Mark Bennett on IBM vs. Microsoft

On Thursday I met with Mark Bennett, the IT Manager for the New Zealand offices of a global organization. What’s interesting about Mark is that he comes from a very strong technical background in Microsoft and Citrix, and when he joined the Firm, he discovered a Notes shop running R5. He was horrified, and immediately started talking about an Exchange/Outlook migration. In other words, a classic default position for an IT Manager with a Microsoft background.

Fast forward a few years and he is (a) increasingly convinced of the tremendous value of Notes, (b) increasingly drawn to IBM and repelled by Microsoft, and (c) looking for ways to extend the depth and reach of Notes in the Firm.

How did this transition take place? Mark says, “A little while after I joined, I attended a wider Firm meeting where some of my new colleagues talked about the power of Notes. I kept saying to myself, ‘I didn’t know Notes could do that’. That meeting was a turning point in my appreciation of what Notes could do … and the possibilities for using Notes to Firm advantage.

The Firm is planning a roll-out of Notes 8, the use of more discussion databases, a shift to RSS-enabled news sources (as a replacement to the reliance on email), wider advocacy of the possibilities of Notes, new custom applications, and more. All of the Domino Servers run on Linux, and he’s considering the roll-out of some Linux desktops. In terms of Notes 8, Mark says, “What exactly do our people need beyond Notes 8, the inbuilt productivity editors, and a browser?” In other words, Notes 8 paves the way for a move away from both a Windows desktop and Microsoft Office.

In terms of Microsoft, he finds himself increasingly dissatisfied. Proposed solutions take too many servers, client software is attractive but less functional than Notes, and he knows that he can do things cheaper and with greater agility by looking elsewhere.

Mark says “I wouldn’t say I was ever a diehard Microsoft man; I’ve always been skeptical of its value, cost of ownership & ROI. I had just never found anything with the power or flexibility of Notes that didn’t require constant upgrades.”

When Mark took the new job, little did he know that he’d get converted to the Notes gospel and be singing from the IBM hymn book.

0 Comments on “Mark Bennett on IBM vs. Microsoft

  1. Michael / Mark,
    First off this is a first hand client experience story so there’s no right or wrong.
    A number of points however do strike me a things that are taken out of context . are not based on experience but hear say.
    ***
    “What exactly do our people need beyond Notes 8, the inbuilt productivity editors, and a browser?” In other words, Notes 8 paves the way for a move away from both a Windows desktop and Microsoft Office.
    ***
    Well comparing the editors in ND8 against Office 2007 is apples and oranges. If all people do is type simple notes and do one dimensional calculations, you may be right. However if things like electronic forms, compliancy, enterprise content management, etc are solutions required in your infrastructure, I do question how these will be supported from an “editor” perspective ..
    ***
    In terms of Microsoft, he finds himself increasingly dissatisfied. Proposed solutions take too many servers, client software is attractive but less functional than Notes, and he knows that he can do things cheaper and with greater agility by looking elsewhere.
    ***
    Less functional than Notes ? I do wonder what Mark is comparing. Also the complexity, moving parts discussion is greatly taken out of proportion.
    What issues is Marks company faced with/ what solutions do they require ?
    I wanam confident that a Microsoft based solution can meet these requireents just as well with a simialr / less level of complexity and TCO.
    A little bit more context would do such a case no harm.

  2. I’ve been loosely following Mark’s work through my own involvement with this organisation, and await developments … if he can pull off setting up such a supporting infrastructure and getting it used will help the local centres leverage each other’s expertise much much better than they currently do where it is largely a series of islands
    appreciate the humour in the wording of the final para too!

  3. @Peter
    “Also the complexity, moving parts discussion is greatly taken out of proportion.”
    Show me a Microsoft solution that requires exactly one product, that can run on a single server, that can do any of the very basic things mentioned in this article.
    “I wanam confident that a Microsoft based solution can meet these requireents just as well with a simialr / less level of complexity and TCO.”
    “wanam” – was that supposed to be “I want to be confident” or “I am confident” ?
    Even if you could come up with your one Microsoft product solution, your one Windows server will be more costly to own than the one Linux server.

