Thursday, December 24, 2009

My thoughts on the IT Year in Review

I'd like to say that I've reached the end of our changes, fixes and upgrades for the year but it's simply not true. Work is increasing drastically as we try to make use of the "quiet business period" to install new systems and have outages. Look out for a bunch of posts early in the new year to describe some of the best and worst of our installations.

In the meantime, it's Christmas eve. Instead of doing a completely off-topic post about a holiday which might not appeal to all my readers, I thought I might wrap up the year with my "layman's" (generally ignoring the finances) perception of how the computing giants have performed this year. In the meantime, if you're accepting well-wishes for the season, you have mine.

Quick Disclaimer: Everything here is my own personal thoughts - so don't place too much reliance on it - and don't try to sue me. We're all entitled to our thoughts, so get over it.

2009 has been an amazing year in IT circles with some unexpected ups and downs.

Google has been a clear winner for me as a technology company over the last few years and this year was no exception. Gmail has consistently surprised me with innovative new features in a technology-space I thought had exhausted all possibilities. It's also brought back some old domino ideas (like labels instead of folders) making it clear that sometimes the old ways are best.

The rest of Google's technology is equally amazing and innovative with only a couple of exceptions (Orkut, I'm looking at you, you facebook wannabe). The social technology which is growing in blogger, those amazing gadgets and of course, Chrome and Android, leave absolutely no doubt as to who the next great technology leader is.

2009 was the year that Google started proving that it was ready for serious business users. I'm not entirely certain that they were 100% successful (there were some serious outages while they bedded down their systems) but it's clear that cloud computing is the way of the future and Google have the best and most complete cloud platform thus far.

On the flipside, 2009 was the year that Microsoft burned for their sins. They copped flack from all sides, whether it was from users (still) rejecting Vista, Apple taking their OS sales, Google (and the courts) eating away at their Office business, IBM finally defending itself against the Exchange/Outlook FUD and most recently, Firefox 3.5 taking the mantle of "world's most popular browser" from IE7.

Microsoft's woes prove two important things;
  1. It doesn't matter who you are or how big and powerful you are, you've gotta have friends, not simply followers. This is a pitfall that Google needs to tread carefully around. Monopolies can't last - equilibrium will always reassert itself. If you keep taking business off your colleagues, you'll eventually make enough enemies to get yourself defeated.

  2. Leadership is best done by those with enthusiasm, not people who should be in "services departments". I guess that I'm saying that the best leaders for technology companies are "technology people", just as the best leader for a legal firm would be a lawyer. Bill Gates was undoubtedly a technical person, Steve Ballmer isn't.

Then there was IBM. The sleeping giant has woken and is now actively supporting, even marketing the Lotus brand. In a nice touch, IBM threw a backhand swipe towards many of the business partners who had been backstabbing it. Hopefully now, the days of being grudgingly sold an IBM system by someone who doesn't understand it and wants to replace it in the near future, are ending.

I know a lot of people are quite upset by this move claiming that it's unfair but as an end user, I applaud it. Companies who don't fully support the technology they install are "unfair" from my point of view.

IBM also released some great new technologies under the Lotus Brand, particularly Notes 8.5.1 and Traveller (which is already making us consider throwing out our Blackberry infrastructure). This year, I installed Notes 8.5 on Windows, Mac, Ubuntu Linux, Debian and GoogleOS. I was very impressed with the fact that it ran so well on all of those platforms. There's no doubt that Lotus Notes is still amazing software. What I'd really like to see from IBM in 2010 would be a commitment of resources to "modernize notes". I don't simply mean from a technology development perspective though, I'd love to see IBM locating every business on a 6.5 client and going in to show them the wonders of the 8.5 world.

Of course, with the rapid upgrade cycle, there were quite a few bugs this year and my initial days of Notes 8.5.1 had me building a list of five ways to crash the client in under 5 keystrokes. None of them have been resolved yet but I'm now much more careful about which keys I press. I also had some struggles with IBM tech support this year which demonstrate that it's no better than it was in the nineties, perhaps worse. At least my PMRs are now on the fix list.

It's unfair though to slam IBM's technical support - after all, I daren't try Microsoft's now (their web "help" messages are bad enough) and Google's is almost non-existent, which is acceptable for the price ($0). All in all, it's great to see IBM waking up, hopefully they'll keep the pressure on in the new year.

Apple is yet another success story this year, having clawed it's way back onto the desktop via the iPod and iPhone. It amazes me that technology so tied up with digital rights is so successful but it just goes to show how much appearances and usability counts in the IT world.

I'd love to be saying that the desktop of the future belongs to free software like Ubuntu or Chromium but it's not going to happen. If the desktop manages to move from Microsoft, it will go to Apple but it's much more likely to stay "diverse" and simply migrate the apps and data to the cloud.

Regardless, Apple is gaining momentum and I'd say that about 80% of the computer purchases by friends and family were Apple purchases - and a great many of these were Windows migrations. Even better, everyone I've talked to after a migration seems happy - much happier than they were on windows.

