, and cost-effective than a stand-alone quasi-platform such as Notes. Furthermore, SharePoint Online is an option for further simplifying deployment and administration concerns, if those are at the top of the goal list.

In other words, I don't think we'll be seeing direct competitors to Notes as we've known it since 1989, because the architecture on which it's built, while originally pragmatic and innovative in several respects, is now out of step with where the rest of the market is going.

So, the solution? Embrace the most compelling Internet-centric, modern architecture you can find, for needs at the intersection of collaboration and information management. Notes simply isn't a realistic candidate in this class of solutions, and for a large and rapidly-growing number of organizations, SharePoint is winning.

Andrew Pollack said...

@Peter - Tightly coupled? Sort of. You pay one license, upgrade (or not) when you want, and run on whatever OS and hardware makes sense to you.

The Microsoft stack is completely (and purposely) intertwined and interdependent.

Want to upgrade Sharepoint? You have to upgrade your SQL server, your web server os, etc etc etc. It's been this way with all kinds of products. A company near me moved from Groupwise to Exchange - they were promised that they would not have to upgrade from their server os versions to the next. Technically true -- except then it was revealed they had to go to 64 bit versions of those same servers. New licensing.

Microsoft is guilty of the same thing IBM is guilty of. You guys all call it "leveraging". For IBM, that means moving their customers to require DB2 & Websphere. For Microsoft it means requiring the Server OS du jour, SQL, Sharepoint, Exchange... all licenses, all upgraded within x months of the new version or there's a renewal penalty.

IBM dropped the football and for several years just left it laying there on the field. Microsoft failed to pick it up and move down the field the other wise.

Make no mistake, I use products as a developer from both firms. I'm an MS partner and have products written with Visual Studio. I've had two white papers published with Microsoft. I'm also an IBM Business Partner and make a pretty good living with the Lotus products (and have since version 2.0 was in beta). I think that makes me qualified to compare them.

Both companies are disturbingly guilty of being so busy abusing their customers by pushing them into deeply interdependent and ever increasingly expensive multi-server platforms that they've failed to do the one most important thing they could....make better software with lower complexity.

Just a guy... said...

Peter, fully agree with your points, but I'd suggest a slightly finer conclusion. Forgetting the SharePoint commercial, technology in general has already arrived at the, as you describe it, Internet-centric, modern architecture space, whether you're an IBM fan, a Microsoft fan, a Google fan, whomever... IMHO, the question Notes shops should ask themselves is whether IBM was pushing the stuff that Ed loves to talk about in terms of innovations for the Lotus faithful to non-Notes IBM customers. In other words, are the "innovations" being created around Notes being targeted at the broad base of IBM Software Group customers who don't use Notes? The answer, I think, is "no". Therefore, it's legitimate to ask, "if IBM doesn't consider Notes to be strategic for its existing non-Notes customers, does IBM consider it to be strategic at all?"

You're correct to suggest that customers (in the very broad sense of that word...I'm not talking about Notes customers specifically) find the most Internet-centric, modern architecture they can which most strategically supports their business goals, and invest. Of course, we think that's Microsoft products, but even if it's not, the base point remains.

Nathan T. Freeman said...

" embedded copy of DB2..."

Strange. I can't seem to discover this copy of DB2 in my Notes client. Perhaps you can elaborate.

pbokelly said...

A few quick responses to your follow-up comment:

I was referring to product architecture, not pricing/packaging etc.; I agree that the historical patterns on pricing/packaging/etc. left room for improvement (for all players in this context), and I believe the leading vendors are now more constructively responding to customer feedback in this context. I also think the fact that a large part of SharePoint's value proposition is included with Windows Server is an important consideration.

On "... intertwined and interdependent," I believe the Microsoft platform is purposefully integrated -- i.e., SharePoint builds on SQL Server, and both build on core Windows Server services and the .NET Framework. I believe most modern collaboration/content systems are similarly designed, and even IBM tried, for a while, to use a partially similar model in Notes/Domino, with the ill-fated NSFDB2.

In the current Notes/Domino model, the architecture is a cumulative build -- consider, e.g., Xpages in Notes 8.5.2, with embedded DB2, a second Web app server, XULRunner, etc. -- all on top of the Notes client, which is itself now essentially an operating system, several application frameworks, and a collection of productivity "editors".

Microsoft's product architecture is a very different story, e.g., with SharePoint and SQL Server co-evolving to optimize architectural alignment and efficiency.

As far as I can discern, the 64-bit argument is long over -- and SharePoint developers can build/test on 32-bit machines if they wish. IBM tried to make a big deal about the Exchange and SharePoint 64-bit requirements when they were introduced; few people seemed to care.

