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What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?

By Andrew Pollack on 04/03/2009 at 09:59 AM EDT

In a side conversation this week, I was talking with some people about what kinds of things might increase the size and power of the Domino community. I've heard some suggestions that are pretty radical but I don't think its necessary to go so far.

If the goal is to increase and empower the community, I think the best place to start is the community. Think of the Domino community in two or three levels. First, there's a sort of loud, showy, dog and pony show blogger community. I'm in it, some of you are as well. Aside from being complete ASW's (let's say that stands for 'extrovert' and leave it at that) the thing most of us have in common is access to our own servers and client tools to work with things outside the bounds of a controlled corporate project environment. A much larger community exists inside the corporate firewalls. This group doesn't have the tools to play with new things on zero day. They read the blogs and go to the seminars but don't get to touch code for years.
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That's where my suggestion comes in. I believe one of the smartest uses of funds IBM could apply to marketing, would be providing a client and server license to the many internal developers and admins who work day to day inside the corporate I.T. departments. In an ideal world, they'd make available a hosted virtual machine -- maybe a linux vm pre-configured with a Domino server installed and waiting for connection from the remote-setup tool. That could be easily done since in Linux the server doesn't run with super-user access. A web browser accessible restart mechanism could easily kill the processes and restart the Domino part of the server, and tftp or scp access to the data file system would be easy as well.

The goal of the program would be to give the army of corporate I.T. people access to set up web sites and blogs, and to test developing with the latest and greatest tools long before those tools had been rolled out at work. How many Domino developers would love to try out XPages but at work they're still running version 7 or earlier?

With a few hours lead time, it would be pretty easy to pre-configure a Linux virtual machine with an installed Domino partition that would be easy to user-recover in the event of a crash (which is inevitable when developers start playing with Java agents). Hosting could get expensive depending on how many took the offer, but not excessively so. They don't need dedicated servers. A dedicated partition on a virtual server with limited processor allocation would fine for the purpose. In fact, distributing that vm to be used with the free vmware player on a workstation would work as well to start for many, and leave the door open for those who wanted to upload their vm onto public hosting if they wanted to carry that cost.

What do you think? Are you a corporate developer that would use something like this?

If IBM would make it legal to do so, I'd be happy to create the pre-configured linux based VM's and instructions on how to run them on a workstation.


There are  - loading -  comments....

re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Jim Casale on 04/03/2009 at 11:07 AM EDT
"This group doesn't have the tools to play with new things on zero day. They
read the blogs and go to the seminars but don't get to touch code for years."

That may be true for some but I also think there are some that think of their
job as 9 to 5 and don't want to learn anything new. Heck, I'm in a tightly
controlled environment (I don't even have Manager access to my mail file and
I'm the Admin) but I find ways to play with the new toys coming out. I even do
some coding on my own just to learn how the "other" side lives :-)

I do like your idea though...I would even suggest it could be used to attract
developers outside the bubble. Maybe give away some training with the
preconfigured VM too
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Andrew Pollack on 04/03/2009 at 11:42 AM EDT
Absolutely agree that this won't be for all developers -- just an avenue for
those who want to do it.
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Ed Maloney on 04/03/2009 at 02:57 PM EDT
If you look at what Adobe is doing with Flex (which you may have noticed is
attracting a great deal of attention in the Domino community), you will see
what is missing for prospective Domino developers. Adobe has a free version of
Flex and a time-limited edition of the professional edition. They also have a
free developer edition of ColdFusion server that is restricted to 1 IP
address. To top it off they have abundant free on-line tutorials. Add to this
a large number of 3rd party books on the subject available at any book store.
Okay, now look at what's available to someone who wants to learn more about
Notes. First they have to figure out why it's called Domino half the time and
then it really gets confusing. If you aren't exposed to Notes development at
work, it is very unlikely that you'll get very far on your own.
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Richard Moy on 04/03/2009 at 11:30 AM EDT
Andrew,

