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Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?

By Andrew Pollack on 03/20/2011 at 05:00 PM EDT

The venerable, powerful, all encompassing Lotus Notes client is more than 20 years old. Its hallmarks include a complete backward compatibility that covers virtually all of those years. While that complete backward compatibility has been one of the product's greatest strengths, it is also one of its most challenging aspects as the development team works to continually modernize and add features.

Being fully backward compliant has been a huge advantage to the product. Upgrades of Lotus Notes and Domino servers are far easier and far less risky than any competitive product for this reason. That said, after twenty years, there are large aspects of the client that just didn’t take off. Many of us will disagree as to what those features are, but things like layers and navigators see very little use. Other aspects of the client are outdated but can’t be removed because there are applications which do rely on them. The entire rich text editor and its cousin the form designer are examples. Then there’s the massive eclipse framework. All the features that exist in the rich client framework solely to support Workplace – which itself never ended up working – are still there and will have to be there forever to maintain this backward compatibility ethos.

There’s a great divide between competing requirements here. To attract new developers who want to use the most modern techniques to build the kind of individualized “App-Store” style app, the Client and Designer would need a complete overhaul – one that would break virtually every existing application and alienate the existing customer base.

I am –NOT- calling for killing off the core Lotus Notes client. I am, however, getting requests pretty regularly for a “Traveler for Windows” application. What I understand they mean by this, is a lightweight, easy to load subset of functionality that they can run as discrete, app-store sized, specialized applications when they don’t need the full functionality of the rich Notes client.

I suggest that it is time for another kind of client framework -- a client framework that can take full advantage of the incredible, compact, full service power of the Lotus Domino server using an entirely modern front end. The Domino server and its NSF back end data store can still provide the full set of indexing, semi-structured data storage, security, agent-based business logic, directory services, calendar integration services, mail routing, and all the rest of the services. The new client framework can take advantage of all those things, but store its design and rich text elements using modern formats. The server and NSF already fully support MIME, and clearly IBM understands ODF well enough to use that as well. Design elements can be stored as “file” types within the NSF and edited using the eclipse editors. Very little modification of the server or NSF file would be needed to support a new kind of client.

Consider a back end add-on task for the Domino server that supports a set of API’s designed to be referenced from within Adobe Air, Visual Studio .NET, or maybe GTK. With access to the Lotus Domino document object model with its documents, views, and items – with Rich Text stored as MIME those frameworks could be used to build powerful interactive corporate applications available in an app-store like corporate intranet.


There are  - loading -  comments....

re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Alan Bell on 03/20/2011 at 05:23 PM EDT
totally agree with all of that, except I would flip out the Domino server for
CouchDB, and/or have the Domino server API task you mentioned talk the same
kind of JSON structures as the Couch API. I kind of started to write such a
client application in python/GTK, but only got as far as "icons on the
workspace" before paying work got in the way.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Andrew Pollack on 03/20/2011 at 06:52 PM EDT
I wish I could go along with you, but so far, couchDB is not ready for prime
time in terms of scale or development tools.

The fact is, the Domino server itself is still unrivaled with respect to its
scope of capabilities, management, scale, and performance for what it does.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Erik Brooks on 03/20/2011 at 08:51 PM EDT
Agreed. I'll take NSF over CouchDb any day. And NSF only needs a few
enhancements to make the comparison irrelevant unless cost is your only factor.
E.g. if Domino had a REST api for accessing documents, views, etc. via JSON,
you could connect whatever you wanted to the front end.

The browser and XPages are already the "thin" client of choice for many
applications. Then the only question becomes offline capabilities (DOLS?)
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Patrick Kwinten on 03/21/2011 at 03:23 AM EDT
how old is windows and how backward compatible is it? the future is not
backward compatible unless we will be able to travel in time. how much sorrow
must we be for admins who do not want to upgrade from Notes 7?

How much are we able to do social business with Notes 5,6,7 (and 8) apps?
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Ian Randall on 03/21/2011 at 05:50 AM EDT
Backward compatibility is important if you develop an application today and
want it to continue to operate for another 20 years (without the necessity to
constantly redevelop it over multiple future versions).

The Notes Client also does a reasonable job of making the client platform
reasonably transparent (Windows PC & Mac).

However, that that does not make the development of a new Client attractive.
Over the years, there have been many features and enhancements that have fallen
by the wayside. (layout regions, DDE, etc.).
A new client would provide an oportunity to start afreash with a new platform
that does not carry some of the backward compatibility baggage.

I presume what is being proposed here is to have both rich client platforms,
the standard Notes Client (with and without Eclipse) and a new stipped-down
Client platform. Makes sense to me. Even if it included a new email client
capability.

The "Notes" development platform, however should allow all development
platforms transparent.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Jason Hook on 03/21/2011 at 06:47 AM EDT
If the client is not to be killed off by the browser and if there are good
reasons to keep developing it then I'd suggest making it faster, smaller, less
memory hungry and simpler to use. Center it around what users actually want
and use. Make it a joy to use, simple and elegant.

