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The usefulness and utility of Notes browser plug-in - promised for 8.5.4 around the end of 2012

By Andrew Pollack on 04/13/2012 at 10:04 AM EDT

Sorry for the long time between posts. I've been working on things most of you wouldn't be interested in, and with other social media outlets better suited to the day to day trivialities, I've wanted to keep this blog for things less quotidian. I've also been spending almost no time keeping up with what we call the "Yellowverse". I keep half an eye out through friends in the community but mostly I rely on them to tip me when something really interesting is happening. I'm happier staying out of the rest of the drama cycle.

Along those lines, I was pointed to Ed Brill's latest post, which covers some official news about the forthcoming Lotus Domino release (which they're calling the "Social Edition"). There are a few things in the post that I found worth noting. The target release time frame, which is the end of 2012 -- with a promise of a more widespread beta much sooner -- is welcome news. I'm pleased that it doesn't appear to be being rushed out the door. Two of the other very big parts of this release (at least to me) are promised support for SAML which should be very beneficial for anyone using a Domino server to provide content protected by credentials to a heterogenous user base; and the new "Notes Browser Plug-In". I'll talk more about SAML in another post, as I've got a product due out in early June which will provide that functionality as well, but will support Domino 7.03 and above.

The Notes Browser Plug-In -- What I think I know

The Notes Browser Plug-In was a surprise announcement at Lotusphere 2012 and looks very promising at first glance. The idea is that it is a fairly lightweight Notes client you can embed right in the browser. The idea is that you'll be able to use traditional Notes forms, views, buttons, and other such client side functionality right within the browser without having installed a Notes client on the machine. Details have been somewhat sketchy, so far but here's my understanding of the functionality:

  • The browser plug-in will install and run in a way similar to installing the Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight plug-ins. That means there may be some installation steps that make it less than completely transparent the first time through or when doing an upgrade, but that the install pain will not be repeated every time you restart your browser or clear your cache.
  • At Lotusphere, the list of supported browsers was not forthcoming. In Ed's post this week however, he says it will be Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. My understanding is that the differences between Firefox plug-ins and others aren't that great so I hope other browsers will be supported in the future.
  • As of the last reports I've heard, only Microsoft Windows based machines will be supported at this time -- and that Apple OSX support in particular represents some serious design challenges for the team. According to at least one source I spoke with, it would be easier to provide the functionality in IOS than for Apple's OSX operating system due to a very specific missing bit of functionality. For what it's worth, I got the impression that didn't imply a lack of desire to build the plug-in for Apple OSX and if there's enough market pressure it could be done in some way.
  • Functionally, think of this providing the functionality of a Notes database working with the Notes Client space, without XPages support. This makes sense, because XPages should not need a special plug-in to run natively in the browser. In terms of functional limits and user interface, I've been thinking of it as the "Classic Client" with just the database specific user interface and not the surrounding desktop and menu system.
  • This plug-in is not a re-write, not a rendering, and not a re-implementation of the classic functionality. It is the same code with the user interface layer "re-parented" into a browser plug-in window space. For that reason, it should be very predictable in its behavior.

The Notes Browser Plug-In -- What I know I think

My impression overall is positive, but without support for Apple OSX use cases will be limited at some sites. If your application targets a known audience where you can specify the workstation operating system and browsers used, this plug-in will be an extremely valuable tool for very quickly making all those small and functional gem applications quickly available on your intranet. If, on the other hand, your site targets end-customers, the general public, or a mixed workstation audience then you'll find the plug-in far less useful. I would love to use the plug-in for much of my work but will not be able to do so for just this reason.

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re: The usefulness and utility of Notes browser plug-in - promised for 8.5.4 around the end of 2012By Richard Schwartz on 04/13/2012 at 05:22 PM EDT
First of all, kudos for "quotidian" ;-)

The way I see it, the target audience is the corporate customer who is either
wanting to take email to the cloud, to iNotes, or to Exchange/Outlook, but is
asking "But what about my Notes client apps? One of the biggest gains from this
move would be getting that Notes client of the users' desk/laptops, but how do
we do that without breaking the bank?"

Although purely rational thinkers should look at the apps question and consider
just staying on the Notes client, we know that a lot of people don't approach
it that way. They're going to move anyhow, because dammit they have to
"modernize". So they're going to have to pay either to convert their apps to
Domino web apps, or to something else. And IBM's "lock-in" is blamed for the
high cost they will take on, so odds are they're going to migrate to something
else rather than perpetuate their perceived pain.

The plugin is IBM's way to remove that perceived pain to help keep the customer
on Domino longer. They're telling those customers "You want to modernize and
get rid of fat clients? Sure. We're all for it! You know you can do that
with our offerings, too, but even if you don't choose us, we're here to help
you. We'll remove the pain of supporting a fat client, and keep your apps
running to keep your immediate modernization costs down while you go ahead and
go through your mail migration. You don't have to worry about those apps for
now, and you can take your time and plan your apps modernization for the
future. And when you're ready to modernize them we hope you remember that we
made this easier for you, and that we're not all about locking you in. And if
you decide that it's the best way to go -- and we think you will, we'll be
happy to work with you on modernizing those apps with our XPages technology."
re: The usefulness and utility of Notes browser plug-in - promised for 8.5.4 around the end of 2012By Henning Heinz on 04/14/2012 at 05:29 AM EDT
You are not getting away with the fat client. You just change the deployment
mechanism and lock the possibilities at a Notes 6/7 level.
Now if IBM would combine the Browser Plug-In with renovated classic design
elements and maybe a few overall improvements that would really be killer.
The screenshot showing Outlook with the embedded Notes template was a good
example. Perfect advertising for the competition and in no way will I be
tempted to "modernize" those applications with XPages technologies.
And if you are a dedicated Notes customer who strongly belive in IBM and deploy
the uber fat standard client, the browser plugin has even less value because it
adds little that you haven't already deployed.
For me it remains a gift from IBM to those who want to leave and not for those
who want to stay. The fact that it gains so much momentum is more of a proof
that XPages is already failing in the installed base. What a pity.
re: The usefulness and utility of Notes browser plug-in - promised for 8.5.4 around the end of 2012By Bill Buchan on 04/14/2012 at 05:40 AM EDT
Without an iPad/iPhone/iShiny implementation, its practically doomed.

---* Bill

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