As for Microsoft failing to pick up the ball IBM dropped, I beg to differ. Exchange surpassed Notes/Domino for enterprise messaging years ago, in most regions, and a large percentage of the initial wave of Exchange Online customers migrated from Notes.

SharePoint has been exceptionally well received, but it started later, and is now rapidly building market momentum (check, e.g., the relative number of job posting for SharePoint versus Notes/Domino -- or for WebSphere, for that matter).

Enterprise Notes migrations are often very complex and protracted projects, since some IBM customers have accumulated tens of thousands of Notes apps (the most we've encountered so far was more than 200,000 unique apps), and Notes apps often grew organically, and with limited emphasis on design, integration, documentation, etc. So it's not a scenario in which we'll see an overnight shift, but the migration momentum is there. If you believe Microsoft is not picking up the ball IBM dropped, which vendors do you see doing so instead?

On the innovation and advancing-the-agenda themes, I think Office and SharePoint 2010 represent significant progress, with capabilities ranging from comprehensive and consistent search, classification, tagging, etc. to very powerful but intuitive contextual communication/collaboration capabilities in both Office 2010 and leading browser clients.

Thanks again -- I appreciate your feedback and the opportunity to discuss these issues with you. I also agree with your conclusion, that the customer value proposition ultimately comes down to better software with lower complexity. When compared with other modern and Internet-centric products, I believe that's a competitive context in which Microsoft has a very strong value proposition.

The continued competition benefits the overall market, and open discussion about the relative merits of the competitive products is constructive collaboration from which all customers can benefit.

David (The Notes guy in Seattle) said...

Peter, you referred to the Notes client as an operating system. On that point I can agree and while people have long been troubled to come up with a good "elevator speech" to describe Notes, that is how I have always described it.

On the explanation for the success of one product over the other, it isn't about having the better product. It is about having the better process for selling that product. Like McDonalds is amazingly successful at selling mediocre hamburgers and twice-cooked fries, like Walmart is the most profitable at one-stop shopping, stomping out competition of small shops that sell higher quality products, so Microsoft has done an excellent job at selling it's products where IBM has flailed. No, IBM isn't a small shop. They just market and sell like one. And that has made all the difference.

pbokelly said...

Hi David -- thanks for your feedback.

The problem with the Notes-as-OS model is that the world no longer needs communication/collaboration products that bundle their own OS services.

That might have been reasonable back in the old days, e.g., during the Notes 3.x time frame, when Lotus supported the Notes client on OS/2, various versions of Windows, Mac OS, and UNIX (e.g., Solaris, HP UX, SCO -- Open Look and Motif, even), and when client OSes didn't include built-in directory, fine-grained access control, Web services, search, etc. services, but now it's counterproductive, considering, e.g.,
-- in many cases the services built into Notes aren't competitive with the underlying OS services
-- Notes remains an isolated island of content in some respects, since it bundles its own platform (consider searching and hyperlinking outside Notes, etc.)
-- IBM has to invest a lot of money in maintaining and supporting the redundant OS-level services, and those are resources IBM is not investing in core collaboration innovation (not that I'm complaining about that, of course, but perhaps IBM customers and partners should...)

On McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and sales/marketing: I think IBM is actually very strong on marketing, although it hasn't invested much in marketing many Lotus products over the years (yeah, there are recent ads for Quickr and Connections, but that's mostly notable for being unusual). IBM is also often very effective with sales and account control, especially in organizations that have outsourced some or all of their IT operations (sometimes but not always along with IBM software and hardware) to IBM Services, and essentially have to do what IBM tells them they can do (without being forced to rewrite multi-year contracts etc.).

While I realize I am unlikely to be considered entirely unbiased in this domain, I frankly believe the most important thing IBM Lotus doesn't do particularly well is product management -- good old-fashioned product strategy guided by customer requests, competitive challenges/opportunities, and investment cost/benefit realities. In fairness to Ed Brill and the other hard-working and smart people currently in product management roles at IBM, they are often constrained by IBM's broader priorities (which sometimes appear to be more focused on disrupting Microsoft's business model than on addressing real-world IBM customer requirements, but I digress...) and the need to support backward compatibility in a complex product that has evolved in many interesting and sometimes unexpected ways, over the last quarter-century.

On Microsoft: I don't think Microsoft's software or services, especially with the 2010 wave of products, is mediocre or designed primarily to maximize profits (e.g., if the latter were the case, I don't think you'd be able to use free Office Web Apps with the equally free Windows Live SkyDrive, or that SharePoint Foundation 2010 would be freely available to Windows Server customers).

Microsoft has always been about addressing massive economies of scale and value-based product pricing, but that doesn't mean it has bad products; it's just a reflection of Microsoft's long-term commitment to useful software being pervasively accessible and affordable.

pbokelly said...

Apologies for the delay on responding to comments I missed last week; please see