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One of the products that helps drive i/OS users forward is the Lotus Domino family of communications servers.  IBM has been rolling out quite few new or enriched features lately, and argues that the new technologies, which cost more, pay their way by improving productivity.  But there's a catch: IBM's most advanced Domino features can require new operating systems.  Basically, the latest Lotus announcement can mean that your operating system, which could have run any version of Domino a year ago might not support the Domino you want a year from now.

i/OS Support for Domino
i/OS Support for Domino
There is not any version of the Domino server
that is supported on all the most widely used
i operating systems

If your system runs OS/400 V5R3, which is pretty abundant, you know that IBM's support for that OS ended on April 30, 2009.  But now, if you want to use Domino rather than Microsoft Exchange for messaging, collaboration, calendaring and other function, it looks like you might have to move to one of the environments that IBM now calls an i operating system.  i5/OS V5R4, now rebranded i 5.4, has the benefit of not requiring program conversion, but the newer i 6.1 and the interim i 6.1.1 (required on Power7-based systems) does require program conversion and is therefore one more thing that many i/OS shops have put on their to-do list for when the economy returns.  This is why IBM extended support for i 5.4 last November by another year.

Like so many, or perhaps too many other software packages, Domino products don't work right without some capabilities and features that are in newer operating systems but not in older ones.

And, it turns out, Domino is only the foundation.  Lotus has a number of products that require a Domino server and these products have been moving ahead, too.  That means that moving to, for example, the most power version of the collaboration package called Lotus Quickr will require one of the newer versions of Domino that, in turn, might only run on machines that have moved forward from V5R3.

The rules governing Domino support are relatively simple.  Domino 6.5 or later and 7.X (except 7.0) run on V5R3 and also work well with i 5.4 and 5.4.5.  Domino 7.0.3 or later and Domino 8.0.1 or later will work on any of the i versions; they fail on V5R3.  (Most Domino users know that the .0 versions of the server are losers, more or less the way every version of Windows is before its first service pack, but I've listed the details here to educate the lucky users who never ran a .0 Domino.)

For users with fewer than 1,000 seats, there are three version of Domino at each release level: a utility server that runs user applications, priced on the size of the host platform at $27.25 per Processor Value Unit, while a messaging only version of the server is licensed per seat at $105 per year including support.  There's also a combo license that covers messaging plus applications, also sold per seat at $145 per seat per year including support.

But the basic Domino server may not include all the functionality a customer wants, and that's where a compatibility structure that can be complex gets really hairy.  For instance, IBM offers a high end collaboration upgrade for the basic Domino server it calls Sametime.  Sametime lets users share data, video, sound, you name it.  It also supports instant messaging.  It lets users work form PCs or smartphones.  And it comes in a number of 7.X and 8.X versions that don't have the same operating system requirements as Domino servers with the same release numbers.  There's no simple rule.  You just have to know the specifics.

Domino Support for Lotus Products
Domino Support for Lotus Products
Users of Lotus products must be careful
because a Domino release number does not guarantee
support of other products with the same release number

For customers who don't need all the bells and whistles in Sametime, Lotus offers a content sharing system called Lotus Quickr.  Without getting into all the details, this package is what most companies might use for a team effort to develop reports, textual presentations, or simple slideshows without heavy multimedia content.  It provides version control and a bunch of management features that are enough to give a team manager suitable tools.

Quickr is a successor to a prior product, QuickPlace, which is about to lose support in April.  Users moving ahead should be able to preserve their work but there's no doubt that moving from QuickPlace to Quickr involves some learning.  Lotus also has another product that's going on life support: Document Manager.  IBM will provide help until at least late 2012, but users may find they need a lot of time to move to other Lotus products and, particularly, to train users for whom migration might be challenging.  Another Lotus product that is facing its final days is something called ActiveInsight, which was used to create visual representations of business processes; it must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it never really took off.  The same seems to be the case with Learning Accelerator, which for a few years seemed to hold out considerable promise; the user base isn't very large, but it won't like losing this technology as part of forward migration.

Then there is the mysterious LEI, for Lotus Enterprise Integrator, a package that builds bridges from a Domino system that would otherwise be an island.  LEI provides the connection between corporate information assets, stuff that lives in DB2, and all the email, presentation, and document development work done with the help of Domino.  LEI has its own set of version matching rules, and users must pay attention to the unique Domino (and operating systems) requirements of each dot release of LEI.

Lotus Forms provides some technologies similar to that in Acrobat.  It may lack the open-ended potential of Web-based CGI forms, but it does give users who don't have the technical skills of Web developers a way to create forms and gather the information users submit.  Lotus is going to keep supporting this product, but users have to be running a version of Forms that matches their Domino server release.  In general, each version of Forms can run on at least two versions of Domino, but users with relatively old Domino software will still be forced to upgrade when they catch up to the current state of Domino.

Users who find all these options just plain unpalatable are not out of choices.  IBM is trying to provide every service offered by in-house Domino subsystems as a cloud offering.  Most of these services are so new and in some cases so different from the Lotus products users are familiar with that IBM has been willing to give anyone 30-day free trials.  It is my belief that IBM would be happy to provide extended free trials in cases where it believes it can preserve a customer relationship with a cloud offering and where IBM knows that the in-house Domino system is going to get unplugged no matter what.

IBM calls its collection of cloud services Lotus Live and it seems to have priced the services competitively, at least for IBM.  The really low-cost deals are for customers who can sign up a significant number of users, which in this case means at least 1,000 seats.  Small companies can get Lotus Live services, but at a higher cost per user than the headline figures on IBM's Web site.

What IBM has not done, or at least has not done in a way that users can understand, is to make a clear connection between cloud services and Lotus products.  While it is possible for a user organization to figure out which Lotus offerings on an i box correspond to services provided by Lotus Live, the match isn't perfect and the job isn't very easy.  Some customers might take this as a warning, a sign that Lotus doesn't have a clear and unified focus right now, particularly when it comes to cloud offerings.  Lotus users who are want to move to cloud computing for communications and collaboration would be wise to get firm written commitments to long-term support from IBM before they invest heavily in services, client-side Notes software, and end user training.  IBM's Lotus division seems to have good intentions, but the cloud group may, for now, have somewhat more ambition than achievement.

— Hesh Wiener February 2010

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