The Rest
There's so many other technology companies I could talk about but I'm rapidly running out of space (well, not exactly but longer articles discourage readers). Here's a quick wrap-up.
  • Linux: It's becoming obvious that linux is never going to be able to make the moves that take over the "popular desktop". I'm not saying that it isn't good, it's great. I've used Ubuntu quite a bit this year - I'm running Notes 8.5.1 under Karmic Koala in a VM on my WinXP PC at the moment. It's just that Linux is still too techy. It lacks the polished user interface of Apple. Without that, it will never be able to take over.

  • Sony: Who leads these companies anyway? Seriously, Sony had a great shot at relevance when, with Microsoft's XBox 360 stumbling, the PS3 launched to rave reviews. It couldn't hold off the competition from the Wii with it's gimmicky interface (which is now sliding because the gimmick only lasts for a while and interferes with playability). Even worse though, the PS3's main competition was with the PS2 - and the PS2 is still the undisputed winner. Sony was clever for not completely retiring the PS2 (like Microsoft did with the XBox) but then they shot themselves in the foot by removing PS2 compatibility from the PS3. Now I have a Wii at home. I don't particularly like it but there was no compelling reason to buy a PS3 (other than Blu-Ray). Sony's removal of PS2 support moved the PS3 from an "upgrade" to a "new" system - and made it just as easy to switch platforms. Great leadership Sony... (duh...).

  • Blu-Ray: Far from consolidating their position as the dominant format, Blu-Ray simply sat on the border of irrelevance. After all, what could it offer over DVD? Certainly not the same amount of advantage that DVD had over VHS. It looks like the future isn't in the disc format at all but rather, in online storage whether streamed from the web or from local storage. Only time will tell.
There's a lot more I could review but I guess it's time to close. I'm going to be seriously busy with those upgrades for the next month so I'll probably not post until 2010. All the best everyone - and thanks for being great readers!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

How to block your number (for Caller ID) on the Blackberry Bold 9000

I was asked to help someone with this today and I spent ages searching for the option (because it's not in the obvious place). I didn't get a lot of help online either, so I thought I'd put a post out there to fill in the gap.

It's not on the spanner icon (settings) where you'd expect it to be.

  1. From the front screen of your Blackberry
  2. Push the green phone button
  3. Push the blackberry button
  4. Scroll through the menu to find "Options"
  5. Choose "General Options"
  6. Scroll down to "Show my Number"
  7. If it says, Yes, then your caller id displays when you ring people. If no, then it doesn't.
  8. Change it to whatever you want by pushing the pearl
  9. Push the Blackberry button and choose Save.
It should take effect immediately.

Bear in mind though that lots of people won't accept calls from unlisted numbers - though if you're having trouble getting people to accept calls from YOU on a listed number, maybe going unlisted is a better option.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Notes 8.5.1 Attachment Issue - Help?

I've been chasing a simple attachment issue in Lotus Notes 8.5.1 with IBM support for a while now but we're not really getting "engagement" yet. I thought I'd document it and see if we're the only ones with this problem.

The Problem
What we've discovered is that if we attach a file using a Lotus Notes 8.5.1 client, everything behaves as per normal in the Notes client but if we use a web browser to look at the NotesDocument, the file name disappears.

It's best illustrated.

On the left, you can see how the attachment renders in the Notes client using a standard discussion database. On the right, you can see how it renders in the web browser. There is no filename. It's not white-on-white, it's simply not there.

Our Parameters
  • It only happens when we use Lotus Notes 8.5.1 clients, but it's not a problem with 8.5
  • I've only tested the problem on Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 3
  • It happens on lots of computers, regardless of brand, configuration and memory.
  • Our Domino server is currently still 7.0.2 (this might be the problem?)
  • It happens with customised databases and with the standard R7 and R851 templates.
IBM Support
As I've said before, I haven't used IBM support (other than online discussion databases) in the last ten years because the online community was so much better than support. I opened two PMRs recently mainly to test support.

I've been sending a few emails back and forth but I'm running out of ways to describe the problem. Right now, we're just six days shy of the one-month anniversary of my original submission (I'm glad I marked it urgent) - hence my comment about not really getting engagement.

Has anyone else seen this problem?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Twice in One Week - Disaster Recovery beyond our Control

It has been a busy week for disaster recovery so far - we had an outage on Monday and we had another one today.

Monday's Email Outage
On Monday, we lost our e-mail services. No, it had nothing to do with the Lotus Domino server. That was fine.

At first, it looked as if we'd forgotten to renew our domain name. This was quickly followed with a back and forward check of various DNS services out there on the Web, our domain registrar and our Internet service providers. All seemed ok with our domain name but there was definitely something weird happening.

Eventually we discovered that our Internet service provider had their DNS running off a domain which they had forgotten to renew. Since they were providing our primary DNS, all of our inbound mail was getting confused when it went to resolve our domain.

After being told by us (yes, they were unaware of the situation despite the fact that it had occurred during the night and it wasn't noticed immediately in the morning), they quickly got to work renewing their domain. Of course, given the sorts of problems associated with domain name propagation, our problems persisted in one form or another for several hours.

