kiss of death

kiss of death

Lotus Development may be doing itself a disservice by discontinuing development of Domino/Notes for NetWare.

Actually, disservice may be a polite understatement. What Lotus is doing - distancing itself from the only enterprise network operating system (NOS) and directory service that stands a chance against the Microsoft juggernaut - seems tantamount to slow asphyxiation for Lotus and Novell.

One of the few strategic advantages Domino/ Notes has over other enterprise groupware products is its ability to run across many server operating environments, including several versions of NetWare, NT Server and Unix, as well as several mainframe operating systems. At the same time, one of Domino/Notes' most glaring vulnerabilities is its lack of an internal, general-purpose, enterprisewide directory service, such as Novell Directory Service (NDS) or Microsoft's upcoming Active Directory Service (ADS). Lotus has no plans to embed any such directory in its upcoming Domino/Notes 5.0, which means it is critically dependent on integration with the likes of NetWare and NT Server for such features.

It's hard to understand what message Lotus is sending to the market with its attempt to weaken NetWare and, by association, NDS. Is Lotus saying that NetWare is a dead environment and that Novell's enterprise customers should migrate to NT Server 5.0 and ADS as soon as they are released and field-proven?

Lotus' loss of faith in the future of NetWare comes at a delicate time for Novell. The NOS pioneer is on the verge of releasing NetWare 5, an upgrade that has largely received rave reviews and represents CEO Eric Schmidt's only real hope of turning the company around. Groupware sales increasingly drive NOS sales, and Microsoft's smashing success with Exchange/ Outlook make NT Server 5.0 - now due sometime in 1999 - an odds-on favourite to steal the NOS market Novell created and has long dominated. Meanwhile, Novell's GroupWise offers no coattails of any consequence for NetWare 5, and loss of future support from the groupware market leader, Domino/Notes, can only be characterised as crippling.

Lotus now falls squarely into the camp of Microsoft vassals, waiting for ADS to fill its directory gap and hoping the Redmond folks get the bugs out of it and NT Server 5.0 before the year 2000 crunch puts a chill on the entire market. Dependence on Microsoft for directories and other enterprise infrastructure puts Lotus at a strategic disadvantage in the groupware market from which it may never recover.

Collaboration market

Whether or not you believe recent numbers showing Exchange/Outlook pulling ahead of Domino/Notes in number of licences sold, you can't deny Microsoft has the momentum in the collaboration market and will probably pull very close to Lotus' installed base within the next year.

The features Lotus believes will allow Domino/Notes to maintain its pre-eminence in the groupware market fall into the mushy category of knowledge management. Lotus uses this term to refer to applications that support new ways of organising, searching, navigating and sharing Domino/Notes' core object store of documents, databases and messages.

However, Domino/Notes' dominance in knowledge management and in the supporting replication techniques hasn't stopped Exchange/ Outlook from making inroads into Domino/Notes' market. Microsoft has done so by focusing on the core groupware applications that most Domino/Notes users use - enterprise e-mail and discussion groups - and by providing a simpler product that is easier to install and administer and integrates more tightly with the operating environment.

Lotus basically has no choice but to integrate Domino/Notes primarily with NT Server and ADS, cementing Microsoft's hegemony in the network computing universe. To counter the Microsoft challenge, Lotus should repackage Domino/Notes as two product sets: a basic messaging/newsgroup environment that fills the gap created when Lotus discontinued further development of cc:Mail and a Web-based application server offering knowledge management and replication functionality.

Lotus should de-emphasize Domino/Notes as a monolithic all-things-to-all-users groupware environment. This architecture, which Lotus pioneered and rode to considerable success, is looking increasingly unwieldy and hinders the company's ability to defend itself against Microsoft point products in this market.

As for Novell, it will have a tough time living down Lotus' rejection and positioning NetWare 5 in a market anticipating NT Server 5.0 and dreading 2000. It would be terrible to see Lotus and Novell lock themselves into a death spiral that only contributes to the greater glory and enrichment of Bill Gates and company. NOS and collaboration technologies are critical to the new world economy, and monopolisation of either niche would not be in our collective best interest.

From the news desk: the law is a step behindThe trouble with attempting to take any sort of legal action in the high-technology arena is that new advancements tend to render the whole thing moot long before the actual judgment comes to pass. The latest example of this sad fact is the case the US Department of Justice is pursuing against Microsoft. The Justice Department's case rests on the assumption that Microsoft has a monopoly on the operating system and that it is using this dominance to subsume other technologies, such as the browser, into its OS.

The problem is that the definition of operating system is a moving target. Oracle is moving to incorporate a file system into its database, which it will reposition as an Internet OS.

Microsoft has similar plans for incorporating database technology into its OS, and I'm sure that others such as IBM will closely follow suit. What this trend does for Microsoft is interesting because it shows that operating systems are becoming distributed technologies that span clients and servers. This would mean that Microsoft has plenty of competition from Oracle and IBM.

None of this is guaranteed to get Microsoft off the hook. After all, most of the alleged transgressions took place at a very early stage of Internet development and were motivated more by competitive issues than technological vision. But going forward, this new technological paradigm is going to have an influence on any penalty Microsoft may pay.

For instance, should Microsoft lose its case, it may have to pay an astronomical fine. But given the rising tide of competition, it is highly unlikely that the courts will prevent Microsoft from bundling new technologies with the OS or break the company up into different components.

Both remedies would fly in the face of the new competitive Internet landscape and could wind up stalling innovation instead of promoting it.

So the question is, can laws ever be written that prevent infractions, or must we rest all our hopes on stiff penalties that, in theory, should induce good behaviour? by Michael Vizard

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