If you want to grow the Lotus community, giving developers access to tools is
one of these steps. However, the main focus is getting companies to embrace
the Notes and Domino platform and get them to understand how they can benefit
from the Domino technology. The key is small businesses and there lies the
problem. IBM has always been a top down company while Microsoft and others
have been a bottom up company. What I mean by this is that IBM main focus has
always been the large enterprise business and small businesses is secondary.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's has focused on small businesses and then towards
enterprise businesses. It might not be as true these days, but the cultural
and perspection is engrained into businesses and customers. The joke at our
office is that if you encounter a bug that has been around for a few versions,
the reason it has not been fixed it that no enterprise customer is using that
feature. Without getting small businesses to embrace the technology, it will
be hard to grow the Lotus community outside of the companies already using the
product.

On the development side, I have been recently working with Adobe products
especially Flex and I am impressed by Adobe's initiatives and the grow of
developers using their products. They have Eclipse-based toolsets and it is a
open source environment. What would help IBM is roll out Designer as an
Eclipse plug-in. That would get millions of existing developers already
familiar with Eclipse to start developing for the Domino environment. I
suggest that they make it for free and maybe charge for a more advanced
version. Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't Microsoft just made the
Sharepoint Designer free.
What I fear about a wider distributionBy Andrew Pollack on 04/03/2009 at 11:44 AM EDT
What I fear about just tossing the the tools and server out there at no charge
to a community of developers who's not using them at work and doesn't have any
experience, is that its not a tool you just pick-up and code for.

On the one hand, its a very sharp tool and very powerful. On the other hand,
its complex and unusual in its design methods. Without context, I think the
result could be fairly negative.
re: What I fear about a wider distributionBy Richard Moy on 04/03/2009 at 11:55 AM EDT
Andrew,

I agree that Designer and Domino paradigm is different from other stuff, but
that where a good education process is a requirement. Unfortunately, the
educational material from IBM is not there which is another issue. There is no
free training video or anything for developers, like Adobe has for Flex which
has help me quite a bit.
re: What I fear about a wider distributionBy Jim Casale on 04/03/2009 at 12:01 PM EDT
Which is why I suggest to include some basic training with the
offering...enough for them to get an basic understanding of how it works
re: What I fear about a wider distributionBy Andrew Pollack on 04/03/2009 at 12:10 PM EDT
All well and good, but now you've got from something that can be done at low
cost and with quick turnaround, and turned it into an expensive and time
consuming educational outreach.

I agree, better documentation and education is critical. It has also proven
extremely elusive for many years.
re: What I fear about a wider distributionBy Richard Moy on 04/03/2009 at 12:26 PM EDT
Andrew,

Whether, IBM likes it or not, the educational outreach has been totally lacking
and what there is not great. Without this approach you can talk forever about
how great Domino is and how great the TCO and developers will not come. We who
are in the community need to step aside and look at others view point of the
industry and how Domino fits in.
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Martin on 04/03/2009 at 12:08 PM EDT
I think the problem isn't in the equipment but in time. As far as I remember
some clients, there wasn't any problem (or just minimal) to set up a new
machine for playing, but they didn't have time for trying new stuff. Or they
didn't feel like doing it :)
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By tom on 04/03/2009 at 01:18 PM EDT
The biggest mistake Lotus/IBM ever did was separating the designer from the
client. People are using Microsoft Access/Excel to make their applications
because they can. Sure... they're crappy applications but at least they can
build them. Removing the "common folk" from designing Notes applications
prevented so many groups from experimenting and seeing what Domino could
actually do. So many of those groups created crappy applications and would ask
us to make them better.

Now, people are still making Excel and Access apps and when they run into
trouble... it's a .NET project (that takes 1200 hours to build).