Years ago, such a problem would've been effectively "over" within a matter of hours but unfortunately, more and more companies are outsourcing their services overseas, and it takes more than fixing the local domain services to resolve the problem.

Today's Building Outage
Our Wednesday problem occurred while I was at lunch. I hurried back and arrived at a darkened building. Luckily, since we moved offices, we aren't as high up as we used to be and I only had to run up six stories worth of stairs (although immediately after lunch, it felt like more than that).

It turned out that the entire local grid had lost power. Our domino server and our main file server were happily running off UPS but unfortunately the UPS handling our communications gear was not up to scratch. It didn't matter because there was no way that the UPS would be able to power our systems for more than 30 minutes. Even if this was possible, the temperature inside the computer room was rapidly climbing now that the air-conditioning was off.

We had no choice but to start shutting down the servers. It took us a little while to make that decision because we knew we had a little time and we were hoping for the power to come back on. Of course, as soon as we got halfway through the shutdown procedure, the power came back on. This was after a 45 minute outage in the centre of Sydney's CBD.

Once again, the problem was "environmental" and out of our control. We could have switched to our offsite systems but it is a hard call to make because although our systems are clustered, we have a few special requirements which make a partially manual cut-over desirable. When the cut-over is not automatic, it becomes very difficult to make a decision as to when to flip the switch.

Out of Control Problems
The thing that these stories brings to mind is the fact that I keep reading anti-cloud computing "horror" stories from various vendors. In particular, they talk about Google's Gmail outages. I don't personally understand how people can think that cloud computing is any more or less unsafe than normal computing. As I said before, the problems had nothing to do with the Domino server. In fact, I can't remember a time when we've had an outage due to the Domino server.

I can remember plenty of times when we had hardware failures, ISP failures, power, air-conditioning, gas leaks and DNS failures. We've had problems with Anti-Virus and Anti-Spam services running on the domino server - and when we moved them off the server, they still caused us the occasional problem at the gateway. We've even had problems because of Windows itself and device driver updates. It's never domino though. The server product is entirely stable.

In some respects, our Domino mail is in exactly the same position as Gmail. It's not the product that is at fault, it's the underlying infrastructure - and it's out of our hands.

Monday, November 02, 2009

With friends like these... (Business Partners and support)

Some time ago, Graham Dodge posted a great discussion point on business partners and brand loyalty. (See: When is an IBM Business Partner not a real partner). Today, I got to experience this first hand.

Today, we had a discussion about Active Directory. It's something we need to install, mainly to tick the business continuity box, and not something I'm particularly keen on. It's a messy rip and replace job with very little business gain. As is often the case for Microsoft products, there's no upgrade path. That's right, we're going from Old Microsoft product to New Microsoft product and the only way to do it is to throw our baby out with the bathwater and start again. I'm not happy, but it's no worse than I expected.

Messy Introductions
Our contact arrived during a painful ISP outage (more on those amazing adventures in a different post - soon). We explained about the outage and he started telling us about how he'd been head hunted by them and was considering his options.

Observation No 1: If you are a business person trying to sell a service. It's probably not wise to let potential clients know that you're thinking about leaving the company.

Product Knowledge
Discussions moved on to our systems and I mentioned that I wasn't particularly keen on Active Directory and that overall, it wasn't critically important to us except to tick some boxes. "We're primarily a domino shop", I said, expecting him to understand. I went on to suggest that although we currently have file shares, we'd probably want to replace them with something like Quickr eventually.

Our BP then launched into a giant spiel about how it was dangerous to deviate from the Microsoft Windows platform and how "maybe you know these systems really well but when the time comes to replace you, there'll only be people with Microsoft certifications about".

I stopped him and explained that our Domino servers were running on Windows but that it was great to have a choice and not be tied to a single platform. The BP went a little loony and started talking about this dangerous Quickr thing "whatever it was", and how cloud computing would fall apart as soon as your ISP did something stupid.

I had to stop him again and ask... "Are you guys really IBM business partners?". He briefly answered "Yes" and then went back to flogging the MS view of the world.

Observation 2: If you're going to use the word Business Partner to describe yourself, then you must at least have a passing familiarity with your BP's products.

Observation 3: Nobody likes being told that their roadmap is "incorrect" - particularly not by people who aren't privy to it. That sort of behaviour doesn't sell services.

I have a bunch more observations but they essentially say the same things. As a customer, I demand product loyalty from my service providers. Sure, it's ok to not be happy about moves that a parent company makes (I whine about IBM too - as I'm sure people have noticed).

There's a big difference however between whining and betrayal.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What is wrong with IBM's Definition of Free?

I don't want to come over sounding "all negative", after all my last few posts were (justifiable) rants about installation issues but there IS something wrong with IBM's definition of FREE.

It's not the product. Both Lotus Notes and Symphony are great full-featured products. The problem is the fact that IBM is obviously very uncomfortable with giving things away for nothing.

I'm reminded of the sort of routine you see all the time on sitcoms, where one person gives another a gift but refuses to let go. There's that awkward silence and then, after what seems an eternity, the gift-giver finally let's go.

