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With LotusSphere barely two weeks away, it’s time once again to disinter IBM’s late great Lotus Notes. Already, blogs are heating up with the latest confirmation: Notes is still dead. Too bad IBM has not gone the route of Microsoft with Windows 98, executing a planned obsolescence masked by Sun’s lawsuit-mandated Java virtual machine-ectomy.

Instead, when IT managers ask for guidance on what technology to bet on—Domino or WebSphere—they get a definitive “It depends” from Ken Bisconti, IBM vice president of messaging. Despite his affinity for Notes, Bisconti is well aware of the road map that Big Blue execs have spelled out: wrapping Domino constructs inside J2EE portlets and integrating the Notes legacy with its Sametime and QuickPlace real-time collaboration products. The native Notes data store will slowly fade away as WebSphere and DB2 take over by 2005.

What remains for the Notes faithful?

In the absence of closure, the Notes faithful must console themselves with this immutable fact: The only thing harder than using Notes is getting rid of it. Dead Notes may be, but its apps still keep rising at sundown to roam corporate hallways. Most corporate Notes deployments focused on e-mail, but the few apps in which the Notes developer priesthood invested remain embedded in the sinews of the enterprise corpus.

Politically, Notes apps reside on the borders between business units. Notes HR apps are the J. Edgar Hoovers of the enterprise, capturing the sensitive details of where the corporate bodies are buried. Notes’ seminal delivery of secure replication allowed sales force automation to establish interconnected mapping of complex relationships that could survive individual personnel changes and the loss of rainmakers to competitors.

When Notes collided with the Web, Lotus engineers quickly harvested IBM Web server technology for Domino. With Novell in decline and Netscape struggling to integrate the elements of a collaboration suite, Microsoft placed its bet on a cloned Domino with Exchange 2000’s Web Storage System.

What happened? IBM and Microsoft split the messaging market down the middle, but three years later Y2K incarnations of the platforms are pushing up daisies. Microsoft’s SQL team regained control of its destiny, dismissing Web Storage System in favor of the next-generation “Yukon” and, ultimately, WinFS stores. IBM followed suit. Lotus Development Corp. became Lotus Software division.

Notes? IBM sees the rich client on the ropes with Windows’ security problems. Once Domino Designer engineers used LotusScript to carve out extended WebMail functionality, then hard coded the results into the Notes client. Now IBM is telling IT pros to merge their Domino Designer and WebSphere development teams and head across the great object-oriented divide to Java development.

But hang on, Betty. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

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