IBM Lotus Notes / Domino versus Microsoft SharePoint

To gain a full understanding of this crucial product comparison it is first of all important to know the perspective of the person writing this kind of Lotus Notes versus SharePoint comparison. Is he working for or partial to a certain vendor?
This is my background. I started as a Domino consultant back in 1996 and know from direct first hand experience exactly what Domino can do. However, because the Domino market is declining rapidly I recently started working with SharePoint too.
Early in 2014 I was hired to migrate a large company from Notes apps to SharePoint apps and am responsible for the SharePoint development. After 10 months hard work I think I am starting to understand what Microsoft is intending to do with SharePoint. The bottom line is based on real world work experience I feel highly qualified to write a useful comparison of these two products. I would not claim one is significantly better than the other, that really depends on each particular client and their specific requirements. After reading this post you will have a good understanding of the differences between Notes/Domino and SharePoint. I am not going to address comparison information details about the products related to pricing and organizational aspects, preferring the focus on the technical capabilities and unique features and benefits of each platform.
Lets start with a bold statement: With Domino you get nothing but can code anything whereas with SharePoint you get everything but can code nothing. You might disagree, so let me explain.

Integration

The way Office applications like Microsoft Word integrate with SharePoint is simply stunning, far better than you will ever get in Domino web or Notes client apps.
For example, in SharePoint you have a list with Word files in an enhanced rich text field. The user has this item on the screen in read mode. They click on one of the Word files and Word opens; after pressing the enable edit button the user can make changes to the Word document, then simply close Word and the updated file is stored in the SharePoint item.
When version control is enabled you will see immediately the new version and the previous version is stored as well. This all works out of the box, simple by enabling version control in the list. In a Notes app this office integration is not there (except for right click and edit, which regularly fails for many users). You might choose to purchase additional solutions to get this integration working to a degree, but it will never work as seamlessly as with SharePoint.
Integration means more than just Office integration. Many third party vendors now support integration of their solutions with SharePoint but not for Domino. Dell, for example, sells quick apps for SharePoint allowing users to add apps to pages that can do various things (graphs, views). It is hard for me to imagine that this can be done in Notes or Domino apps purely because IBM does not deliver an environment that users can use to add and configure apps simply by clicking their way to success.

Out Of The Box

With SharePoint you get a lot of features right out of the box. You will find many options you can enable or disable to do many different things. For example workflows, field validation, several types of views (boxed for example), export to xls, alerts on a list, library to store files, the ribbon is there no need to program save and close buttons, recycle bin, design apps with browser and more). Enabling version control is just a simple click in the browser, whereas with Notes or Domino apps version control must either be developed or you have to buy something off the shelf to do versioning for you, but the Notes or Domino versioning will never work as seamlessly as with SharePoint.
What is offered by a Domino server out of the box? Well, not so much; you get a Notes client with an unmanaged hidden bookmarks page everybody unhides and a few useless Notes database templates. But it is not all sorrow for IBM Notes. With IBM you do get out of the box mail which SharePoint does not offer. Of course a Domino server and the Notes client offers many features and functions, but these are not Out of the Box, you will need administrators and developers to get these things going for you.

User Clients

With SharePoint there is only one client – the internet browser; it is used by the users to do their work. The app owner/developers use the browser to develop and adjust the apps and the admins use the browser to configure SharePoint. Rolling out a browser to their users PCs is much easier for companies compared with rolling out Notes clients.
The SharePoint browser interface is great; users will see immediately which apps they have access to and all apps will automatically look the same because SharePoint will make sure of this.
The Notes client is a very rich client compared with the browser; it has many keyboard shortcuts, it allows user to copy paste anything to everywhere and it’s very fast compared with the browser. With the Notes client users can make local replicas of the Notes databases (a bit techie though and not used much these days) and have access to Notes mail.
Maintaining the Notes client in large enterprises will cost more than maintaining a browser. Clients might choose to purchase additional solutions to maintain the Notes clients. Upgrading a Notes client is not very straight forward and you will face significant challenges. Notes users must be trained in using the Notes client.
For SharePoint browser users this might not be needed to such an extent compared to Notes client users. Let’s not forget to mention that with the Domino server you can develop browsers apps as well, so you could set up a browser only Domino environment with Domino browser apps for the majority of your users. However, in this scenario you will have to do a lot of Domino development in order to reach the level out of the box features SharePoint offers.

Custom Coding Designer Tools

With Domino you get nothing and you can code anything. When you have a Domino server you can develop and run Notes client applications almost without limits from a functions point of view.
The Domino server is a Java server as well, meaning you can develop anything. Domino is a great web server and with XPages the best web applications can be built. I have seen and built Notes, Java and web applications that are absolutely stunning. Almost all this Domino development is done with a truly great and mature Domino designer client (except for the pure Java programs). The Domino server runs these apps without complaining, with perfect scalability and without upgrading issues.
Of course you can also develop anything with SharePoint but, because SharePoint has so much out of the box stuff, the out of the box approach will actually slow down and limit the custom develop you want to do.
If you choose to do custom coding in these out of the box apps you will go into dangerous terrain. For example, in a Notes app you can control a lot of what happens on a Notes form simply because the Notes form is designed for this. You have many controls like post open events where you are free to program what you like.
The same is not possible in SharePoint because there is no out of the box feature available. If the app you want to create has too many functions not available out of the box you will have to custom code it from scratch in c# which is a awful lot of work because there is not much there to start with compared to Domino.
You will notice that the SharePoint designer tools are not mature compared with the Domino designer. Part of the out of the box development is done in the browser; for other work you will need to use SharePoint designer; when developing forms you will need third party apps because Infopath is killed by SharePoint.
So looking at the designer clients I feel Microsoft has to do a lot of work compared with IBM. Writing this I realise that SharePoint is not meant to do much custom coding simply because Microsoft does not supply the tools for this work compared with IBM.
Security
I will not say Domino is more secure then SharePoint or the other way around. I do think Domino offers better security features compared with SharePoint. In Notes and Domino developers use reader fields to restrict who can see particular Notes documents in the Notes database. Yes, the same can be done in SharePoint with special permissions. But in Domino you can program anything to manage the reader fields and who is member of this field. In SharePoint you will not be able to manage out of the box the special permissions if the list is longer than 50 documents and in SharePoint you can not develop code to manage the special permissions making the special permissions hard to use. I should not forget to mention the Domino author fields, the controlled access section, the Notes client ID file which is more secure then username password in SharePoint.
Other Stuff
There are many more areas where these two products differ. Each app on Domino is stored in one NSF file; this is so handy with backup, restore, upgrade, copy paste docs and design elements, and so on, but performance problems arise with NSF is when file become large in size (GB’s).
SharePoint stores everything in one SQL database (not sure if you can use multiple SQL dbs though). You will have sizing issues there as well. Upgrading SharePoint to the next release is a nightmare compared with a Domino upgrade which is simple, basically Next, Next, Next and done.
Both systems offer all the standards you might need in today’s environments like clustering, fail over, scalability and so on, but these are all very technical items which will not be considered when the CEO chooses between SharePoint or Domino.

In Conclusion

Let’s go back to my opening statement. “With Domino you get nothing and you can code anything – with SharePoint you get everything and can code nothing”. Of course you get more than nothing in Domino, but this stuff is not so very important. And of course you can code more than nothing in SharePoint, but this is also not so important because it is very difficult to do. I feel that these two items cancel each other out and result in zero, so this lead me to the conclusion – the above statement is a fact and everybody will understand what it means.
marten@lialis.com, 10-2014