Saturday, May 1, 1999

Open source alternatives to Notes and Domino: are they real?

FIRST LOOK

By Jeffrey R. Burrows

When I first used Linux some years ago, Notes was at Release 3, and neither product impressed me very much. Both have advanced an incredible amount since then -- Linux is now one of the most well known OSs and Notes has blossomed into Domino and the fully Internet capable Notes R5 client.

The success of Linux is due in large part to a growing community of avid developers with a dislike for big corporations who might claim too much control over the computing landscape. It is not totally unexpected, therefore, that members of the "open source" community have turned some attention to Lotus Notes with the desire to create a freely available Notes-like tool in the same open source spirit as that of Linux.

But it's not just a desire for open source code access. Another reason for an open source alternative to Notes and Domino has been Lotus' historic disinterest in implementing Notes and Domino on the Linux platform. The recent announcement of a reversal on this issue is both a victory to the Linux community and a strategic move by Lotus that head off Notes itself being "Linuxized" like Unix.

Three open-source competitors have emerged

At least three separate projects have emerged to develop an open source, free Notes replacement. This is, of course, an acknowledgment by those who disdain shrink-wrapped software that Lotus has something unique, which can't be simply replaced by a Web server, database or email server. Granted, it's easy to criticize Notes for some its inheritance from the past (like some famous once-buggy @functions which can't be replaced since so many third party systems rely on the bugs). But there are also tremendous advantages to Notes and Domino that many free, open source advocates would like to have available.

I'll describe each of the projects in brief, and then summarize how Domino could develop over the next several releases (at least if I get listened to!). All of the "Notes clone" projects follow the Linux model. For example, there are one or two central figures like Linus Torvalds driving it forward. Torvalds started the original development of Linux. Another aspect of the model is open collaboration on the coding and testing work using the so-called Bazaar system development model. Much play has recently been given to what's been called "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" by open source advocate Eric Raymond. You can read about it at http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/.