  4. @Peter
    Not the first time that you’ve tried to downplay the “complexity, moving parts” discussion, Peter. And I think it’s fairly obvious why you have to try and do so.
    “Well comparing the editors in ND8 against Office 2007 is apples and oranges”
    Agreed. But how many users actually need all the extra functionality that an full office suite gives them? Time and time again I see users fire up MS Word just to type a 3 line memo and then attach it to an email. Absolute madness!
    Yes, they won’t get “things like electronic forms” from the new ND8 editors, but then they don’t need them via that route because electronic forms are integral to the core Notes product. Please don’t tell me that you didn’t know that!
    Cheers,
    – Mike

  5. @ David,
    Thanks you will be my next port of call for spell checking :-D
    I am not claiming Microsoft solutions only need one product. I am claiming Microsoft solutions are not more complex IBM Workplace/NOtes/Domino/SameTime/Quickr/Websphere Portal/Domino.doc/Workplace Everywhere/Db2.
    I.e What problem is being solved, what solution is required
    @ Mike
    I fully agree that users who only use MS Word for 3 lines of text a day / week would not require MS Office. If in fact this is all they do, they would only need an email client and a compliance capable email server. I do wonder however how many employees in a companyfit this profile.
    Ofcourse this will largely depend on the type of company but it seems to boile down to the good old ‘task worker’ discussion.
    I would argue that even for example a “task worker” managing a machine on the factory floor would requires up to the minute acurate information / processes information beyond just 3 lines of text a day …
    I honoustly wonder how many companies will go for stripped down text / spreadsheet / presentation capability. Are you converted yet ?

  6. Peter, I think Mike/Nathan’s point is, Notes 8 has been in public beta for four months, yet your position on what the editors can do sounds like it is from someone unfamiliar with the depth/breadth of the editor capability. You might want to getnd8now (http://lotus.com/getnd8now ) and check it out. Don’t worry, we don’t prevent @microsoft.com addresses from downloading the public beta :)

  7. We have multipage technical documents in Open office including diagrams and charts. The functionality is certainly not stripped down. For those who need specialised functionality in MS OFfice, we provided it. Mostly it’s MS Word, which you cannot seem to purchase by itself unless you pay an outragegeous sum of money for it.
    I’ve found that regardless of training, few people are confortable using embedding & linking techniques beyound the simplest situations. When they leave or move on, the next person finds a different way to accomplish the same thing.

  8. @Peter – I think you’re missing one of the core features of Notes and Domino. You don’t *need* external editors to do day to day work because Notes applications are self-contained.
    In Notes content can be created using native rich text capabilities, and Notes views can do calculations on the fly. These two features alone limit the number of people who need word processing or spreadsheet applications. Yes, if you want to do data analysis you need a tool, but on average this is limited to a small percentage of users (depending on the company).
    You say that a Microsoft environment is no less complicated than Lotus and the moving parts are similar. Okay, let’s do a project discussion application that’s only used by internal employees.
    Lotus:
    Notes for client
    Domino for server
    Microsoft:
    IE for client
    Windows Server 2003*
    Exchange Server
    Sharepoint Server
    Microsoft SQL Server
    * With the Microsoft approach you also need to configure Sharepoint Services and IIS, which are both bundled with Windows Server 2003. I didn’t include an OS with the Lotus solution because Domino is not platform-specific.
    I’m honestly getting a little tired of this knee-jerk irrational zealot response. At least I’m *trying* a Microsoft solution before I discard it. Have you actually spent any time working with a Notes and Domino environment before you started attacking it?

  9. @Discussion about Office v. Productivity Tools and Compliance
    Microsoft Office and the IBM Productivity Tools are not the same, but are functionally equivalent for the vast majority of people and the problems they are trying to solve. Where there are sophisticated problems to solve, each product has its merits and audience. For example, for someone who needs to do presentations with mixed media, many types of transitions, and advanced programmatic logic internal to the presentation itself, PowerPoint is more appropriate.
    As for Compliance, both the Microsoft and Lotus solutions can be compliant when used appropriately. Lotus Notes 8 (including the Productivity Editors) and Domino 8 with IIUI Records Manager Express (a native Domino spplication that operates on multiple client and server platforms) are DOD CERTIFIED the same as Microsoft Outlook with Exchange with Office 2007 with SQL Server with SharePoint 2007 with Records Center with Advanced DOD Records Pack. Both solutions meet the same STD-5015.2 standard and the Microsoft solution was certified only one month after the IBM/IIUI solution.
    Both solutions have their merits, strengths, and weaknesses. To imply that only one vendor solution will meet a particular need is myopic and foolish. An evaluation on the true system cost, including evaluation of current systems and skills, along with the cost of migration, implementation, training, hardware, software, supplemental skills, and support over the lifetime of the system should be conducted when the need is identified, validated, and has legitimate merit.