Compare this to the Google approach of showering you with gifts when you walk in the door.

I'm not suggesting that IBM should be like Google. Much as I admire Google, I can't help but think that their business model is ultimately flawed. Eventually, the rain of free goodies will have to stop if they want to turn a profit.

So, where and how could IBM improve?

Here's a few examples;

1. Don't be so desperate to get contact information that it prevents your users from downloading your software.

Let's look at the differences between downloading Symphony versus OpenOffice.

Open Office
  1. Go to
  2. Click "I want to Download OpenOffice.Org"
  3. Click Green arrow marked Download Now (the system choose the right version for you).
  4. Click Save.
  5. 17 Minutes download (Really).

IBM Lotus Symphony
  1. Go to
  2. Took forever to draw the page?? huh? I'll overlook that as a problem at my end.
  3. Choose Lotus Symphony 1.3 (Download)
  4. Presented with 1-5 of 5 Results (I just want one... can't it autodetect then give me an option to change?)
  5. Found "Windows" and clicked on it.
  6. Choose a language (English)
  7. Click Continue
  8. Arrive at Confusing IBM ID Screen ... (wtf)
  9. Click proceed without an IBM ID
  10. Entered First and Last Names, Email Address, Region,
  11. Tick Privacy thing.
  12. Tick Licence Thing
  13. Click I confirm.
  14. Click Download
  15. "Please select a file for download" - the file you've just selected comes up as not ticked. (wtf2)
  16. Tick the file and click Download Now
  17. IBM Download Director Runs (and is the default) - (wtf3)
    Fortunately it worked for me, but only because I finally unblocked it on my firewall. Mosty users won't know how to do this. It took me ages to disable it on the corporate firewall.
  18. Time Remaining 21 Minutes (really)
    I suspect that if I'd chosen HTML It would be much longer and less accurate time-wise. After all, the "two hours" it took to download notes via html were at least 180 minutes long.
Does anyone else see a problem with this download procedure?

OpenOffice pops up an optional registration screen when you first run it. That's what IBM should be doing.

2. Your Software is Brilliant - stop being shy about it.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Lotus Notes 8.5.1 is the single most powerful and flexible piece of free software available for computers today.

So why isn't IBM shouting about it?

IBM seems to think that Lotus Notes is no good without a server but that's rubbish. It's amazingly adaptable, it works on all three of the main clients (windows, mac and linux), is portable via USB stick (remember Nomad) and you can build all kinds of great registers and databases using it. I know, because the company I work for runs many critical banking systems using purely Notes/Domino technology.

For the last 16 years, I've maintained a document database of everything IT in Notes. The database contains the inventories of all our PCs, details of software licensing and product keys, how to build our SOE, how to operate our various systems, great code examples, contact lists for support and other services. Everything IT is in one secure and searchable database. How's that for a DRP?

The IT Manual: Everything lives here. The possibilities for local databases are endless, users could for example, have their family tree as a series of linked documents with a whole history about each person, photos, attachments, the works.

Then there's other databases. Have a look on CNet and you'll find a whole heap of shareware databases for collectors of stamps, dvd's, books etc. Most have a price tag attached and limited support. It's also unlikely that they're usable on other operating systems, and even less likely that they're data-compatible with eachother. It's a certain that none will work on twenty years worth of various operating systems.

My movie database doesn't just have the normal views of title, director, actor etc. I can sort and categorise by date purchased, ratings, awards won, running time, country of origin, easter eggs, extras etc. Best of all, I can add new views whenever I want without waiting for a new version of the product to come out.

Here's a sample document in my DVD movie database. I've chosen a "familiar" film. There's no limit to the sort of stuff I can put here. In fact, the record shown goes on quite a bit longer containing a detailed review of the DVD (culled from a web site), Memorable Quotes and Goofs sections. The fields you see here are picklists and the graphics draw automatically (in read mode) based on selections made. The database itself contains 2,205 DVDs (don't tell my wife!) and no. I don't need a server for it. It's a pretty good database even when only used locally.

With Notes, you can roll your own, you can add fields and views to your heart's content and you can get a whole heap of benefit - without needing a server.

So why isn't IBM shouting about it!!!

When it was first announced that Domino Designer was FREE, I tried to get info from IBM about it. I've wanted to jump and shout about the benefits of Notes to my friends for so long but I can't because IBM remains confusingly "frozen" on the product.

I've been told that it's free to developers but that it's really a trial product and "useless without a server" and I've been wondering why? Did IBM "unbundle" designer from the client? Do the licensing arrangements preclude this?

So far, I have no answer, except perhaps a feeling of unease that IBM really doesn't "GET" the power of their own product.

I suggested that to provide the notes client for free and say that you're not supposed to use it except to learn development is akin to providing MS Word for free but saying "it's only so you can learn VBA - don't try to use it for letters".

That statement was intended to galvanise IBM into a proper response but the stone giant remains steadfast, telling me instead that "we can't give everything away for free" and talking about why they can't give server CALs away - as if that had anything to do with my question.

