Let me first start by stating that this article is in no way intended to convince you to move from Lotus Notes to Exchange. I’m well aware that the world is divided into two (equal?) camps: one for Lotus Notes and the other for Exchange. And it seems that they’re continuously fighting each other trying to prove that their respective platform is better than the other. Just Google (or Bing) for “Lotus Notes vs. Exchange”. You’ll be surprised of some of the rubbish you might find out there…!

This article is none of that (or at least as little as possible). In fact, as an Exchange-minded person; let me start by telling you some things I like about Lotus Notes: it’s flexible. Over the years, I have seen some pretty nice solutions that were built with (and around) Lotus Notes. As far as my experience goes, there’s not much that it won’t allow you to customize (or overwrite). It also has got some features like recurring meetings with alternating dates (a feature that I would very much like to see integrated in Outlook!). And in some wicked way, I like the simplicity and flexibility of the file structure: each mailbox is a database in its own right and represented by a single file (nsf) that you can place pretty much anywhere you want: including NAS storage.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen some nice solutions built with (and around) Exchange. Going from workflows in Exchange Server 2003 (using CDO for Workflow) to some pretty nifty things with SharePoint.

My point here is that both systems have their qualities and unique selling points. Don’t try to compare them: it can’t be done.

Why do people migrate?

I cannot ignore the fact that over the past few years I’ve seen my share of migrations to Microsoft Exchange. Why is that?

As a consultant, you hear the wildest stories. Sometimes it seems that any excuses is good to move away from Lotus Notes: “Cost”, “Interoperability”, “Manageability”, “Following the market”, “the CEO doesn’t like the client” and my favorite “I want my new mail to appear on top”. From the aforementioned reasons, I believe “Manageability” to be the root of all evil (from IBM’s point-of-view at least). I don’t know the numbers, but the amount of knowledgeable Lotus Notes admins must have been declining (rapidly!)…

All in all, every migration starts with a reason. There has to be a reason. If you can’t find a reason to migrate then don’t. Simple!

In my personal opinion, there are several reasons why a lot of companies are moving away from Lotus Notes (to Exchange). First of all, Lotus Notes is not a messaging platform. It’s a application/development platform that offers mail capabilities. And although Lotus Notes does a pretty good job at handling mail. Exchange (in my opinion) simply does it better.

Lotus Notes, however, can do some nice tricks with regards to applications that Exchange simply cannot. And while that might speak in favor of Lotus Notes, this is the area where Exchange (actually the customer) usually relies on external platforms like SharePoint.

And while it’s said: SharePoint is probably another reason why people are moving away from Lotus Notes. Let’s face it, more and more (obviously not all) companies are embracing the capabilities of SharePoint. The fact that it integrates nicely with all other (Microsoft) applications you’re already using, is probably a huge selling point over Lotus Notes. I like to compare it a bit with the discussion of iPhone versus Windows Phone. Although both platforms are good (great?), Apple has the benefit of the nr of Apps and that’s why it’s so popular. SharePoint has more 3rd-party apps, plugins and cool stuff than Lotus Notes. It used to be different though…The difference here is that Microsoft is really trying to do something about it, whereas in the Lotus Notes vs. Exchange case I got the feeling that IBM acquiesces in the way things seem to go. Perhaps my perception is a little off: I don’t follow up Lotus Notes as closely as I do for Exchange. But in quite a lot of the cases, perception is reality….

As you can see, the reason to move away from Lotus Notes is rarely only because of email. Most of the time, it are the applications that inflict a migration.

About migrations

Now, let me move on and tell you a bit of my experiences in such migrations. If you already made the decision to move from Lotus Notes to Exchange, the following part is definitely something for you!

Know that Lotus Notes and Exchange are two totally different platforms. Other than the fact that they both offer you “mail-alike-capabilities” they have very little in common. Having two totally different systems inflict problems of their own.

You could compare it to two people talking a totally different language: English and Chinese. If you want to make them understand each other you either make them learn the language (that’s what standards are for!) or you use an interpreter.

