Lotus Notes: the Microsoft way

So, the company I work for has made the decision to switch from Lotus Notes to the Microsoft equivalent(s).  Now, before I go on, I’ll briefly explain what we use Lotus Notes for:

  • email
  • calendaring
  • online collaboration using forum like applications
  • browser based applications for internal and external use
  • internal Notes client based applications

Notice those last two bullets:  APPLICATIONS.  Lotus Notes is a fairly powerful application server.  While most people’s exposure to Notes is it’s less than stellar email client, it is also a very powerful application development platform.  You can develop applications for both the Notes client and the lowliest of clients: the internet browser.  I have developed, along with many co-workers, countless applications for both clients.  Done right, a browser based application will work and look like any number of decently developed web apps done in other technologies.  ‘Ajax’ type web apps are a breeze, much easier than using other technologies.  My company has utilized Notes and Domino (the http server) for well over a decade and is used for several somewhat critical company applications.  It has become very engrained in our company.

Now, professionally, I am ready to move on to other things, including the aforementioned Microsoft technologies.  I’ve done a smattering of VB and .net stuff over the years, but I don’t consider myself an expert in those techs, although VB and Notes’ Lotusscript language are very, very similar.

The company’s decision to switch technologies is a fair one, though a bit misguided.  I say that because the general feeling is that the Microsoft technology, specifically SharePoint, will magically replace our dependency on Notes.  Well, it might, but…not JUST SharePoint.  See, out of the box, Notes is: an email server, application server, web server, email client, application development platform, database server and instant messaging.  The server stuff is all in one box and the client stuff is all in one box.  So, two products, max (server, client.)  The Microsoft answer requires:

  • SharePoint
  • the server side office stuff (MOSS)
  • Exchange
  • Outlook
  • Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
  • the SharePoint services
  • Visual Studio (for development)
  • InfoPath, if you are going to replicate many of Notes’ form based solutions
  • SharePoint designer
  • IIS

I’m sure I probably missed something, but you get the gist.  Notes’ out of box abilities require about ten different products.  To be fair, some come with various OTHER Microsoft products.  Like Windows Server includes the SharePoint services and Outlook is part of Office Professional.  However, my point is that you do not get the same functionality, out of the box, that you’d get in Notes.  Development wise, they are close.  They both can require web development and Visual Basic knowledge, though you can also code in Java in Notes and C# in the Microsoft environments.

So now my company has to decide things like how long to leave applications in the Notes environment, which ones to convert (using some rather unsophisticated third party products that will require nearly as much work post conversion as it would have to simply re-write the application), which ones to retire and which ones to re-develop in .net or some other technology.  It’s going to take years for all of this to pan out.  I don’t even want to think about cost.  On top of that, we have to upgrade from Office 2003 to Office 2007 and we JUST converted to Office 2003 from OFFICE 97(!) just a couple of years ago.

Now, I realize technology moves on and that companies need to keep pace or be left behind.  I don’t have a problem with moving away from Notes.  I’ve been working with it for about 14 years now and am more than ready to move on. However, to just completely move from one nicely packaged technology that does what we need-and will do so for quite some time-to another hodgepodge of disconnected technologies just seems…well, I’ll let you figure that out.


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