The Pros and Cons of Migrating from Lotus Notes

The Pros and Cons of Migrating from Lotus Notes

 As a veteran IBM Lotus Notes developer with 20 years experience, I am often asked: “Why are you are still using Notes?” There are so many choices for developers today!  The short answer is the capabilities that Notes offers are still great. The versatility that the platform offers still attracts me.

Lotus Notes/Domino has been around since the early 90’s before the term ‘blog’ was even in popular use. Antiquated, online ‘user groups’ were soon replaced with ‘nested’ discussions in rich text. Lotus Notes was instrumental in transforming ‘bulletin boards’ and ‘chat groups’ into true online collaboration workspaces. The Lotus Notes ID was one of the first uses of authentication certificates for connecting to online data sources with encryption before HTTPS was even invented. As well, for the first time, the creation of rich text databases with variable length data records became available to developers. Notes ‘replication’ allowed for keeping multiple ‘replicas’ of databases up-to-date on various servers and local desktops — no other database application at the time had anything close to that. Not to mention that Lotus Notes applications/databases are encrypted and can only be used by those authorized by their Notes ID and the certificate keys stored in the Domino Directory. Lotus Notes was indeed a pioneer in the burgeoning online world.

When web sites came into fashion, Notes applications could be easily web-enabled, although losing much of the UI and custom formatting available through the Notes client. But over the years as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript developed, so did the ability to integrate them into Notes applications for the web. Twenty-some-odd years later, Notes — and its server counterpart dubbed ‘Domino’ — still boasts a user base of millions around the world.

For the most part, the migration away from Notes has been toward Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint. While Notes/Domino mail is robust and secure, many users prefer the MS Outlook mail interface citing better display of contacts and the ability to use multiple ‘identities’ – Lotus Notes allows for using multiple identities as well but requires logging in with a different Notes ID and clearing the Notes workspace. While Notes can also access POP/IMAP mail, the user interface for doing so is not as intuitive as Outlook. Notes is however designed to be more secure and discourage the use of multiple aliases for a single email account for good architectural reasons.

For those businesses using Microsoft Server, the integration of the Active Directory with MS Exchange mail and Sharepoint allows for a single source for user account management. Migrating users from Notes mail to MS Exchange is fairly straightforward, but there is a cost associated with it, as well as having to train users and administrators. However, migrating Notes applications to Sharepoint is a different story altogether. Besides the fact that Sharepoint falls well short of the many features of Notes/Domino, many companies which migrated to MS Exchange are finding the time and cost of rewriting existing Notes applications into Sharepoint to be not worth the effort, and therefore now maintain their Notes environment as well as MS Exchange. Notes applications cannot be simply converted into Sharepoint, especially those that use custom scripts and authentication based on the Notes user ID.

As far as the future of Notes/Domino goes, IBM will have to address various new entries into the application world. Essentially, Domino is and always has been a ‘cloud’ service. But task-specific publishing products such as WordPress are very easy to implement versus building a custom Notes application, and as innovative as Notes discussion databases were in their early days, WordPress is head and shoulders above by a long shot for out-of-the-box website publishing.

From a developer’s perspective, IBM/Lotus Notes/Domino will live on in the environments in which it has a long history, and it is still very secure and robust. IBM is positioning themselves in many other areas to stay in the game – their Eclipse IDE platform (upon which Notes/Domino is now based) is well positioned for the web and mobile developers using dozens of programming languages including Java, C#, JavaScript and many open source libraries.

The pros and cons of migrating from Lotus Notes depend greatly on the environment and the future direction of an enterprise’s development strategy. For those who wish to keep everything secure and in-house or cloud hybrid models, Notes/Domino is a safe bet because the end-to-end security still keeps the business stakeholders in control. For those who wish to outsource their IT services, there are many innovative service offerings available for quick deployment, including Prominic.NET.

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