A migration is very much the same: you usually need (3rd party) tools to help you get from one side to the other. Of course, you could make an attempt of ‘forcing’ both systems to speak to one another (like using sign language in the English~Chinese example); but then you’ll have to settle for limited functionality.

Let me clarify by using a quite common scenario. Office 365 offers a so-called IMAP migration which you could use to move email from Lotus Notes to Exchange. It works fine but you’d have to settle with some limitations (no PABs, no Archives, …) very much like the sign-language scenario.

Or you could use a tool (Quest, Migration Wiz, Binary Tree,…) to help you migrate. The tool is the interpreter. They offer more flexibility and a better experience (you can move PAB’s, Archives, etc.…) but there’s an additional cost.

The key difference between a human interpreter and the software-version (migration tool), apart from the one being alive and the other just some code, is that you still need a whole lot of planning before you can actually think of migrating. Every migration requires planning, you all know that. But as I see it, migrations from Lotus Notes to Exchange require that little extra: you have to take into account the key differences in how both platforms work. Server- and client side!

  • On the server side, you might have a Domino running on top of AS/400. The mail files might be fragmented all over your network, the approach to security is different, you might have unique (custom) functions that you require and you need to find an appropriate solution for (usually 3rd party), …
  • The client side might even be a greater challenge: mail file encryption (which is btw ridiculously easy!), multiple personal address books, multiple archives (in different locations) and an end-user’s experience (read: end-user’s expectations).

While the technical differences between both platforms might imply changes in architecture or a change in the way you manage your environment, the changes in the user-interface might require you to start worrying about your productivity: think about the impact a change in the client might have for your end-users! Outlook doesn’t offer itself a a UI refresh compared to Lotus Notes. It’s a total overhaul of your end user’s workplace!

It’s very likely that Lotus Notes and Outlook are the two tools that are most used throughout the day. If your users are accustomed to working with Lotus Notes it might be wise of you to train them on Outlook. Hell! It’s almost mandatory. I’ve seen some pretty weird things happen on a day after a migrations with bad- or under-trained end users…On the positive side: your users are probably already working with Outlook at home!

Manage the expectations!

Outlook just isn’t the same. It offers great value, but you (and your users) must face the fact that some things just aren’t possible anymore.

Expect to lose some data. In every migration, there’s always that one (or more) message(s) that have been sitting in the user’s mailbox for ages without being touched; corrupted for whatever reason. Even though the user has already long forgotten about the message, chances are they will make your life difficult. Be sure that you’re prepared for such situation. And above all, explain them the item was corrupted to start with 🙂

Do I discourage moving to Exchange/Outlook? No. On the contrary! Although it’s likely that your productivity will suffer the first couple of days after the migration; we usually see a (huge) increase afterwards with a lot of happy faces as a result (both CxO-level and end-users).

To coexist or not?

Absolutely not! (Unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise, of course.) Anything other than mail flow between both systems should be avoided at all cost! If you do opt for coexistence, it will cost you money. And it will complicate things. That’s something you don’t want: adding complexity to something that’s already complex.

There are some beautiful solutions out there: Quest Coexistence Manager for Notes (CMN) for example. Nonetheless, the extra effort (setup, testing, managing) and – in my opinion – limited added functionality really make coexistence a last resort.

Most of the time, we only see coexistence deployed in scenario’s where the old (Lotus Notes) environment continues to live on for a while (perhaps waiting for it’s applications to get translated into SharePoint, who knows?)


Am I saying you should use a tool? Yes. If you’re looking for a ‘quick and dirty’ way to move from one side to the other, I’m pretty sure you’ll find a way without using additional tooling. But if you want to do things right: you’ll need a tool. Period.


In this (rather long) article, I’ve only scratched the surface of what a migration entails. I haven’t talked about all details nor have I talked about all the different options and tools. But I hope that – for those thinking to migrate or already having made the decision – the article can provide some insights and refreshing thoughts.

Rest assured: I see a lot of these migrations come to an happy ending; usually the ones where a lot of time was spent on analyzing, planning and validating… 😉

Just remember: changing from Lotus Notes to Exchange is more than only changing a system. Try to look at it in a holistic way:  it’s also about changing your operations, even more important: your mindset.