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SharePoint is not Lotus Notes

I’m not the world’s biggest fans of so called “think tanks” and their reports.  While I have the deepest respect for some of the analysts I’ve met, I also know more than a few that truly miss the point.  They don’t get it.  They don’t understand the market they work in.

Recently one of the folks that I don’t think really understands the market – CMS Watch – started hocking their latest dribble about SharePoint in the CMS market.  One of the things in the report is a comparison of SharePoint to Lotus Notes. I don’t know for sure but this is apparently the case since several reporters – to whom I can only imagine a copy of the report was sent to – have posted articles making this comparison.  I can further only assume that this is a desperate attempt on CMS Watch’s part to sell a few copies of the report since the comparison doesn’t make sense.  I feel sorry for the reporters (who are overworked and underpaid) who fell into the trap of repeating this senseless comparison.

I think there are a ton of reasons why this comparison is silly.  Let me summarize the top few:

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  1. One successful product is being compared to another from a different era  –  It’s sort of like comparing Lotus 1-2-3 against the current offering of MS Excel.  1-2-3 was, for its time, the best spreadsheet.  Similarly, Word Perfect 5.1 really hit the market the right way.  It was a really good word processor until the Windows GUI and WYSIWYG overtook character based word processing.  Both of these products (Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect) were successful products.  The basic comparison is that SharePoint may become like Notes.  Notes was, for its time, the right product.  It is a good, money making product even today.
  2. Offline and the web – Notes is an offline database tool.  Call it groupware, a collaboration tool, or whatever you want.  It’s good at managing sparsely changing databases.  I know of several applications that Microsoft has failed to displace because they’re based on the rich replication that the tool has for offline access.  SharePoint, at least what we have today, is an online only tool.  Sure it’s got options for taking stuff offline – both from Microsoft and third parties – but we’re not there yet.  So we have a tool that from the start was designed to deal with the offline scenario – and one that was designed to deal with the online scenario.  They’re totally opposite design approaches.
  3. User Driven vs. Management Driven – It is a fallacy that Notes was driven by end users.  Notes utilization was driven by departmental IT.  Folks may believe I’m splitting hairs, but I don’t think so.  Notes was adopted because departmental IT (what some folks call Business Unit IT) needed solutions and central IT wouldn’t do them.  They could develop Notes applications and corporate IT would host them.  SharePoint is being driven in some cases literally by end users who need to share a spreadsheet or keep versions of a document.  It’s not the departmental IT manager.  It’s the administrative assistant or the business analyst or the chemist.  The adoption model isn’t the same.  Honestly, the adoption is much more akin to the MS Access adoption model.
  4. Users Hate Notes – As some have correctly pointed out, most folks who hate Lotus Notes hate it as a mail client – and well they should.  I’m a strong Outlook advocate.  Its issues pale in comparison to those of Notes.  I don’t have any particular malice towards Lotus Notes as a sparsely connected DB – it’s great at that.  The issue is trying to force it to be a mail client too.  SharePoint doesn’t do email.  Exchange and Outlook do Email.  SharePoint integrates with Exchange and Outlook.

So let’s follow the supposition that SharePoint will follow the lifecycle of Lotus Notes.  Where does that leave us?  With a product that has one of the longest lives of any product in PC history?  To a product that has 120M users?  I guess I don’t see that as a bad thing.

The implication is that SharePoint will someday become a legacy product for organizations as they seek to divest themselves from it.  Uh, duh.  That’s going to happen.  The trick is when and why?  I don’t know the when, but as for the why – it will be because MS doesn’t make the right investments in the product.  I think MS has a much better track record at making the right investments than IBM has.

I’m really waiting on someone to catch on that the MS Access comparison (which I made above) is a better comparison. MS Access adoption was driven by end users.  It was very easy to let MS Access databases get out of hand — just as it’s easy to let SharePoint sites to get out of hand.  However, what SharePoint has going for it is it’s still recoverable – where Access wasn’t.  Oh, yea, and you *CAN* throw hardware at a SharePoint performance problem (due to bad design) where with Access you really couldn’t.

Can you do bad designs with SharePoint?  Absolutely.  Is this any different than any other CMS (or collaboration) product?  No.  Well, why then, you might ask, are there so many screwed up SharePoint implementations and so few of the other products?  Let the other products do 1 Billion in sales – and 100 Million licensed users.  Take a look at the numbers again – you’ll probably find that the numbers aren’t that different as a percentage.  Everyone’s seeing more screwed up SharePoint implementations because there are more of them to be screwed up.


  1. I love this. I’m working on a Notes Migration, and in my discussions with Notes developers here, I’m always respectful of the Notes platform. It does have a lot of features that SharePoint still doesn’t match; maybe SharePoint was not actually built to match Notes feature-for-feature, but it’s being marketed that way.

    I agree with everything you say above; one other thing I’d like to add (to SharePoint’s detriment) is that in the long term, we don’t know which customizations will be supported. Will our workflows upgrade seamlessly to the next version? Will our branding efforts? Will our SPD-created custom list form web parts? Will site definitions look the same? Will MOSSvNext break MOSS2007 features, e.g. will Excel Services be revamped for the next version?

    This is something I’d like to see addressed, and Microsoft does NOT have a good track record in this respect.

    The reason I bring this up is because upgrading MOSS is no simple matter, even without worrying about customizations. In the future these upgrades will only grow MORE complex.

    If you want to see the SharePoint/Notes comparison from a different perspective, check out this blog:

    I don’t know who writes the blog, but I empathize with them.

    Anyway, just throwing a bunch of stuff out there.

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