SharePoint, Lotus battle for collaboration supremacy

Microsoft and IBM have been duking it out over e-mail and messaging software for years with their respective Outlook/Exchange and Lotus Notes/Domino products.

As their product lines have evolved, however, a new fight is brewing between Lotus and Microsoft’s SharePoint Server as the platform of choice for enterprise collaboration strategy.

According to a new report by Forrester Research, both companies will be in this battle for the long haul, as there are benefits for enterprise customers to using one, the other or both platforms in their IT networks for the foreseeable future.

The report, by analyst Rob Koplowitz, notes that collaboration software, which allows workers across geographically dispersed offices to work more efficiently together through Web-based programs, is increasingly becoming a priority for enterprises. Nearly 50 per cent of the 1,017 IT professionals in Europe and North America that Forrester surveyed for the report called implementing a collaboration strategy a priority or critical priority in 2008, according to the report.

While Lotus has more history in this market and has evolved over the years, SharePoint only in the past 18 months or so has rapidly come into its own as a collaboration platform, according to the report. “SharePoint has finally found its place in the world and is growing up fast,” Koplowitz wrote.

Understandably, some of the benefits to using either Lotus or SharePoint for collaboration depends on what software companies already have in place in the back-end, and for which platform developers already are comfortable building applications, Koplowitz noted. +

If a company already uses IBM software, such as WebSphere Portal and IBM Content Manager, then using Lotus is a natural choice for an organization. Developers who build applications primarily in Java also may prefer Lotus, according to the report. Microsoft-centric enterprises already using Outlook/Exchange and other Office applications will see more benefit from using SharePoint because of the tight links between those products, according to the report. And naturally, if an enterprise employs mainly .NET developers, SharePoint is a better choice for them.

Because of its tight integration with other Microsoft software, SharePoint also has an edge if companies want to take a single-vendor approach to their collaboration strategy, Koplowitz wrote.

“SharePoint benefits because it runs on Windows Server, uses Active Directory for authentication, is built on the .NET framework and SQL Server, and can be controlled with the Microsoft Operations Manager,” Koplowitz wrote. “This highly integrated approach takes advantage of companies’ Microsoft skills and infrastructure and lowers integration costs.”

However, IBM still has an edge in providing third-party applications that run on Notes and Domino if companies want to use software from more than one vendor, according to the report. Also, Notes, Sametime, IBM’s corporate instant-messaging client, and Quickr, IBM’s content-sharing application, are built on the open-source Eclipse developer platform, which allows them to run Eclipse plug-ins natively and provides a more open development architecture for third-party applications.

Microsoft is still working on establishing third-party product support for SharePoint, Koplowitz noted. He said that ISVs (independent software vendors) likely will continue to build software to extend SharePoint’s capabilities, which will make it a more valuable platform in the future.

Lotus also provides a valuable piece of functionality that SharePoint does not — the ability to replicate data and application logic from server to server, as well as from server to client, Koplowitz said. This comes in handy in instances where information and application logic spans multiple locations across low-bandwidth links to the Internet, giving users the ability to replicate data with the back-end server once and then work in an offline capacity, he said.

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