All I want from IBM is some assurance that I can give the product to my friends along with databases and data that would be of interest to them - in a purely "local" sense. I'm not sure why I have to fight them for this assurance.

3. Users Sell the Product - Not Developers
Finally, there's the question of developers. IBM needs to realise that systems are sold by satisfied "users" not developers. If the reverse were true then linux would have overthrown windows long ago. Just look at the inroads that the iPhone has made over blackberry in the last couple of years. It's not the developers selling it. It's the users. If you want to sell Notes, you have to convince the users.

So why not be a bit more excited about getting your free product out there and running locally on users machines. It's not about servers... I've said heaps of times before, if you just want mail and calendar, then GMail and Google Calendar are much better alternatives. Notes is powerhouse software and it's strength lies in its applications.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

IBM Lotus Notes Designer 8.5.1 Installation Issues Update

I finally got to the bottom of the problems with the 8.5.1 installation and I believe that they're related to my use of the Google Chrome Web Browser.

The Hard Way
At work, after five unsuccessful uninstalls and reinstalls of Notes 8.5.1 (with some - always successful - reinstalls of 8.5 in between), I finally did two things.
  1. Switched my primary web browser back to Internet Explorer (don't worry, I didn't actually use it for the duration).

  2. Decided not to reinstall the single-signon service.
It worked!! I later switched back to Chrome and then reinstalled (did a repair) to add Single Signon. It still worked. I was in business.

The Easy Way
Once I was on 8.5.1 at work, I decided it was time to update my home computer. I don't have single signon there, but I do have Chrome as my default browser. I wasn't expecting the same installation issues to occur but they did. It's obviously Chrome.

This time, I decided to try a different approach.

Following an anonymous tip in the comments of my last post - (Whoever you are - thanks!!!), I decided to make it difficult for Notes to find the C:\Lotus\Notes\Framework folder.

I closed Notes, and renamed the folder from Framework to xFramework.

Then started designer.

I was expecting it to fall in a heap, but it worked, albeit not particularly well. Still, this was the first time that designer had actually started.

I closed it down again and renamed the folder back.

The next time I started designer, it worked perfectly. Problem solved.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

IBM Lotus Notes 8.5.1: An Update and Reinstall No 5.

Knowing (hoping) that I will receive a call from IBM today to follow up on my Lotus Notes client installation issues, I figured that I had better go back to 8.5.1. Of course, this means that I have to survive the entire day without designer.

This time, I decided to make a note of my steps.

They are as follows;

Part 1: Knocking the Old One Off
Start, control panel
Go to add remove programs and remove Lotus Notes
Close everything down... literally everything, notepad, chrome the whole lot.
The removal took 9 minutes and this was with my antivirus and firewall shutdown.

I then went searching through the file system to locate any old directories which may have contained Lotus software. I found one on my profile under application data and I found another under program files. I deleted both of these. I also killed my old installation files.

After this, I started the registry editor and did a search for "Lotus". I killed the majority of entries except for those which were obviously irrelevant. Amusingly, I even killed desktop theme called Lotus. I think that one might ship with Windows but it isn't yellow.

The next step was to reboot my PC, wait until it came up again and then shut down the antivirus and firewall services.

With nothing else running, I started the 618MB CS5S0EN.EXE setup file. Despite the fact that I don't like the default unpack settings, I decided not to change them.

In most cases, I left everything as default. The exception was in the program selection area.

Here I added;
  • The Client Single Logon
  • Designer
  • Administrator
  • The Composite Application Editor
Everything else, was left as default.

The installation process took precisely 8 minutes.

After installation, I gave the system a generous minute of time to settle itself before starting the client. I was able to connect client server fairly quickly and got to my mail with no issues. Once again, administrator loaded quite nicely but designer... it obviously didn't want to be there.

For background information, my PC is an Intel dual core 3 GHz Dell Precision T3400 with 4GB RAM and 9 GB of free hard drive space. It's running Microsoft Windows XP Professional Service Pack 3.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Installing IBM Lotus Notes 8.5.1 - Or Maybe not

I've just had a terrible user experience this morning with four failed attempts to install IBM Lotus Notes 8.5.1. I'm usually not one to give up but I have lots of work to do, so I'm going back to my old faithful 8.5.

I'm not the only one either it seems. I've talked to a few others and I've had a good look around the internet. There seems to be a very high percentage of people with 8.5.1 installation problems.

The problems themselves are varied. In my case, I got the core product working (after an extremely long installation - that bit, apparently, is common to everyone) but although I got the Administrator client running, the designer (and really my only reason for interest in the upgrade), simply refused to start.

Other people seem to have different problems and indeed there's a whole list of them in the comments on (

I tried uninstalling, deleting folders, running NotesKill and a whole host of other things to no avail.

A History of Bad Installs
What makes this particularly annoying is that after years of having (in my own words about version 3), "the worst installation program of any piece of software on any computing system", IBM/Lotus was finally starting to get things right. Now, they're right back to square one with the first installation program I've used in years where I've had to give up on the product.