If the common folk could use Lotus Notes (again) I think we might see an
uprising of developers. Until then, IT Governance will slow us down.
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Keith Brooks on 04/03/2009 at 02:12 PM EDT
Funny, I have been doing this for years, but don't need anything more than the
PC in front of me which I load Domino on, purely for testing appearance.
Loading multiple clients on a PC is also easy enough, why do they need
someplace else to do it?
In most companies there is no shortage of unused equipment(especially,sadly,
these days) so my instinct says time is the problem, aside from just lack of
interest.
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Adam Osborne on 04/03/2009 at 04:00 PM EDT
Some ideas to grow the community:

- give the developer client away for free with the product
- update POP/IMAP support in the client and let people use it for free
- do some marketing. Seriously when have you seen a Notes 8.5 ad ?
- include renewals in IBM sales quotas
- bundle modern versions of app templates... eg wiki, profiles, nifty fifty...
- transact all business worth less than some number through business partners
- stop sending license renewals directly to customers
- put a banner ad for Notes in every major airport
- make Symphony available to all government departments through some formal
agreement
- implement a swap for maintenance program, ie.. use Notes/Domino for the same
price as you pay for maintenance today on Outlook
- offer 'reinstatement without penalty' for lapsed customers for a period of
time
- offer an Express C version of Domino (up to X users for no cost - with no
support)
- stop charging business partners so much for software access.

I have more if you want them...
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Erik Brooks on 04/03/2009 at 06:35 PM EDT
1. Give away a version of Designer.

Everything wildly popular in modern times has a free dev environment. Flex is
an example, but this is true for other applications as well, even games -- they
include map-building apps.

2. Get into universities.

Expose university students to Notes, let them plug away at Designer, etc. Get
those people saying "We used this cool thing in college..." when they
graduate. As we've all seen, it's the small home-grown apps that cause the
proliferation of a product.
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Sean Cull on 04/04/2009 at 09:38 AM EDT
I agree with giving designer away but flex is not free, there is a free 60 diy
trial of flex builder. The client with charting is a similar price to designer
Academic Initiative ProgramBy John Dillon on 04/06/2009 at 03:14 PM EDT
At Lotusphere '9 this year I asked several IBM execs about their Academic
Initiative program, and none of them even knew it existed.

I taught a university class called "Rapid Application Development with IBM
Lotus Notes" and used the AI program to get the software I needed for the
server and the students.

As a part-time professor who has seen the success that Apple and Microsoft have
enjoyed because of their strong presence in classrooms around the country, I
keep harping on those IBM people willing to listen that Notes development
should be taught to college students, and made easy for Computer Science
faculty who may not be experienced with the way Notes/Domino stuff works.

I'll be happy to share my lecture materials with anyone that's interested.

As a side note, someone once pointed out that IBM (and Lotus before them)
treated education as a profit center, not a marketing tool. I really think
that needs to change!
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Karl-Henry Martinsson on 04/09/2009 at 06:21 PM EDT
>Expose university students to Notes, let them
>plug away at Designer, etc. Get those people
>saying "We used this cool thing in college..."
>when they graduate. As we've all seen, it's the
>small home-grown apps that cause the proliferation
>of a product.

I been saying that for several years, even told Ed Brill that about 5 or 6
years ago at one of the Lotuspheres... It's nothing new, but IBM does not get
it, or they had some excuse that they have some program already.

I can go online right now and download Visual Studio (C , VB, etc) for free
from Microsoft. Comes as a DVD ISO image, just to burn and install.

Suppose I am a teacher in programming. I can choose to pay for Domino Design
and a server, or go through a very complicated process to get it from IBM
through their "academic initiative" that nobody at IBM know exists. Or I can go
to microsoft.com, get a totally free Visual Studio Express and within an hour
be up and running...
Which do I choose? Especially when you see ads all the time for MS products,
but very few for Lotus...
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Bob Balaban on 04/03/2009 at 05:14 PM EDT
Sugestion: Distribute copies as VMs on mem sticks (idea is to make it as easy
as possible to get it up and running)

What were some of the "more radical" ideas?
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Sean Cull on 04/04/2009 at 09:39 AM EDT
just make them downloadable, so that they can be run on sticks, removes a whole
logistical nightmare
re: What can IBM do to help grow the Lotus community?By Colin Williams on 04/05/2009 at 01:24 AM EDT
Great idea!


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