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What makes Vista so painful -- and why IBM had better learn from it.

By Andrew Pollack on 10/07/2008 at 03:25 PM EDT

Microsoft Windows Vista hasn't been quite the glowing success they'd hoped. Despite years of effort, massive pre-rollout testing, and a marketing budget that would make MTV proud, it was met with a negative reaction by even those users who really don't understand what it is. Chris Linfoot's blog about Vista's problems happened to catch me with a similar subject in mind. Between that and a conversation with Volker yesterday, I decided to write about some of the things that IBM had best learn from the fall -- and slow recovery -- of Windows Vista.

Reason 1: Nobody was asking for it.

The first negative to overcome in selling Vista is the success of Windows XP. With XP, Microsoft had finally succeeded in getting the native DOS based environment off the desktop. They'd long since done that with servers, but users really didn't buy into Windows 2000 workstation or NT because their games and other things wouldn't run well. XP has proven stable, and while prone to security problems at first, simply keeping up with patches and adding on some reasonable anti-spyware has proven a fairly reliable way to keep the system clean. Users who do still have security problems are ready to blame themselves for downloading free software, pirated music, and cheezy porn from sites they don't know.

Reason 2: It didn't really add much that anyone wanted.

The Vista operating system added things like security that everyone else wanted you to have, but most people were fine with what they had already. It also added stuff that people didn't want - like more DRM (Digital Rights Management) capabilities that were actually there to PREVENT users from doing things. To a lot of users, moving to Vista was more important for Microsoft than for them.

Reason 3: The new things that it added were poorly integrated with what was there before

For all the talk of major architectural change in the operating system, all most users saw from Vista was a very poor level of integration. They'd get a prompt from the operating system to allow something to happen and they'd be happy about that. The system was helping them be secure. That was great.

They'd click to allow it the process but then a minute later another dialog box from another part of the system asking for the same thing. Then again from somewhere else. They'd finally get through all that security, and they next time they did the same thing they were lead down the same routine again. User's could clearly see that there were different parts of the system that had no idea what other parts of the system were doing. To make matters worse, the old hardware and software that users had been using didn't always work properly. These new features not only were annoying, but they broke stuff that used to work much more cleanly.

Reason 4: To do the same things, users had to buy more expensive stuff

Even though they didn't go pick out Vista because they wanted to do something new, users found that they needed more expensive hardware just to get the same results. That hardly made it seem like a bargain.

Reason 5: For each of reasons 1-4, Apple did a better job -- and sold that message

Even as Microsoft was pushing and pushing for Vista to gain acceptance, Apple turned the PC industry into a fashion show. Microsoft was left trying to sell Toughskins, while Apple was using light, comfortable cotton tailored to the latest styles for just a few bucks more. Apple created products that did cool things -- like Garage Band -- that people wanted. They made people ask for their stuff. They went to the time and effort of integrating their software, hardware, and operating system so fully that its impossible to tell where one stops and another starts. When people plugged Apple stuff into Apple computers and used Apple software, everything was (forgive me)....peachy. Never mind that this was the most proprietary, locked in, DRM laden product series ever created. It was cool and comfortable. Being the media smart, ultra-hip company that Apple is, they lost no time in making this comparison to the public.

So, why do I think IBM had better pay attention to this more closely?

Reason 1: Nobody was asking for it.

By this I mean Eclipse. Many of us agreed to give it a chance, and could see that there would be benefits from it if it worked -- but we weren't banging on the door demanding eclipse framework plug-ins. You won't find that on the top 20 feature request lists in any BP forum going back 15 years. At best, we agreed to give it chance.

Reason 2: It hasn't added much that anyone wanted yet.

So far, what it has added is a lot of potential and a few showcase tools. Personally, I agree that the potential is massive. But that doesn't change the current condition, which is that most of that potential is as yet completely unrealized. To a lot of users, moving to Eclipse was more important for IBM than for them. IBM had better get around to leveraging that power now and blowing our socks off with functionality. They're running out of chances to make that first impression.

Reason 3: The new features and functionality are thus far poorly integrated with what came before.

For all its potential, most users won't be seeing new applications that take real advantage of the Eclipse framework for at least another year. In the meantime, people want to get the work done. So far, the result of integration between Eclipse and Notes can at best be called a pastiche. Users get oddball dialog boxes that warn them of trouble in terms that make no sense, then offer no options to do anything but acknowledge the warning. Menus are duplicated and commonly used commands are hard to find. There are different ways to do the same thing depending on if the thing you're working on is based on a Plug-In, a Component, or classic Notes element. Some keyboard or mouse clicks work differently in these different contexts. On the whole, its a pain the butt to get used to.

Reason 4: To do the same things, users had to buy more expensive stuff

Much more resource intensive, Notes 8 on Eclipse means a massive investment in new or expanded workstations with faster drives, more memory, and higher end processors. This is expensive, and justification will have to come through a real show of value.