Because applications are surely part of the problem too give developers
guidance for developing/re-developing their ui's to give users more modern and
consistent experiences across applications.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Ben Langhinrichs on 03/21/2011 at 07:50 AM EDT
It may be a huge pain point, and it may seem ironic for me to say it, but
getting rid of rich text is probably one of the most important changes they
should make to move into the future. It was visionary when developed, and is
still very powerful, but its time is long past and it is holding Notes/Domino
back. Rich content should be stored in MIME and XML, and that includes
everything including design elements. (Pardon me while I go shoot myself.)
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Christian Zalto on 03/21/2011 at 09:03 AM EDT
Why not improve the webbrowser access to the Domino server so there is no need
for a completely new client but you could use any webbrowser you want as a
client and still get (nearly) all the features the Notes client provides?

re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Kevin Pettitt on 03/21/2011 at 10:40 AM EDT
For the same reasons that dedicated mobile apps are preferred to mobile web
apps:

1 - Offline access/caching
2 - Better integration with hardware features (phone, GPS, other apps)
3 - All the things I'm forgetting
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Christian Zalto on 03/23/2011 at 11:15 AM EDT
I don't see much features left modern web applications can't provide: Having a
technology like Domino Offline Services (DOLS) that provides offline capability
and frameworks like PhoneGap for the integration of hardware features there is
definitely no need for a new lightweight Notes client.
IBM: Stay with the rich client strategy and further improve the web browser
experience. There is no need for a Client 2.0 - we already have Web 2.0.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Jerry Carter on 03/21/2011 at 09:29 AM EDT
Completely agree. This kind of discussion and idea brewing is exactly why I
think Domino should be open sourced. This is something the community could and
should be allowed to do if IBM lacks the interest or doubts the usefulness.
I'm firmly in the "this is not only a good idea, it is desperately needed"
camp.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Richard Moy on 03/21/2011 at 10:48 AM EDT
Jerry,

You know that is not going to happen. I have been talking about this for years
and what IBM needs is a lightweight client possibility driven by XPages. More
importantly, they need a true REST interface and at the same time get rid of
the dependency between form and data. With a true REST interface, the client
can be many things. There is a few things that I would like to see changed in
Domino that Erik Brooks brought up in his blog, but as it stands it is still
workable. You could create the entire new lightweight client using Adobe AIR
with XPages. There is already a Dojo for AIR API by Sitepen. When IBM went
with the Java client they fixed an interface issue but create a gigantic client
is very buggy and a problem. Some of my clients have already moved back to the
basic client or gotten ridden of it with a Web interface. Couchdb is very
exciting but it is still not ready for enterprise. However, it has huge
potential and it approach is very good. We have incorporated some of the
Couchdb concepts in the design of our applications. The flexibility of Domino
and NSF allows us to do that. I wish IBM just fix the bugs in the Domino
server.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Jerry Carter on 03/21/2011 at 01:31 PM EDT
Well, never say never. What does IBM have to gain by opening the server source
so this sort of thing can take place? Quicker more rich and diverse
development. Andrew's example is but one way the market would benefit. What
would they lose? A lock on a product that is, sadly, losing a bit of market
share as more open technologies get their feet under them and move more rapidly
ahead.

There are a ton of cool ways the server could be surfaced in terms of web/thin
clients if only there was full fidelity on the DXL export and import. There
are perhaps as yet unimagined ways things could be improved if they would open
the source. It would sure open up the market share.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Thomas on 03/21/2011 at 11:17 AM EDT
This is a pie in the sky dream. It's never going to happen! IBM is basically a
service company now, so they don't do software very well. From IBM's
perspective I'm sure they see the SDLC of Notes on its latter stages of life.
They are trying desperately to take advantage of the aging software by morphing
into something else... i.e. workplace, websphere, social business. There is no
new profit stream in doing what you're asking, therefore it will never happen.

I hate to say it, but Lotus Notes/Domino is on the downside of its existence as
a software product.

P.S. So is Exchange for that matter.
Travler for WindowsBy Keith Brooks on 03/21/2011 at 01:34 PM EDT
Andrew, It seems this idea has been tossed out before over the last few months
since LoLA.
We have hear talk about a Traveler client for those that just want mail.
Like to see it happen as many people now have web apps, not Notes apps, so
having a big client is a waste when they just need their email.
Time will tell if we see more mail related clients.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Christian Tillmanns on 03/22/2011 at 02:52 AM EDT
I have written about this before LS2011 and now it shows, that I am not alone
with my thoughts. A sexy client and an app that runs in ... now let's be frank,
I want Notes on the iPad.
But, I think IBM sees Notes/Domino as a cash cow. If you have a cash cow, you
should also have a rising star to replace the old cow someday. Anything looming
on the horizon? Nope. Nada.
Interestingly, in the latest earnings report from IBM, Software is by far the
largest part of IBM. The time when IBM was mostly a service company is over. I
hope, that this does someting good for all Software brands.
Yes, the acctual client is way to heavy but we could see something happening
soon, because Java is now owned by Oracle and Larry is not known to be a nice
guy when it comes to money and winning. IBM could be forced to leave the Java
path, although this is not very likely, but it could be a blessing for the
Notes client.
Domino should become more client independent. DAMO wasn't a bad thing and other
companies like OpenExchange and Zaraffa can make a living out of providing
Outlook compatible mail servers. Why not Domino? If you give customers the
freedom of choice for their client, they are more likely to use the best one in
the company and that could be a future Notes client.
re: Is it time for an entirely new Notes Client?By Andreas Rosen on 03/28/2011 at 06:36 AM EDT
That was our idea when we first started to use domino webservices in a generic
way. The technique had already been there since Domino 8. But, using it in a
generic way opend the Domino Server for all the technologies like Adobe Flex,
Adobe Air, PHP, VB .net, C#, objective C, Java etc. (We have tested them all
...) Then it turned out that we had created the missing web API for Domino.
The soapgate Q! (.nsf) works like a proxy layer, on one side it offers soap, on
the other side it talks to the Domino databases. So you get 80% of your
requested add-on.
You will find all details and free downloads on www.qkom.net. If you would
like to try it yourself, please feel free to use our soapgate Q! together
with the ready-to-use code examples.
If you hurry up you will even have the chance to win a BlackBerry PlayBook when
submitting a new app:
http://www.qkom.net/component/content/article/1-startseite/207-domino-daten-aufs
-playbook


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