Last week (on July 15, 2003), IBM announced that it acquired Australia-based Presence Online Pty Ltd., which does business under the name of Aptrix. The announcement confirms persistent rumors that have been circulating for more than a year that some deal was in the offing. The financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but the impact on Lotus Notes/Domino developers will be important.
Aptrix is a Web development suite that uses the Notes/Domino infrastructure to create customizable, highly functional Web sites that can be easily maintained and tailored with little technical training. IBM's purchase of Aptrix--as a product that delivers easy-to-implement results--indicates a dramatic shift in how IBM is viewing the Lotus product line. For end-user customers, it's a boon toward ease of development, but for Notes/Domino developers, it's a reflection that R&D efforts for Notes/Domino may be heading in a more channeled, customer-focused direction that may impede future releases of the Notes/Domino product line.
About the Aptrix Solution
Aptrix is a comprehensive Web development and content management suite that creates Domino-based Web sites. Its focus is something that it calls the Aptrix Content Server, a Notes-based workflow system that orchestrates and streamlines the process of managing content. Customers choose the look and feel of their Web site from a variety of customizable templates, and the Aptrix Content Server acts as a backbone to feed content into the site itself.
This out-of-the-box approach to content management reduces the time spent designing workflow applications that are destined for the Web. It's easy to use, quick to customize, and scalable across all the IBM eServer engines that support Lotus' current collaborative platform. It also integrates seamlessly into current Lotus Domino, WebSphere, and DB2 Content Manager environments. Aptrix, which has been a substantial IBM Business Partner for a number of years, has been co-marketing this product with IBM as "Lotus Web Content Management Solution." The Aptrix solution has proven to be so successful to IBM's largest customers that it seemed only a matter of time before IBM made a move to purchase the organization that created it.
Significance to Lotus Notes/Domino Customers
The developers and users of Lotus products have spent the past two years waiting for IBM to clarify its direction with Notes/Domino. R6 of Notes/Domino at first promised many advances in underlying interfaces to Web services and Java. But then IBM's larger WebSphere plans suddenly dwarfed development efforts in any Internet- or Web-specific technologies that Lotus had been attempting to implement. Certain features that had been the beta releases of R6 suddenly disappeared. Excuses were garnered, but what was unusually apparent was the divisive conflict that was going on within the IBM/Lotus hallways. Would Notes/Domino be allowed to evolve? Or would it be made to toe the company mark on Internet development technologies?
Subsequently, IBM announced that the underlying Notes document database structure would be adapted and incorporated into IBM's DB2 relational database structure, while the Notes Designer IDE software was to be incorporated the IBM Eclipse IDE. The once famous www.notes.net online magazine resource became a part of the IBM developerWorks portal and was reduced to mere forums and product information.
It has since become clear that all Web-related interfaces within Notes/Domino would be driven by the agenda of IBM's WebSphere developers.
What was left of the unique nature of Notes/Domino seems to be eroding quickly, and many customers have been wondering what will become of the legacy Notes databases and Domino Web sites that only a few years ago were the envy of the world of collaboration.
Notes/Domino Developer Directions
Meanwhile, would-be developers using the Lotus platform have paused, while Lotus Business Partners scanned the horizons for new platforms upon which to create non-Notes/Domino applications. Some have moved toward J2EE; others look toward Microsoft .NET.
So what's to become of Notes/Domino? Has the once-glorious revolution for collaborative applications finally reached its nadir?
In this light, the acquisition of Aptrix is certainly a mixed blessing. There is no question that IBM's purchase of Aptrix will be a boon for the end-user customer, making it easier for these customers to build their content management systems. However, IBM's use of Aptrix within the Notes/Domino infrastructure may be the final nail in the coffin of future releases of Notes/Domino. In fact, it could spell the end of Lotus' innovative development efforts within IBM altogether.
Why? By placing all the content management features of Notes/Domino inside an "ultimate," customizable and packaged solution, IBM will have finally distilled and bottled Notes/Domino's greatest assets: Its workflow functionality. It will, in essence, have surrounded the renegade and recalcitrant genie that is Lotus development into a lamp that any customer can buy and rub. And, once confined, why would anyone want to let that genie out again?
This, in turn, raises a lot of questions for developers who have specialized on the Lotus product line: Will there be a need for Notes/Domino programmers in the future? What about Notes/Domino consultants? Will Notes/Domino even continue to evolve?
Solidifying IBM's Grand WebSphere Strategy
Indeed, this move to purchase Aptrix seems to solidify a strategy that IBM has been following all along. Ambuj Goyal, general manager of Lotus Software within the IBM Software Group, said, "The Lotus Workplace strategy is designed to blend Lotus collaborative solutions with IBM WebSphere Portal and DB2 Content Manager technology to give our customers a dynamic, cost-effective, and integrated platform that can be designed to fit specific industry or business needs. The addition of Aptrix's Web content management technology, and IBM's plans for the Lotus Workplace Content Development offering, will help our Lotus Workplace customers derive maximum value from business content, as well as help our customers tailor their collaborative infrastructure as they move towards an On Demand computing environment."
What's clear in this statement is that the old guard within IBM has finally digested the remnants of the Lotus organization. The Lotus blossom called Notes/Domino has finally been dyed deep blue.
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