Ending the Email Client Wars

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In the 1990s, as email became the preferred method of business communication, IBM Lotus and Microsoft battled for dominance with their Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange servers. Each company claimed to be winning the battle for the largest installed base. Their measure of success was the number of email client "seats" they had sold. But it was a bogus contest. Why? Because users were cheating on both companies!

Home Market vs. Corporate Market

Microsoft thought it had won the email client war with a strategy that bundled the Outlook Express client and the Outlook personal information manager (PIM) with its Windows desktop distributions. Microsoft thought that if it gave users a free Outlook Express client, it would win the hearts and minds of users with the client's versatility and excellent Windows Office integration. Then, Microsoft thought, these same users would pressure IT departments in corporate headquarters to implement the Microsoft Exchange Server, allowing the corporation to complete the functionality of the Outlook PIM using MS Exchange. In other words, Microsoft sought to enlist its users to market MS Exchange.

However, IBM Lotus actually won the corporate market by leveraging IBM's massive footprint in the IT infrastructure and by creating cross-platform Domino servers that would work on any server IBM sold. IBM's strategy was exactly the opposite of Microsoft's: It wanted to force the Lotus Notes PIM client onto desktops across the Enterprise by making it the corporate standard for messaging.

Who Won? Who Lost?

By the time the dust settled, most analysts agreed that neither company had won. These analysts came to the conclusion that the basis of the whole contest (the number of seats sold) was actually just a crock. From the analysts' perspective, there were only losers in this battle. Why? Because the desktop user who used the Lotus Notes client at work during the day would immediately drive home at night and use the MS Outlook client to send personal email. When IBM Lotus and Microsoft talked about the number of installed client seats, they were talking about the same user in two different chairs.

So who was the real loser? The user and the corporation! Why? Because the user was using two different systems, requiring differing skills, while the corporation was spending time and money training home users to work with corporate email systems.

Integration

Over the years, both Lotus and Microsoft have made half-hearted attempts to bridge the gap between the two client architectures. The latest of these attempts by IBM Lotus allows an Outlook user to access Domino server email, scheduling, and other facilities from within the Outlook PIM. This product is called Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook, and Version 6.5.3 has been available since September of 2004.

Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook

Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook uses the Microsoft messaging application program interface (MAPI) to access the Domino Mail databases on the specific Domino servers that you identify. It also uses a variety of APIs to access other facilities off the Domino servers. IBM Lotus previously provided MAPI access to Domino mail through Outlook connectors, but it was slow and somewhat confusing to configure. By comparison, Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook Version 6.5.3 has done away with a lot of the confusing configuration issues. In addition, though it still uses the MAPI, it's less likely to crash than previous versions.

Requirements

The minimum requirements for the client system are relatively small:

  • Intel Pentium 133 processor or higher
  • 136 MB RAM
  • 135 MB disk space
  • Microsoft Outlook 2000/2002 with SP 2 or Outlook 2003 with SP1
  • Microsoft Windows 2000 or Windows XP

These are the server requirements:

  • Domino server 6.5.1 or higher; 6.5.3 or higher for Outlook 2003 support
  • Domino Administrator Client 6.5 or higher (6.5.1 or higher recommended)

If you are running Domino server R5 or below, you can't run the current version of Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook, and I would not recommend using the older MAPI software that Lotus was providing: It's slow and tends to crash unexpectedly.

What the User Sees

The main advantage of using Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook is strictly to the user's benefit. The user can continue to interface with the world using the Outlook client without retraining. It's totally transparent. This includes scheduling across all Domino calendars within the organization and access to the Domino Directory directly within the Outlook PIM. In addition, users can access Lotus SameTime meetings through the Outlook PIM, integrating the email and IM capabilities into this single client interface.

What the Administrator Gets

Meanwhile, the user's local mail file is replicated up on the Domino server. This allows IT to take advantage of network security and the clustering capabilities of its IT infrastructure. If the user's machine crashes, no problem! The user's Domino email file is still safe on the server and can be replicated back to the user's PC.

For iSeries customers, this consolidation strategy makes a lot of sense. Instead of supporting two server architectures (MS Exchange and Lotus Domino) across multiple server platforms (Windows Server 2003 and iSeries), the hardware and software footprint gets reduced to a single environment (iSeries running Lotus Domino). Meanwhile, the desktop user gets a choice of end user clients: MS Outlook or Lotus Notes.

Finally, because Domino is such a robust server, this is a highly scalable messaging environment. It will allow organizations to grow exponentially in the number of users and the size of the server system. This greatly increases the ROI for using Domino while magnificently decreasing the IT resource that is required to support user messaging.

Getting Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook

Lotus is offering a 90-day free trial of Lotus Domino Access for Outlook on its Trials and betas Web page. (Note that the trial is for Version 6.5.2, which was released in June of 2004.) Lotus also provides a PowerPoint presentation that you can use to help explain to management the advantages of this integration and consolidation strategy.

Pricing of this product will require you to get in touch with your IBM representative. At this writing, IBM had not posted the cost of Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook.

Should You Consider It?

If your organization is like mine, the time has long passed to end the silly war of email clients. Though the Lotus Notes PIM for Domino is an excellent tool, it still suffers in comparison to MS Outlook for lack of integration to MS Office. Sure, there is excellent Lotus integration of some functions, but this integration is always harder than it should be, and it's the user who suffers. If your organization is set in its ways about using MS Office applications, the MS Outlook PIM provides greater basic productivity advantages than anything Lotus has to offer. Your users have been telling you this for years, and you probably already know this.

On the other side of the coin, MS Exchange--as a messaging server for Outlook--is qualitatively less robust than Domino while it simultaneously adds IT overhead through an increased number of servers. It makes consolidation of IT services more difficult and creates conflict within IT by dividing the technical operations staff into distinct camps: Microsoft vs. IBM.

With Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook, your management can satisfy the needs of the end user and simultaneously end the IT wars over email servers. It's a great management strategy. IBM Lotus now has the product that can bring the pieces together and peace to the desktop.

Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press Online, LP.

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