A Matter of Timing
The other problem of course is the timing. Of all the times to have a bad installation, IBM would have to pick the version which they've released FREE** to developers.

So, have I lost faith in Notes? No, I guess I'm a sucker for punishment and every company is allowed to have at least one Vista or one Windows ME moment.

I'll still be here to report (hopefully) astounding success on perhaps 8.5.2 - Hint: IBM ... don't even think about giving us a post-install fixpack.

** Don't even get me started on their definition of FREE.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How to Create a Bootable DVD Using Nero Burning ROM 9

I often need to create bootable CDs and DVDs but it's weird because I frequently end up buring myself a new coaster instead. It's not that the process is difficult, just that nero has a few too many options and I forget which ones to choose and end up picking the wrong one. I figured that the best way to avoid this mistake in future would be to write the steps down.

  1. Insert CD or DVD into your DVD Burner.

  2. Start Nero Burning ROM 9

  3. Choose DVD-ROM (Boot) or CD-ROM (Boot) depending on what you're creating

  4. You'll be prompted for a disk image source. Choose a Nero Source - you'll usually find them somewhere like this...
    C:\Program Files\Nero\Nero9\Nero Burning Rom\DOSBootImage.ima

  5. Leave the Boot Locale as English - unless you really need a different keyboard layout

  6. Tick the box marked [X] Enable Expert Settings

  7. Choose Hard Drive Emulation and leave any other settings as they are.

  8. Click the button marked New

  9. Add any files you want but don't try to add operating system files. You don't need to add because it's already on the Boot disk.

  10. When you've finished, choose Burn.

That's it.

When you boot from the CD/DVD, you'll find that it starts as Drive A: and only contains a bunch of DOS Files.

Drive C: will probably be your hard drive - which may or may not be readable/writable (depending on whether it's formatted as Fat32 or NTFS).

Drive D: should be the other part of your new disc - all of the files you added.

Good Ideas for Boot Disks

Ghost Images
If you find yourself creating lots of Ghost images to reload PCs you might want to consider using the -SPLIT=650 or -SPLIT=4096 parameters to get the Ghost Images to create files which are the sizes of CDs or DVDs respectively. If you copy the Ghost image and Ghost.exe onto the CD/DVD, you can simply boot the PC off the CD/DVD and start installing without delay. Because I'm a bit of a perfectionist, I'll usually also include an autorun.inf file which launches notepad or a html file when the CD/DVD is inserted in a Windows environment.

Game Boot Disks
Want to play those old DOS Classics without the drag of Windows? Consider creating a boot disk which also contains the install files for some of the best. If you've got a good boot image and a lot of spare RAM, you might want to make a bootdisk that sets up a RAM Drive (you can make your own IMA files using WinImage). Playing a game from a RAM Drive will make it much faster but remember to copy your save game data somewhere or you'll lose it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

YellowDay 2009 - What do I use Domino for - and why is it great?

It's officially YELLOW DAY today and that means that it's time to talk about IBM/Lotus Domino. I suppose I really should give some tips but offhand I can't think of anything that I'm sure most people don't already know. Instead, I'm going to talk about how I'm using Lotus Notes/Domino and why I believe that it's still relevant today... and into the future.

First of all, I'll state my bias. It's worth a history lesson. I first got involved with Lotus Notes with version 3 on Windows 3.0 (on Novell). I didn't like the product much then but my boss had seen some demonstrations and decided that it was the future. It wasn't long before I stumbled upon the biggest bugbear of Lotus Notes - and a problem which still dogs it today...

What the %#@* is it ?

Today, I still don't rightly know.

There are a million answers to this question which depend widely upon your usage but to me, it's always going to be the "swiss army knife" of application development.

My bias is that I've been with the product for about 18 years but I've never worked for Lotus or IBM or for any computing firm which provides Lotus Notes/Domino products and services. All of my experience is as an "end user" with specific non-computing end products in mind.

