Genii Weblog

Microsoft and IBM: Lumbering past in opposite directions

Mon 15 Jun 2009, 05:53 PM

by Ben Langhinrichs
It is a very strange thing to step back and look at the evolution of Outlook and Notes in the last major versions, especially with regards to email rendering.  In some ways, each has been racing to get where the other one was.  Microsoft Outlook 2003 used an IE rendering component to display emails as they were read.  This meant that HTML emails tended to render quite well.  IBM Lotus Notes 7 did not use a rendering component, but instead converted email to Notes rich text, and thus did not render well.  

But that's not the whole story.  

Microsoft customers complained and griped about Outlook 2003, because when they replied or forwarded an email, it was converted to MS Word format, and thus lost a lot of fidelity.  What they saw when reading was not what they saw when forwarding.  Customers shouted and screamed, and Microsoft felt compelled to respond.

Meanwhile, IBM customers complained and griped about Lotus Notes 7, because when read an HTML email, it looked horrible.  On the other hand, when they replied or forwarded an email, it looked the same (as it was sent, not as it was received), because the loss of fidelity had already happened when they read the email.  What they saw when reading was the same as what they saw when forwarding, and neither was great.  Customers shouted and screamed, and IBM felt compelled to respond.

Fast forward to Outlook 2007 and Lotus Notes 8/8.5.  Now, Notes uses an IE component to display emails, and they render quite well.  Outlook reads directly into Word format, and thus renders much less well, but at least the emails look the same when forwarded or replied to, even if it is the same lousy.

So, the two elephants have essentially switched places.  The interesting thing is the response.  Notes 8/8.5 is fairly widely accepted, with one of the fastest adoption rates of any recent Notes version.  Outlook 2007 is not well accepted, with the slowest adoption rate any Outlook update has ever had.  While neither approach is perfect, I think the market is saying that the IBM elephant is lumbering in a better direction.  (Of course, if there just happened to be a product that worked with Notes that made the forwarding and replying render properly too...)

Copyright 2009 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

822.1. Erik Brooks
(06/16/2009 03:37 AM)

Interesting points. I think though that the more-rapid adoption rate of Notes 8/8.5 versus Outlook is partially due to the fact that the user experiences of the prior versions of Notes were so much worse to begin with.

Like in Men In Black 2: "Old and busted..." (pause) "New hotness."

822.2. Ben Langhinrichs
(06/16/2009 03:45 AM)

Erik - I would guess you are correct. One point I meant to make but never got to in this was that the rendering in pre-8 Notes was really terrible, whereas the rendering in Outlook 2007 is just not great, so Microsoft wasn't really fragging people back to the Notes level of rendering. IBM, on the other hand, is providing a huge improvement with the IE component. The only dire problem for IBM is that the difference between the IE rendering and the reply/forward rendering is truly awful.

822.3. Erik Brooks
(06/16/2009 12:24 PM)

I actually didn't realize they did that in the Notes 8 client. What do they do with Mac and Linux? I wonder why they didn't use Firefox...

822.4. Erik Brooks
(06/17/2009 11:38 AM)

Thanks, Lance.