Lotus Notes -- Too much Hype !!!

Ravi Kalakota (kalakota@uts.cc.utexas.edu)
Thu, 8 Sep 1994 07:21:46 +0200


I have read all of the postings on Lotus Notes over the last month
both pro and con, but I'm still a little confused...

It seems to me that comparing Notes to WWW/Mosaic is sort of like comparing
trn program to the WWW. I want to make sure that my
understanding of what's going on is correct as a lot of hype going
around by certain people with vested interests (read Lotus Sales and
Marketing!!) which is clouding my brain.

Unless organizations understand the difference, we are going to
see a lot of spending on Notes (well most of it already spent) which might
be money down the drain. It horrifies me when I see organizations buy
5,000 to 10,000 copies of Notes. (Are you, MIS folks, nuts??) Understand
the technology first seems to be a vanishing philosophy.

First, let us compare Notes and WWW in terms of document architectures.

i)Notes uses the compound document architecture (CDA) of DEC,
which is probably the only implementation of Open Document
Architecture (ODA). CDA attempts to capture the structure of document
using a document application profile (DAP), similar to a template in Notes,
and the layout information and tranform them into a binary bit stream for
the purpose of document interchange between platforms. To do this it
uses the notion of memory aggregates which are encoded bit streams of
what the document contains and looks like. (See Byte 1992 -- Universal
Content Access for more info.)

WWW uses the concept of structured documents (separation of
logical structure from rendering information) popularized by GML
and later SGML. SGML provides a metalanguage capability for defining
document type definitions (DTD). HTML is a DTD which can be thought as
a specialized language for creating distributed hypertext applications.
The orientation of HTML is towards document interchange between
platforms + document exchange between various browsers + ability to
customize the document to a variety of output devices (Braille -- Books
for the Blind, different types of terminals -- X to tty based, audio) and
a host of other consumer devices.

In other words, exchange NOTES is like exchanging binary files, whereas
exchange HTML files is like passing source code around which can be
customized or even personalized to the environment you are working in
at that moment. This is a significant step forward that was never envisioned
by the world in 1984-90 timeframe when NOTES was conceptualized and built.

Another drawback of Notes is that CDA (according to a DEC Professional article)
cannot handle Hypertext links as these would be dropped in the
encoding process. Well, folks this is a major drawback of Notes that puts the
HTML on a different plane altogether.

2. Search and Retrieval: Notes can only allow content searching using
bit-pattern matching techniques. It is quite possible to use HTML
markup to do more sophisticated searches such as sub-tree retrieval,
because every HTML document is a tree, and even other sophisticated
methods that were developed in compiler theory that we have not
exploited in this environment.

We can also think of search in terms hypertext structures. Well I can go
on and on..

My point is that unless Notes does a major rewrite of its software
using SGML as the underlying document format, it is futile and pointless
to even compare the two.

I would appreciate if someone corrects and enhances my understanding
of what's going on.

Thanks for reading this far,

-- Ravi


Ravi Kalakota
Center for Information Systems Management
CBA 5.202, MSIS
University of Texas at Austin Phone: (512) 471 7962
Austin, Texas 78712-1175 email: kalakota@uts.cc.utexas.edu