Reason 5: For each of reasons 1-4, Apple did a better job -- and sold that message

Ok, that's almost not fair. Apple isn't competing directly with Notes are they? Well, sort of. Apple has changed the game. Users have declared that they're big kids now. Mom (the I.T. department) buying them Toughskins isn't going to be acceptable any more. They want comfortable clothing that looks good too. Apple may not be competing with Notes, but they've changed the stage enough that IBM better be paying more attention.

What do you think?

Am I on target here? Now that Ed Brill is responsible for the core Notes client, will these items get higher priority? I believe they will -- because Ed's been the guy taking the abuse from customers on this very issue for some time. What we as a community need to do is make sure that all of IBM keeps focused on what is important to users, not to IBM developers.

The core values that had better get more focus in a big hurry are:

1. Absolute, complete, and totally seamless integration between Notes and Eclipse. I should never hear about "Eclipse" at all as a user. Its Notes. Using the excuse for some failure point or badly integrated feature that "well, that's how Eclipse does it" isn't acceptable more than a year after the initial release of Notes 8.

2. Renewed focus on the core features of the client. That means forms, views, and the desktop. These cannot continue to be ignored as all the development goes toward fancy new frameworks, plug-ins, components, and Google widgets. There is no excuse for the native rich text editor to be so completely outdated. There is no excuse for the desktop to not have a complete overhaul -- something it hasn't had done successfully since version 3.0.

3. Updated focus on the way users are multi-connected today. Things like "Accounts" functionality that allow users to pull mail from other sources, but not send it out aren't acceptable any more. How many of us have Thunderbird, Outlook Express, or Gmail open frequently so we can access the communications we have that aren't directly tied to our primary business account?

I'm all about cool new XPages, and I can't wait to see what Nathan does next with cool UI integration to Eclipse - but in the mean time, my users want to do their work. They want a comfortable, crisp, and attractive place to do that work. If IBM keeps pushing Toughskins at them, they're going to look elsewhere.

There are  - loading -  comments....

re: What makes Vista so painful -- and why IBM had better learn from it.By David Jones on 10/07/2008 at 05:19 PM EDT
I think you are on target.

I agree with your Reason 1. We certainly weren't asking for it and we are about
99% Notes Client on all our applications and only have a few that are also web
applications. So all this stuff with XPages, currently, has no benefit for us.

I agree with your Reason 2. Being able to have the preview pane vertically in
my email is cool and there are a few other "cool" things with the Standard
client but nothing that wows me and nothing that will stop me from putting
UseBasicNotes=1 on a lot of machines here.

Agree with Reason 3. A lot of odd things happen and focus gets stolen are isn't
where I'm clicking - especially when working in the Designer client in 8.0.2

Agree with Reason 4. There's a joke around here that goes "Yeah with MS
Exchange you have to rip & replace your servers but with Notes 8 Standard you
have to rip & replace your client machines." I'm trying to get as many people
on the Standard client as I can but only if their machine can launch it fast
enough. 8.0.2 sped things up a lot but I still see it as being "too slow" on
most of the machines here.
Excellent post - don't forget the user.By Eric Mack on 10/07/2008 at 10:23 PM EDT
Excellent post, Andrew.

I dislike telling clients, "Oh, that problem's not Notes - it's Eclipse." They
don't care. End users simply want their tools to work.

I posted my thoughts and lessons learned from an end-user perspective here:
re: What makes Vista so painful -- and why IBM had better learn from it.By Dan Sickles on 10/08/2008 at 01:18 AM EDT
#1 - We were looking for a better more exstensible cross-platform UI. SWT may
have been enough. But hey, they had this container and this Workplace stuff
that ran in it and you could run J2EE and portal in it and....

I expect the old UI relics and other UI problems to improve...I just hope the
APIs end up as seamlessly integrated for us developers. Sometimes I feel like
I'm programming over a fence. I'm concerned, based on many conversations and
some demos, that Eclipse plugin developers will run from R8 faster than VB
developers ran from R4 (where DO you put the .frm files?)
re: What makes Vista so painful -- and why IBM had better learn from it.By Julian Buss on 10/08/2008 at 03:15 AM EDT
I do not agree with you.

1.) People did not asked specifically for Eclipse stuff, that is right. But
they DO asked for a much, much better UI.
And IBM decided to use Eclipse stuff to make this new UI instead of coding all
the UI components themselves, which costs much time and effort. And that would
have been cost much more effort to make them cross-platform.

So using Eclipse for that is a very smart move. It freed the devs so that they
can attend to the business logic, they do not need to bother with foundation
works anymore.

2.) Yes, it added much everyone asked for years and years: the new UI. And cool
stuff like the sidebar and widgets and that sort of things. Stuff for which
everyone cried a lot for because it makes Notes modern and shiny and fun to

Just take the integrated Symphone - how cool is that? Office functionality
right inside Lotus Notes. That creates much new opportunities for the

3.) Some things are not integrated perfectly, that is correct. But hey will in
the future, those kind of things need time and lots of user feedback.
As far as I heard from our customers, they are all very, very satisfied with
Notes 8, especially since 8.0.2 which runs with a good performance.
Not one of our customers complained about "having two worlds" in Lotus Notes.
They don't even notice that we have Eclipse and Notes stuff side by side.

