Alas poor Lotus, we knew you well

The venerable brand Lotus is being retired. Our own David Gewirtz has been a member of the Lotus community for almost 20 years and shares his thoughts about Lotus, the brand, IBM, and the community.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

The time was sometime in 1992 or 1993, and I had just moved to New Jersey from California. Back then, I was a Mac guy, having just finished running a variety of HyperCard-related projects for Apple.


The phone rang. It was an IT manager for The New York Times. She had just gotten off the phone with Apple, and they sent her to me. She was using this new thing called Lotus Notes and she really wanted to get an Apple-like interface for their internal systems.

Now, you need to understand that this was before the Web. Notes, at the time, looked almost like Web pages would look a few years down the road. It was document-oriented, had data-entry fields that rolled as your scrolled the page, and objects were often tied to the text, not the user interface. It wasn't the Web, but in retrospect, it's interesting to recall that Notes had something of the feel of Web pages, before any such thing existed.

As it turned out, there was no real way to give the New York Times Notes installation the feel of an Apple product. But as an outgrowth of talking to her, I was curious about this Lotus Notes thing. If they could run the New York Times on it, it might have some legs.

I started digging, and though it was relatively new (version 2.0 was out at the time), a bunch of very major organizations were relying on it. Think of Lotus Notes back then as a networked, multi-user, highly secured Evernote, and you've got a rough idea of what it did.

The point is, though, that there was very little information about Lotus available. There had only been one book written, there were no newsletters, and, of course, there was no Web.


That's when I started getting to know the Lotus world, and the Notes industry (as young as it was). I had just been approached by one of the leading tech industry book agents to write a tech book. I pitched the idea of a Lotus Notes book, and it got picked up by a publisher. Lotus Notes 3.0 was due out in a year, and so it was time to get writing.

In 1995, IBM bought Lotus for $3.5 billion. This was before the world of billion dollar valuations, and the Lotus purchase was big. Since then, the Lotus brand grew, IBM added Lotus Domino (the server-side of the Notes equation), and Lotus became known for collaboration.

I went on to become editor of Workspace for Lotus Notes, The Notes Report, The Notes Enthusiast, and then DominoPower Magazine, which I launched in 1998 and has been publishing daily ever since.

Each January, there was a gathering of the Lotus faithful in Orlando called Lotusphere. I started going when I lived in New Jersey, and not only was it an opportunity to meet with all the innovators working on collaboration software, it was a way to escape the winter cold. Even after I moved here to Florida seven years ago, I've still gone almost every year (I missed the year when I got married on the same week).

I've probably been to 14 or 15 Lotuspheres over the years. As cell phones became dominant, we blew out the local networks as thousands of geeks converged on the Disney Dolphin hotel. As WiFi became dominant, we blew out the network feeds that could be brought into the hotel, until IBM finally decided they needed to build an enterprise-class network for a one-week event.

The big thing, to me, about Lotus has always been the people and the companies at the heart of the Lotus community. We talk a lot about community, but these people are innovators, entrepreneurs, and some of the best enterprise technical experts in the world.


When I heard a report about how the White House had moved from Notes to Outlook, I realized not everything was as it seemed and wound up undertaking a two year investigation that eventually resulted in the book Where Have All The Emails Gone?.

In 2008, when Darrell Issa (who is now the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee) compared Lotus Notes to wagon wheels, I reported the story, which got picked up nationally. I woke early the next morning with my phone ringing off the hook, IBMers wanting to know if Issa could really have said that. I'm told he was explained the error of his ways.

I've been an entrepreneur since the late 1980s, and except for the past four or five years, when I've had the opportunity to spend more time teaching and writing, Lotus has loomed large in my life. For 15 years, from about 1993 to about 2008 or so, I could trace the majority of my income to my work as the editor of the leading Lotus-related publications.

I, like so many thousands of other entrepreneurs, developers, IT professionals, and businesses small and large have been able to support our families because of Lotus products and their value to the businesses who rely upon them.

Then, last week, IBM's Ed Brill quietly announced on his blog the sunsetting of the Lotus brand. Notes and Domino will be with us for quite some time (after all, so many companies rely on these workhorses), but the Lotus brand is officially now one with history.

UPDATE: There was some reader confusion. IBM Notes and Domino will continue, it's just the Lotus brand name that's being retired.

It's weird to feel a little choked up over a brand. But the name "Lotus" has been such a huge, positive factor in my life and the life of so many of my peers over the years that seeing it go creates a little catch in my throat.

I am hoping that the Lotus community (oh, I guess that's now the "IBM collaboration community") will continue the thrive, as will the products. But Lotus was something very special and it will be missed.

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