  10. “Have you actually spent any time working with a Notes and Domino environment before you started attacking it?”
    Charles, I would guess we already know the answer to that question. ;-)

  11. And lets not forget that the Microsoft Office Suite can be integrated into Notes applications on an “OLE/COM component-by-component” basis, the same as can be done with OpenOffice, WordPerfect, and the IBM Productivity Tools (though the last is slated for ND 8.0.1). So where the explicit functionality is needed, it can be incorporated. I don’t think the Microsoft offerings are designed to do that on anything but a Microsoft platform.
    At least with the ND platform, one has an array of options which can be balanced and altered in a variety of OSes and with a variety of foreign platforms.

  12. Notes is an insanely great product for dealing with mid sized businesses or small work group orientated larger organizations. It shines the brightest when dealing with solutions that cover hundreds but not thousands of users, it databases deal best with tens of thousands, but not millions of records. Its a one stop shop email, database, and development platform that can offer extreme license savings as well as well fitting custom applications.
    Linux also works well in the mid range providing top performance with low costs.
    Microsoft solutions by comparison usually require more servers, longer development cycles, more software licenses, and don’t really shine unless you’ve a diverse flora of MS technologies deployed.
    Its true its that Notes and Linux Admins and Developers tend to cost more per hour than MS equivalents. However a mid sized business willing to pay a bit more for talent can deploy Linux and Notes and recoup the added payroll in far lower licensing costs. Meanwhile providing better tailored solutions.
    This is not to say Notes doesn’t work in large business. However large organizations with an armies of cheap admins and developers are the place Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM enterprise solutions are the most competitive.
    Its promising to see IT leaders like Mark choosing solutions that fit. To many times IT managers are not critical enough thinkers to make wise solution choices.

  13. @Brian
    “Its true its that Notes and Linux Admins and Developers tend to cost more per hour than MS equivalents. However a mid sized business willing to pay a bit more for talent can deploy Linux and Notes and recoup the added payroll in far lower licensing costs.”
    It’s not just licensing costs that Linux businesses would save. They’ll likey save on their support staff too, because they wouldn’t need so many servers in the first place. E.g
    Q: “Why have we got so many MS support staff?”
    A: “Because we have a lot of Windows servers?”
    Q: “So, why do we have so many Windows servers”
    A: “Well, we have a lot of staff expertise in that area…”
    Plus, I’ll wager that there will be an increase in quality of staff too. This is a case where you truly do get what you pay for. The basic problem here is that you can bullshit your way as a Windows Admin just by knowing a few of the buttons to push when it goes wrong. Although I’m sure that there are plenty of good Windows admins out there, I’ve run into an awful lot of bad ones; and their approach to any kind of server problem is to follow the following five steps, in order:
    1) Restart the application
    2) Reboot the box
    3) Re-install the application + patches.
    4) De-install the application, then re-install it + patches
    5) Format the OS partition, re-install Windows from scratch + patches. Re-install the application from scratch + patches.
    If none of that fixes the problem then they’re generally out of ideas. The amazing thing about this process – although it’s accepted as perfectly normal in the Windows world – is that at no point are they ever likely to find out what the original problem was!! How often do people reformat *nix boxes because of application problems, I wonder?
    Your Linux people may cost more, but they will know their stuff and will serve you better than an army of MSCE zombies.
    Cheers,
    – Mike

  14. @Peter
    “I am claiming Microsoft solutions are not more complex IBM Workplace/NOtes/Domino/SameTime/Quickr/Websphere Portal/Domino.doc/Workplace Everywhere/Db2.”
    The point is that while an IBM solution CAN be complex, depending on the problem being solved, it does not HAVE to be as is demonstrated in this particular case since it can be achieved with a single product.
    But ANY Microsoft solution, that even tries to get remotely close to providing these basic capabilities, is orders of magnitude more complex. There is no easy option, regardless of the problem being solved, with the MS stack.

