Tuesday, December 1, 1998

A guide for comparing Notes/Domino and Exchange

The Microsoft factor and the NT factor

Many companies become bright-eyed when Microsoft is mentioned. This is unfortunate, but it is also a reality. When working with clients who are facing the power of the Microsoft name, it's critical to get them to understand the issues described here. It is better for them in the long run that they do. If they are running NT across the board, and have BackOffice in place, MS Mail, some Exchange, IIS and everyone is on Office, it's likely they are going to want to go with Exchange in full -- and this probably makes sense. Once a company has an investment in a particular technology and it's working for them it doesn't make sense to heavily rock the boat.

The Client

No, this isn't the introduction to a John Grisham novel. Outlook and Notes are quite different clients. Ironically, an Outlook client could work beautifully being served by a Domino server and a Notes client could work beautifully being served by an Exchange server. But that's just for Mail and C&S. From a user's perspective, Outlook may be easier to use, since it feels much like a "typical" mail client with some extra functions (public folders). Notes feels like something completely new and different, the interface looks somewhat unique and only when you open the mail database does Notes feel like a mail client. End users adjust to these differences and abilities, but these "look and feel" issues are important to keep in mind and are illustrative of the development tracks the two products have taken.

Application development platform

Outlook and Notes are very different beasts when it comes to application development, somewhat akin to a Ford Fiesta vs. a Mustang. Outlook is a fairly light client with the ability to support some light customization -- design some basic public folders and so forth. To do more than this requires the use of Visual Basic, and, likely, a VB development environment. The Notes client on the other hand is a fully endowed development environment with a wide array of development tools, from simple to advanced. The novice user can develop quite sophisticated applications without using any scripting whatsoever. [This is something more of marketing hype than reality. Most novice users aren't customizing their Notes environments without the help of a kindly developer standing by. -- DG] For the advanced developer, advanced scripting is available -- as are Java, Javascript, C++, and the ability to access back end data via NotesPump.

The Future for Microsoft

Microsoft's future, anti-trust issues aside, is hinging on the release of Windows NT 5.0 (now called 2000). The next release of Exchange will follow that and take advantage of it. This will be a major release for both NT and Exchange. Most likely, the new version of Exchange will incorporate more flexibility, more inter-operation with the rest of Back Office and, in turn, more Web integration. Microsoft will build on its strengths and continue to grow its client base. [There is a risk, however, that complexity will grow as well. -- DG]