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Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....

By Andrew Pollack on 06/14/2010 at 05:53 PM EDT

The Domino server still represents the best value in the industry as an application platform. So why is the market clearly still losing ground on corporate desktop seats? More important, what can be done about it?

The problem isn’t lack of advertising – though that could certainly be better. The problem isn’t IBM’s website – I agree, it stinks in all kinds of ways, but that’s not what is causing problems in the marketplace. To think it is, is to think major IT decisions are getting made by CIO’s surfing the web to find out about the Domino platform. That’s just silly.

The problem isn’t the cloud either. The cloud is a distraction for enterprise collaborative messaging applications, not a real solution. Write that down and let me remind you in a few years that I’ve been saying it all along -- just like I said back in the late 90's that J2EE would never be the primary application server platform for the web.

The problem is, has been for years, and will likely continue to be for some time – the Notes Client strategy. Heavy clients are dead. 500 megabyte installs running their own JVM and massive frameworks have never been gratefully accepted even in sites already sold on the Notes client, and at new sites they’ve never taken off and are not going to.

Look at the value proposition at the server. Each version of the Domino server is faster, supports more concurrent use, makes better use of resources, is easier to manage, and is more robust than the version before. It comes with a full mail stack, supports several client types, data storage, indexing, rich security, authentication, content filtering, search, and support for several different programming languages. I can build custom, secure, individualized, collaborative applications faster and cheaper on a Domino server than you can on your favorite other program. I can do it every time. No question. I’ve done it over and over, often for orders of magnitude less than competitive bids. I manage one site that I built all the way back in Domino 4.6, and through all the upgrades and versions there is still nothing on the market that can win a competitive bid to be its replacement. I know – they try every year through an RFP process.

Now look at the rich client. Hey, IBM, 1995 called and they want their application architecture back. Installation is hundreds of megabytes and crazy amounts of memory. It has to run its own JVM (more than one in some cases) just to operate. Users report painfully long launch times on common hardware, and after all that – in terms of real business value at the desktop, users are not reporting any significant gains. The bread and butter applications that have entrenched the product in the enterprise by providing incredible value at very low cost have been entirely forsaken. There have been no significant improvements or modernizations to the core “Forms” and “Views” in years, and none are (reportedly) planned. What does it have now? Widgets, Gadgets, Gee-Gaws, and UI panel improvements – but only for the very most intrepid developers and only useful to leverage functionality that actually already exists elsewhere. In other words, if you’re a really top notch developer and put a lot of work into learning how, you can make the thing do what it already did in a much nicer looking manner.

But wait, you say “What about XPages?” – Well, let’s talk about XPages. In concept, they solve a fundamental design flaw in the way Notes applications are built. They give you an “Interface Based” way to develop and let the data be organized as the data needs to be. In practice, the implementation is classically over engineered. The goal of starting fresh to attract new developers is totally lost by burying the new functionality in the ancient designer client – itself a powerful and useful platform, but after 15 years of additions and layered functions is frustratingly arcane and highly resistant to novices. Even if it were somehow pulled out of Designer into its own installable tool, XPages turns out to be just another attempt to force J2EE development down the throat of a community that has rejected it utterly for most common application development needs. As a development environment, it is both over complicated and terribly immature by today’s standards. In ease of use and learning, it pales by comparison to both Visual Studio and the Eclipse Java IDE in which it is based. At least it can make applications on the web that look attractive – unless of course you want pixel level control over what your page layout is instead of a variation on “themes”, in which case you’re back to hand coding.

The question then, is how to make use of all that power and functionality offered by the Domino server, when the client tools are so mired in fifteen years of muck, and wrapped in a misguided, over engineered, disastrously buggy user interface? There are two answers to that. There’s what IBM can do, and there’s what we can do in the mean time.

What we can do, for now, is continue moving to the browser and in some cases to the custom application client software we build ourselves and tie to Domino through Web Services. We can use PHP running as CGI under Domino to create modern, attractive pages that still interact with secure, managed, indexed documents living in the server. We can hand code html and css. We can surface business content and logic through web services into lightweight applications built in Flex, .NET, and so on. In short, we can keep taking advantage of the security features, stability features, storage features, replication features, search features, indexing, and user agents that the Domino server provides, without forcing more bloat down the throats of our user base.

What IBM can do, if they grow up enough to actually do it (of which I see no real evidence yet), is build an entirely new client around the core framework that already exists. A client stripped down to its core services and built to be used as a way to surface data and business logic at the desktop without trying to own the entire desktop experience. IBM can at some point face the sad fact that the Eclipse framework, cool as it may be for super developers, has failed to provide significant improved business value to match its increased overhead in hardware, support, or developer skills.


There are  - loading -  comments....

re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Bill Dorge on 06/14/2010 at 06:39 PM EDT
Lotus Knows you can cut through the b.s., and thanks for that!!

As I read through JonVon's post, and especially the comments, I wondered why
are we dwelling on this fluff, when there is so much meat, that we haven't
touched in years. Kind of like going to the Mega Buffet and just getting a
salad with vinegar and oil dressing, look at what you missed!!

"Back to the Core" should be the theme for Lotusphere 2011. It's time to start
talking about Value, Security, Replication, RAD, all the things that made
Domino/Notes the powerhouse that it is, and has been for the last 20 years.
When you whittle away the pretty face of the competitors, they are all trying
to get where Domino/Notes has been and pretty much perfected, Value, Security,
Replications, and RAD.

