Lotus’ Domino plans enrage customers

Lotus Software Group this week stunned its users when it pulled a key piece of technology from the forthcoming release of Domino, igniting a user backlash that questioned the future of the product as a Web-based development platform.

After Lotusphere attendees warmed to Lotus’s plans for Domino to become a set of collaboration components that run on Java 2 Enterprise Edition, they were fed a bitter pill when Lotus pulled key Java technology, called Garnet, from the forthcoming Domino 6.

Garnet, under development for more than a year, supplied support for Java Server Pages (JSP) in Domino. Support for JSP, a simple programming mechanism for displaying dynamic content on a Web page, was to provide a bridge into the J2EE development world without having to purchase and deploy a full-blown J2EE server, such as IBM’s WebSphere.

“This would have made Domino even more viable as a ‘all-in-one integrated platform,’ very coherent and low-cost compared to ‘classic’ J2EE solutions involving WebSphere and DB2 that require many different people and skills,” says Pejman Parandi, a senior Web developer who asked that his company not be identified.

But IBM is no longer interested in an all-in-one platform, say Parandi, and it killed Garnet to avoid competing with J2EE support on WebSphere. Garnet, which is in the current beta versions of Domino 6, isn’t scheduled for inclusion in the next beta that ships this month.

IBM officials said they realized recently that Garnet wasn’t complete enough to be a pure standards technology and that it actually represented a risk to positioning Domino as a set of collaboration components for contextual collaboration, the ability to integrate collaboration into business-process applications.

But Lotus has been testing Garnet for nearly a year, so its demise caused surprise and disappointment.

“When they showed the JSP engine for Domino [Garnet] last year, I thought Domino is the Web platform I will go forward with,” says Doug Hayden, IT project manager for furniture maker Herman Miller in Zeeland, Mich. “I’m on board with the other changes, but I am disappointed they pulled the JSP engine. I don’t need WebSphere. I look at it as another platform that I would have to learn, so I thought it was great that I had what I needed in Domino.”

IBM is now clearly signaling that Domino will become a set of collaborative components for J2EE developers to add to applications that run on IBM’s WebSphere server and IBM’s Web services platform that now includes DB2 and Tivoli.

“There is no question that the long-term IBM strategy is to use Domino as a point of leverage to sell more infrastructure components like WebSphere, DB2, and Tivoli,” says Matt Cain, an analyst with the Meta Group. “This is going to be a tumultuous time for IBM/Lotus as they rationalize what is Domino.”

The tumultuous times have already started for many.

“It was nice to see Lotus get the Web standards for Web application development into Domino, but now they are saying forget it,” says Edward Rabinovich, associate director of planning and architecture for Ernst and Young in Cleveland, Ohio. “Domino now becomes a set of classes you call from WebSphere. It all means more money, more training and more infrastructure.”

The elimination of Garnet is viewed by some as such a blow to Domino that one contributor to a discussion list on the Notes.Net Web site suggested that Domino 6 be renamed “Domino Edsel.” Others suggested that Domino will become just another mail server, is now on a path to irrelevance, and that they will begin shopping for another Java server platform.

Lotus officials reacted by posting an explanation of the Garnet decision and a FAQ entitled “Next Generation Collaboration Strategy” after the negative tone permeated the Notes.Net site.

“Building parallel infrastructure in Domino and WebSphere doesn’t make a lot of sense for us,” says Ed Brill, senior manager for enterprise messaging at Lotus. He said Lotus would have to spend millions to develop and support a technology that already exists within IBM. Brill said using IBM’s existing work with WebSphere is the correct way to make Domino data available to J2EE applications.

“Domino can’t do the type of business process transactions that WebSphere can do,” says Jon Johnston, a consultant with Creative Business Solutions in Minneapolis. “So if WebSphere can be used to direct traffic between Domino, DB2, Oracle and other systems, what have I really lost? But it’s really too early to draw any conclusions about these issues without having the full definition of what will happen in the future.”

IBM’s vision of Domino’s future was presented this week at Lotusphere, but company officials said it was a work in progress and in need of customer feedback.

Lotus officials said the issue with the JSP engine could be solved with a software bundle incorporating Domino and WebSphere but did not reveal any specific plans. But users clearly are lighting a fire in order to get answers.

Domino ships with a version of WebSphere, but it can only be used for testing, not production. Open-source JSP engines are available, such as Tomcat, but users say they are not easy to use, have no support and don’t integrate well with development tools. Domino will eventually integrate with other J2EE-based Web application servers, but WebSphere will be the first and likely the tightest.