Why is Lotus Notes/Domino great?
  • Longevity
    Notes was there at the start of Windows, before any of the competitors of today. More importantly though, it's still there for the future - IBM have some very impressive roadmaps and it's obvious that it will be around in years to come. More importantly though, the longevity has been stable and our code is secure. By this, I mean that applications written for version 3 of Notes, still work perfectly 18 years later on Notes 8 - and without any modifications being neccessary. None of the competitors can do that. In fact, most of the competitors don't seem to be able to manage even a year or two of compatibility. Of course, the future isn't just about compatibility but it's the right place to start. Just looking at the changes wrought in Notes 8.5 should be enough to confirm that IBM has a brilliant future planned - I'm not going to go into it in more detail because I'm sure IBM will put out their own publicity later on today.
  • Choice
    Not only is there a great deal of choice surrounding the version of Notes/Domino - yes, there are people out there who are still running versions 5 through to 7 (when they should be upgrading to 8) but there is also a choice of platforms. I can't say that I've tried them all but I've run Domino on several windows platforms and AIX. I've also run the Notes 8.5 client on Windows, Mac and several variants of Linux - and I've been very impressed with the results.
  • Versatility
    Whenever I hear people complaining about Notes, I find that they're complaining about Email and they're usually using a very old version of the product. I'd love to shout out to the world that "it's not an email platform". Seriously... If email and calendaring is all that you want - go to Gmail. Why would you drive around the city in a 4wd when you could just as easily drive a mini. I consider it a major-league sin to own a 4wd and not use it's capabilities - and the same goes for Notes/Domino. No; I don't mean that you have to go driving on rough terrain, just use the extra features. In Notes terms, this means that you don't have to build a giant extranet but if you have the product then at least use the document libraries. Not using this brilliant functionality is a waste. I could go on and talk about the various development languages but I don't think that it's necessary.
  • Scalability
    One thing that really blows my mind about Notes/Domino is just how scalable it is. Replication wasn't some facility that was added in later... this system was designed to replicate. About ten years ago, I had the pleasure of working in a place with 48 Domino servers scattered globally and all replicating happily. It was not a scenario I could have imagined with any other technology but it worked amazingly smoothly and efficiently. Replication isn't just a server-to-server thing though. It amazes me how easily I can backup data to my own computer and how quickly I can make copies of large databases. When I want to work remotely over a slow link, I make local replicas of my databases and go offline. The flexibility of this approach is mind boggling. Then, there's clustering... "replication on steroids" and proof that IBM doesn't stand still on its achievements but is constantly moving the product into new and exciting territories.

  • Structured
    I remember a discussion years ago on the things that made Notes/Domino great. We were all citing languages and the other kinds of things I've already talked about here. We thought we had it all covered until someone started talking about how maintainable the code structures were and I realised what an important point it was. It's possible to write applications in various langages to do the various things that Notes/Domino can do. You can write your own travel booking system with workflow using whatever tools you want but in the end, someone else will have to maintain it. With Domino, you can build thousands of different applications but all of them will have the same basic building blocks. They will all have forms, views, agents, framesets, outlines etc.. In each of these components, the same methods will always be available. Agents will always have an "initialize" section, Forms will always contain a webquerysave function. Sure, you won't necessarily use those methods but they are always available. The structure imposed on your code makes it infinitly more maintainable and readable than code written from scratch. Even better, the methods available often allow you to "cheat". You don't have to write window handling or view sorting code because Notes already contains it by default.

What do I use Notes/Domino for?

  • Mail/Calendar
    Duh... no I don't think this is the best part of the system but it works and there is nothing quite like having the ability to Forward pages from your other databases, write deployment scripts/buttons into your mail messages or send view, database, document and web links as part of your message. Similarly, it's nice to know that I can replicate my mail anywhere and that I can easily read it via webmail without a notes client and on the Blackberry. Of course, mail doesn't stop there for us, because in 2005 we purchased some great domino extensions which allows us to journal, categorise and archive our mail with the result being total legal compliance.

  • Document Databases
    For the last fifteen years, every bit of IT documentation I've ever written has gone directly into a Lotus Notes Database. It's secure, it's clustered, I've got local replicas and I can forward pages of instructions, code and examples to people whenever I choose. The one database contains my company's hardware and software inventory, the product keys for our software, contact details for our vendors, code examples and libraries, computer policies and our core disaster recovery plan. Even better, since the database itself can be so easily replicated, our disaster recovery plan can be stored together with the latest sets of installation instructions and troubleshooting guides. It can be sorted in various ways and even better, it's full text indexed.

  • Web Sites
    At my office we have four separate web sites being powered off a single Domino server. Some of these web sites are hosted inside domino databases with workflow and change management while others are simply hosted html. It's amazing to have the flexibility to choose our format.

  • ExtraNet Systems
    We use Domino to power an extranet consisting of about 200 databases, with 3800 external users. The databases perform a whole heap of different functions including document storage, navigation, blogging, wikis, form filling, statistics collection/generation, surveying and utility tasks. Whenever we're asked to provide a new facility, our first thought is, "will this work in Domino?". Invariably, the answer is yes, and this allows us to leverage off our existing secure, clustered and tested solutions.

  • Specialist Systems
    Our specialist systems are designed to perform specific and complex tasks. To describe them here would take more space that I could possibly afford. Over the years, I've implemented a number of these ground-up systems, including ones to collate decision papers from meetings, product testing systems, foundry materials inventory management systems, banking systems and relationship management systems. The capacity for expansion in domino is simply amazing.

  • My Own Projects
    I've always been a big fan of movies and have one of the largest DVD collections of any of my friends. I've often been told jokingly that I "support" the movie industry with my purchases. Such a large collection needs categorisation and Notes is the perfect tool for the job. I initially started building my DVD database as an experiment to teach myself domino development because believe it or not, I've never yet attended a domino development workshop. I've just picked it up as I went along and asked the right questions on the right forums. Today, my movies database contains views by title, actor, writer, director, year, duration, genre and even special features. It's replicated at home and on my PC at work and I can access it on the web and via my blackberry. If I'm in a store and I want to know if I already have a film, I can look it up on the blackberry in seconds. All the movies in my database have quotes, ratings, blooper lists and cover scans. What's more, because there's no development committee to bow to (it's my database after all), I can implement whatever experimental code I want (after backing it up first). Quite often, the code I implement and test there ends up in our corporate databases.
So... happy Yellow Day Domino.....
I really can't imagine an IT landscape without you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Preventing Domino from Filling up the C: Drive

I love learning new stuff, though usually I prefer not to learn about new things during disaster recovery, particularly if they're the cause of the problem.

