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IBM kills Lotus name, but software, key players, live on
Thirty-one years ago, Mitch Kapor and Jonathan Sachs created a software program that would change the world: Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PC. But the company’s greatest and most successful product was Lotus Notes. IBM bought Lotus in 1995 and has kept the groupware product alive. However, in December IBM announced that it was removing the Lotus name from its Notes/Domino product line. We caught up with several Lotus pioneers to see what they’re doing today and how they feel about the end of the Lotus name.
Kapor was 32 years old when he founded Lotus 1-2-3. He had previously developed business programs for VisiCorp: VisiTrend (a statistics program) and VisiPlot (a program that generated business charts). But Kapor wanted more — he wanted a spreadsheet that would translate digits into graphs and calculate numbers at lightning speed, so he partnered with Jonathan Sachs to develop Lotus 1-2-3. Kapor raised $5 million (from investors) and, in January 1983, Lotus 1-2-3 became the No.1 software program on the planet.
Kapor is a partner at Kapor Capital, "an investment fund based in Oakland, Calif., that invests in seed stage IT companies that aspire to generate economic value and positive social impact." He's a board member at Level Playing Field Institute, which promotes innovative approaches to fairness in higher education and workplaces by removing barriers to full participation. He's also the founder and trustee of the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, an organization that works to ensure fairness and equity, particularly for low-income communities of color.
His response to the demise of the Lotus name: "I think 30 years was a really excellent run, and all things must pass.”
Jonathan Sachs was the co-founder of Lotus 1-2-3. He spent 10 months writing the program in Assembly. He did such an excellent job, the program was almost completely bug-free, lightning fast and extremely efficient. Sachs left Lotus in 1985. Currently, he owns a photo editing software program called Digital Light & Color. "I am mostly retired now," he says, "But have been involved with Digital Light & Color since around 1993, a company that produces photo editing software for Windows."
Ray Ozzie founded Iris Associates in December of 1984 to create the program Notes, along with Tim Halvorsen and Len Kawell, followed three months later by Steve Beckhardt. Iris and Lotus had an agreement from 1984 until Lotus acquired Iris in 1994. Iris was responsible for product development, and Lotus was responsible for marketing, sales, distribution, support, etc. According to Ozzie, the Lotus brand was, initially, all about desktop computing; it was about tools for personal empowerment and personal computing. With the advent of Notes, the Lotus brand grew to be inclusive of tools for interpersonal empowerment and collaborative work — things that today are regarded as “tools for social productivity."
"Currently, I am focused on a new startup called Talko that’s working on a new spin of my original passion — using technology to facilitate human interaction — but in a form that’s designed for today’s post-pc world of mobile devices and the web," says Ozzie. He was at Microsoft from 2005 to 2010. He became the Chief Software Architect in June 2006 — responsible for the company’s overall technical strategy and product architecture. From 1997 to 2005, Ozzie founded Groove Networks "to create personally-empowering, secure, mobile, ad hoc, decentralized collaboration software for both individuals and enterprises."
On the Lotus name going away: "It had a good run. I’m not surprised and it was a wise business decision," says Ozzie.
Halvorsen recalls that he, Ozzie and Len Kawell "were all friends from our college days, having all worked on the development team of a computer system at the University of Illinois called PLATO, which had a number of collaboration features.
At Iris, "We started out immediately designing and writing the first version of Lotus Notes,” says Halvorsen. "Ray and I worked on the low-level coding framework, as well as developing the Notes database."
Halvorson retired from the company in 2002. Since then, he’s worked at the board level with various startups. "I have recently joined a new startup called "Clear Ballot Group" as CTO and the primary designer," says Halvorsen. On the demise of the Lotus name: "I am not upset in the slightest."
Len Kawell was the third co-founder, co-designer, co-developer of the Lotus Notes project, and vice president of Iris Associates, Inc. in Westford, Mass., from 1985 to 1998. He was responsible for the ongoing development of the Lotus Notes Mail client and the server software. In addition, he developed and co-designed the Internet and TCP/IP-based protocols for the integration of the Notes and Domino products.
Kawell went on to co-found many, successful startups such as Iris Associates, Glassbook, and Pepper Computer. He's also founded or been involved with various corporate entrepreneurial teams such as Microsoft's Mobile Labs, Alchemy Ventures, and Digital Equipment's DECwest.
Bechhardt says, "I designed the original Notes Server. But I'm probably best known for designing the Notes replication system. I also worked on many other areas including encryption, networking, full text search, etc. After Ray Ozzie left in 1998, I took over as president of Iris Associates until I left to join IBM Life Sciences in 2000." He later worked with two RFID startups and is currently part of the software development team at Sonos, which makes a wireless HiFi system.
On the Lotus name: "I think Lotus is a great brand and has served IBM very well. However, IBM's acquisition of Lotus was 17 years ago, so it's probably time to move on and rebrand the products with the IBM brand," says Beckhardt.
Ray Ozzie and Larry Moore both credit Sheldon Laube as the main reason for Lotus Notes initial acceptance and success. Sheldon was Price Waterhouse's first CIO, responsible for improving client services through technology. He purchased 10,000 units the day before the official product release. Until mid-2012, he was Chief Innovation Officer for the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). He continues this work now as a consultant for various large enterprises across the globe.
Manzi was president of Lotus from October 1984 to 1995, and CEO from April 1986 until IBM's hostile takeover in 1995. "I think my record as CEO at Lotus is well documented already, as is my role in leading the company from a desktop software business which faced extreme competitive challenges to a new network-based business at the time that computer networks were just becoming important," says Manzi.
Since 1995, has been the chairman of StoneGate Capital Group; chairman of a web and voice conferencing company called Interwise; chairman of the board at Thermo Electron. In addition, he has served as a consultant, director, or board member for the following companies: Partners Healthcare; Flooz.com; McKinsey & Company; Gather; SOMA Networks; Continental Grain Company; Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston; plus he is as an active member of the Council on Foreign Relations; a member of the Advisory Committee of Business Breakthrough; and Trustee Emeritus of Colgate University.
On the Lotus name disappearing: "This is not something I am going to lose sleep about," says Manzi.
Gerstner was chairman and CEO of IBM from April 1993 until February 2002. He is credited for restoring IBM to its former glory. Gerstner grew the Lotus customer base from 2 million users to over 22 million users. In 1994, he co-authored a book titled "Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America's Public Schools". In 2001, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Gerstner the rank and title of Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) for his service to education and his contributions to the Internet.
Larry Moore was vice president and general manager of the Communications Products Division/Lotus Notes from 1988-1992 and the motivating force behind the release of Lotus Notes. His colleagues credit his management and marketing expertise for much of Notes initial success. One of his strategies included the creation of the Lotus Notes reseller channel. Today, Moore works with Halvorsen on the Clear Ballot Group project.
On the end of Lotus: "As to how I feel: a little sad but, in reality, the acquisition was in 1994, so it’s probably time," says Moore.
Lepofsky worked for IBM/Lotus from 1993-2007. He helped run the Notes/Domino customer council, was part of the product marketing team, worked with the business partner organization, and worked on the strategy team that helped share the future software products. More recently, Lepofsky was the director of product marketing at Socialtext, one of the pioneering "social business" startups. For the last 18 months, he has been vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, an organization that studies and provides efficiency methods for employees to adopt teamwork strategies to more effectively accomplish job tasks.
On the demise of the Lotus name: "I think it's an excellent move,’’ says Lepofsky.