  15. In response to Peter’s questions.
    First up, ND8 productivity tools versus Office 2007 – No comparison was made or will be made. The fact is that in my experience (not only within ‘The Firm’ but also in NZ & Europe), 80% of people don’t use half of the features available to them in their Office productivity suite (regardless of what it was). The majority are pretty much RTF only and the inclusion of tables, styles, columns & other formatting elements have come from a template designed and developed by someone else. This isn’t to say there is no need for more advanced tools, just that it is limited.
    Now for comparing Domino to MS – Out of the box with Domino (one product) we can not only very quickly (without a Domino developer) create information repositories specific to a task. For example, we needed to gauge how many of our centres (approx 220) would be interested in a new toolset. To achieve this we put together a survey in a Notes db and sent the link to all centres. This took about 2 hours to put together (remember this wasn’t a Notes developer). Now when people respond, we have the information in a format we can use, in a place we want and we can use that to trigger new processes – All without a Notes developer.
    While some of the features and tools we use from it (Document libraries, discussion db’s) may seem limited when compared with competitors products, they are all included in the price and license! We don’t need any additional products, servers or licenses. The feature set is rich and the potential to really add value to your organisation is unparalleled!

  16. In my view – Notes is OK for *small* businesses – and small(ish) applications. Notes/domino applications fit in the space between Microsoft Access and a full relational database – with all the downsides of MS Access.
    I’m currently working for an organisation that (supposedly) has the largest running notes/domino app in the world – they would get off the platform in a flash if they could. As with Microsoft Access “applications” – it started out small and grew in to a multi-headed monster. I can hear the chorus from the Notes proponents – “but it’s because it’s easy to develop that it’s still there”… yes, true – so is MS Access – but you still *shouldn’t* let organisations get to a point where it’s a mission critical app!… small organisations/small applications – fine. Anyone proposing Notes for more than that should be forced to support a large legacy notes application… or work in a large organisation where notes database creation has gone ferral and noone can find anything.
    I’m not saying the MS stack is better – my worry though is that if you’re friend is just discovering what Notes can do – he’s only about to discover what damage it can do.

  17. Hi Michael, very interesting interview..
    You would accept the opposite from a MS/Citrix specialist, and it’s good to know he sees what we’re all seeing for quite some time now – Lotus Notes is more powerful than the competition and enables a stronger messaging and collaboration environment for businesses.

  18. Well I’m a bit irritated about the statements made in here about the new Lotus Notes Productivity Tools and their capability.
    Let’s point it out clearly: The Productivity Tools are nothing less than the OpenOffice 2.x Core application Suite with detached components Presentation/Spredsheet/Documents with enhanced/IBM-revised r/w – Translators for Microsoft documents (considered to the OpenOffice Suite).
    In a past Lotus Notes 8 Day here in Hamburg/Germany a few weeks ago initiated by IBM Germany Hamburg, all the Powerpoint Presentations (even heavily animated complex types) were started out of Notes 8 Beta 3!
    I don’t know how many of your customers out there do far more than just some easy calculation spreadsheets, standard formatted documents etc.?
    Most (I mean more than 90%) of them don’t integrate data from an Access DB in their documents, they don’t use macros, etc.
    So why the he heck they should use Office 2007, learn to use a very new UI (or get courses for Office 2007), convert them to another new format and even pay for the extra licence generously?
    Agreed – to stay compatible you can install a licence of Office 2007 for those Attachements from governments (as long as they use non-iso formatted documents ;)) at sensitive workstations w/ external communication – or on a TS Server/an XP Pro Workstation w/remote Access?
    Office Productivity Tools aren’t featured software anymore.
    One big company wants to make us believe that the whole Groupware ‘Mambo’ has to be put around an XX Office ‘System’.
    If you buy a Notes8 Collaboration Express Licence, you get the Notes8 Client, the Openoffice Core integrated in Notes, Domino 8 Server, a Sametime IM Server for secure Intranet IM chat (not over a ‘famous’ Service Providers IM server ;-) and Quickr8 Personal Edition for improved system/web – based Intranet/Extranet File-Management-Experience (some also call that Sharepoint Services).
    Any further questions?

  19. Steve, your comments intrigue me on two points:
    1) Your organisation possibly runs the largest Notes/Domino app in the world? How do you even begin to know that?
    2) “In my view – Notes is OK for *small* businesses – and small(ish) applications. Notes/domino applications fit in the space between Microsoft Access and a full relational database – with all the downsides of MS Access.”
    I work for a company with > 120,000 users. I’d say we’re big. We use Notes, and have done for at least 15 years.
    Developing a decent Notes application is NOTHING like knocking something up in MS Access. I sincerely hope you were joking when you made that point.

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