4.) Yes, clients need better hardware. But they need that for the most recent
MS Office, too. Or for the new Photoshop. Or whatever.
New software with new features need better hardware, that's how it goes. But
everyone who used Notes 7 can use Notes 8.0.2, too.
And if not, the problem is mostly solved by adding some memory to the computer,
which is very inexpensive.

5.) Apple does not compete with Lotus Notes. Apple is for consumers. See iPhone
- a very cool toy, but not usable in the professional business environment

I agree that the classic Notes stuff like forms and views need improvement,
too, and that IBM should not concentrate on the new Eclipse and XPages stuff

But beside that, my experience of Notes 8 at customer's sites seems to be
completely different from yours.
re: What makes Vista so painful -- and why IBM had better learn from it.By Christian Tillmanns on 10/08/2008 at 06:00 AM EDT
I aree with Julian.
As a developer I can only say how cool it is that there is Eclipse. As a user,
I don't bother and it isn't a performance hog.
Symphony could be integrated a bit better and there are other things I still
miss, but you can't get everything at once. Otherwise it would take years to
finish it. And with all the plugins available (and more are comming from all
over the world) I can build my Notes Client as I want it.
What I would need right now would be:
- an ERP that is completely integrated in Notes
- Quickr to ship and install with Domino
- Lotus Workflow Version 8

... and a minimalistic OS without any desktop gimmicks.
Different opinions abound....By Andrew Pollack on 10/08/2008 at 06:53 AM EDT
I've been a big supporter of the Eclipse work as it has been -- and I gave the
very first non-IBM presentation to explain it. I've also been a huge
proponent of X-Pages. Nonetheless, both of these technologies must be
finished, and finished correctly before the overall user community will accept

The same is true for Vista. As it matures, it will be accepted. In the mean
time, it suffers from its incomplete nature and poor integration.
re: Different opinions abound....By Karsten Lehmann on 10/08/2008 at 06:34 PM EDT
Andrew, feel free to develop cool solutions for Notes R8 to get this process
started and demonstrate customers what cool things R8 has to offer.
It's all about innovative solutions. You are in the IBM Design Partner program
and get the best support to do so.

I know that there is still much integration work between Notes and Eclipse, but
the main problem is that the solution providers have to learn new skills. Just
Lotusscript is not enough any more. Welcome to the future ;-)
re: What makes Vista so painful -- and why IBM had better learn from it.By Philip Storry on 10/08/2008 at 08:33 AM EDT
As I've put on Vowe's web page, I think that the differences between Vista and
Notes 8 are even more important.

(Sorry, but it was too long to put in a comment!)
re: What makes Vista so painful -- and why IBM had better learn from it.By Henning Heinz on 10/08/2008 at 09:52 AM EDT
Very good observation. I do not know why comments are often taken as personal
opinions (or whining as Julian said in a vowe comment).
I am not a consultant but work at a much lower level. That means that if I go
to a customer site the decisions have already been made and I am just executing
their plans. I have no representative view of the market but I can only say
that I see more customers than I would like to see that have absolutely no plan
to roll out Notes 8 Standard as their default client. I know there is a lot of
talk about new features require new hardware but for more and more companies
this does not work anymore. If you pressure them with hardware requirements
they often respond with a moving more things into the browser strategy.
It is not only a Microsoft or IBM problem. The company that causes the most
headaches nowadays in many of my customer sites is the SAP ERP suite.
But I also see a lot of customers that are happy with Microsoft Office so what
do I know of the world?
I think the project Christian is working on will help that.By Andrew Pollack on 10/08/2008 at 10:41 AM EDT
Christian's work on "Project Atlantic" should really help anyone running with
SAP. Its a fantastic solution that takes advantage of the core capabilities of
the Notes client and server architecture.
re: What makes Vista so painful -- and why IBM had better learn from it.By Carl Tyler on 10/08/2008 at 11:05 AM EDT
This is spot on. I don't care if it's eclipse, I didn't care if it was
Activex, it should do it seamlessly enough that I don't know it's happening.
Notes now uses IE for rendering Incoming internet emails, great they look the
way they should now, but it breaks the double click right mouse button. To me
I now personally refer to Notes as FrankenNotes. It feels like it's designed
by committee, versus having strong top down direction, which leads to confusing
menus and toolbars.

Symphony in Notes so what, that kind of thing was possible before, just IBM
didn't do it. Outlook allows for 3rd party plug-ins, no sign of Eclipse there,
how did they manage it for the last few years?

Eric Mack has it totally right though, people don't care what it's written in,
it just has to work the way it's supposed to and consistently.

Currently I use Notes 8 in Basic mode, unless I'm testing a plug-in for a
customer then I use it in Standard mode. Until notes is better threaded, I
prefer to run standalone apps, as I like to do multi things, Notes
unfortunately is a container that has been written so that you can only really
do one thing at a time.

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