I could be wrong, or just my simple way of looking at things, but like Mom
always said "Dance with the one you came with!".

Bill
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Andrew Pollack on 06/14/2010 at 07:31 PM EDT
Thank you Bill. I agree completely -- though I grew up out west, so the
expression was "dance with the one that brung ya".

Another community member I respect a great deal recently suggested one full
product cycle of no new features. A full development cycle focused entirely on
bug fix and cleanup. I'm in agreement with that sentiment as well.
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Bruce Elgort on 06/14/2010 at 07:54 PM EDT
Amen. Nice post Andrew as Elguji continues to see sales and interest in our
Domino based social software applications.
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Nathan T. Freeman on 06/14/2010 at 11:50 PM EDT
"dwelling on this fluff"

What fluff? John's point is that IBM has so committed to shoe-horning
Notes/Domino into a messaging platform that it can't compete in the real world
as an application platform due to market perception. That's the short
version. What's fluff about that?
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Andrew Pollack on 06/15/2010 at 07:23 AM EDT
Nathan - the "Fluff" I think he's referring to is the complaint that the
problems with the product's decline in seats is down to poor advertising and
marketing, and not problems with the product itself.
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Bill Malchisky on 06/15/2010 at 03:46 AM EDT
Well done...many good points. Back to the Core should be the LS11 theme... and
simplifying the client would improve portability, performance, and stability.
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Lars Berntrop-Bos on 06/15/2010 at 05:24 AM EDT
Great post Andrew. I would love to have such a core client to deploy.
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Henning Heinz on 06/15/2010 at 06:25 AM EDT
The new core client is the browser. I wish IBM would have taken a different
approach some years ago but now if I look at what I currently have pushing the
browser makes the most sense to me. Unfortunately this will make it harder to
distinguish from the competition.
A great post.
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Giulio on 06/15/2010 at 06:44 AM EDT
And I thought I was the only grumpy b_stard in the room.. I agree that Eclipse
is crippling rather than enabling uptake of the Notes Client.

Frankly, the Notes client is now dead, (well done IBM). You have to start
getting worried when you put a framework over your architecture that is not
well understood by most of your development community.

The server is where it's now at. If IBM manage to "grow up" and actually
provide decent identity management tools for web applications then it's got a
chance. Until then, we will continue to code some really fundamental utilities
on our own like NAB lookups for the web.
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Mike McP on 06/15/2010 at 09:01 AM EDT
I would disagree on most points of this post. In most organizations I've seen,
the robust, integrated client features, training investment, and homegrown
client apss are what keeps customers. The problem is IBMs all over the place
Marketing message and stragegy and public perception.

The Notes client has some nice options. If you want a fast, stripped down
client, run nlnotes. If you want the full eclipse experience, and have a
machine that can handle it, run notes.exe. I'm not sure that a lighter-weight
client would help, or if it would be another confusing message from IBM.
re: Bandwagon: Why the decline in Notes seats, when the Domino server is still the best value on the marketplace? Here's why....By Rocky Oliver on 06/15/2010 at 11:28 AM EDT
Nice to see you're playing safe, with no controversy, towing the IBM line... ;)

I agree with you, to a point. First, I agree with everything you said about the
Domino server - and there are quite a few things that still need to be improved
(like the original promise of a fully standards-compliant HTML/Web 2.0 stack,
instead of just the shiny new toy known as xpages), but overall it is where the
bulk of the value lies. Where I see things a bit differently is the client...

For YEARS the computer giants, primarily IBM but others as well (hello Sun!),
have been shooting for the promised land of the "thin client". We were told
over and over that the thin client would be the browser, and we would be able
to throw off the shackles of the "thick client" if we'd all just move to
browsers. Of course, back when we first heard this (I remember this trying to
be pitched as early as the mid 1990s) those of us in Notes-land laughed - we
knew that a) the browser (of the time) was nowhere near robust enough to
replace the rich experience of the Notes client, and b) attempts to make it
ready created a bloated rich client itself because you had to shoehorn in a
dozen plugins to get 50% of the functionality - and it was worse because you
then had many vendors, and the plugins didn't talk to each other, etc. But
times do change, as they have in this case.

The Web 2.0 explosion was a paradigm shifting event in the IT world. Now the
promise of a (relatively) thin client is closer than ever, because we've
finally been able to provide rich functionality in a fairly ubiquitous,
standardized, and "thin" way. We've even begun cracking the nut of security. A
very good example of what's possible with a good Web 2.0 app, and the "rich"
experience it can provide, is the current version of the iNotes client. It is
pretty brilliant.

I believe that we're moving closer and closer to a day when we truly don't need
a proprietary "thick" client to provide a rich and secure experience for the
average user. Of course there will always be a small set of power users that
will (possibly temporarily) need a proprietary thick client to get their work
done; but the bulk of the users will be able to accomplish what they need to
quite well with the applications that are now possible in this new "web 2.0"
and near-future "web 3.0" world.

So I'm not sure we need a new client at all; I don't see what we would get from
it that we couldn't get from building some nice plugins/core services for
browsers - like we're already doing. We've finally reached the beginning of the
era where the browser truly is the "thick" AND "thin" clients that most
organizations will need.

At least that's my opinion. I could be wrong.

--Rock


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