Today, I learned something new about Domino.

Keeping Domino off C: Drive.
We all know about keeping domino off the C: Drive of our servers. It's one of the first things you learn when setting up any windows server, Keep the operating system on C: drive and put the apps and/or data on D: drive.

It is possible to put Domino on C: and point the data directory to D:. I've heard of people doing that in the past but it's not really something I'd like to do. For a start, there's the crashdumps... Since they vary a little from one release to the next, how do I know where they're going to be stored?

If you fill up D: drive, the applications and users will experience some irritation. If you fill up the C: drive, your server is dead. You'll have to move data under less than ideal conditions.

So, my general rule is "keep stuff of C:".

I have enough problems just dealing with the fact that the Windows operating system seems to double in size with service packs every six months.

I was therefore quite surprised to find domino complaining about space restrictions on drive C:

Nasty Windows Defaults
The message I got was;

21/07/2009 11:14:31 AM Unable to use optimized view rebuild for view 'All Requests|vwAllRequests' due to insufficient disk space at C:\WINDOWS\TEMP\notesA5BA53. Need approximately 5831 MB for this view. Using standard rebuild instead.

I looked at it and said... hang on... this is C: drive.

I checked my c: drive and we still had 3 GB available. No panicking there but WHY was domino touching my C: ?

It turns out that when domino is rebuilding views (updall -R) or when users open views for which the index has been deleted, domino needs to generate temporary files to sort the data.

IBM recommends using a different drive to the main domino data drive to distrubute disk I/O, which is fine with me.

What is NOT FINE with me is that they've automatically assumed the right to access my system drive and are using the default Windows Temp folder for this operation.

It turns out that the fix was pretty simple;

Just add the following setting;


to your server's Notes.ini file (and probably restart the server).

Of course, the D:\REBUILD folder needs to exist and if you've got an E: drive to point to ... even better.

BTW: Thanks Glen for doing the investigative work for this one.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Where have the cool "Powered by Domino" Logos gone?

I was making a couple of changes to our sites on the domino server and I decided to update the "Powered by Domino" button. So, I did a quick google image search and came up with .... nothing.

Anyway, not being someone who lets unavailabilty of things stop me, I quickly made my own;

Of course, my art skills aren't anything to rave about... but if anyone wants it, feel free to grab it and use it.

IBM... how about some buttons done by professionals?

How to Send a Rich HTML Newsletter Email via Your Domino Server

Recently, the company I work for decided that they wanted to send out an electronic newsletter with a nicely rendered html email.

We got some offsite designers to provide us with a html file but it just wouldn't render correctly when sent from Lotus Notes. We were creating the email by creating a new memo then putting the cursor in the body and selecting File, Import.

The resulting import was close, but not perfect.

On a whim, I downloaded Mozilla Thunderbird (it will be a cold day in hell before I use outlook), and set up the outgoing mail server as a SMTP server with our domino server's address.

I ignored the POP settings because I wasn't trying to get inbound email.

Finally, I tweaked the from address on the email so that it would come from our domain and sent it to our distribution group. The mail went smoothly and correctly formatted. Since my "from address" was an internal mailbox, all replies/bounces will go to that address.

People often forget that you don't have to use a Notes client to send mail via a domino server.

Friday, June 19, 2009

How to Write from Domino to File Servers without Extended Rights

The Problem
We have a file on our data file server which is used by our Microsoft Word templates to generate a whole bunch of different documents. Until recently, updates to this file have been mostly manual but now we're getting one of our new systems to perform them directly.

The problem is that the file is on a different share and a different server. The agent runs fine manually but when it runs on the server, it fails.

BTW: All our data servers and domino servers are currently Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

Why it Fails
It doesn't matter who is logged onto your domino server when you're write out a file from an agent running on the domino server because it won't be using their credentials. Since Domino is running as a service, it will be running using a different set of credentials entirely - most likely; "System".

Since "System" is a local (to the server) user rather than a domain/directory user, you can't grant it access to the rest of your network. Even if you could, this would be a very dangerous thing to do since it would grant everything running on the server access to your network.

Option 1 - Upgrade the Rights of the Domino Service
I really can't recommend this option because in my opinion, it opens some nasty security holes. I'm mentioning it mainly because in the course of my investigations, I discovered that some people use this method.

The way this method works is simple, you create a domain account with "logon as a service" rights and then modify the properties of the Lotus Domino Service (in the services control panel) to logon using these credentials.

That's it. Simple, no fuss - easy.

The main drawbacks to this method are that;
  1. Instead of simply granting your one application access to the resources you need, you've now granted your entire domino infrastructure write access to your file servers. In the unlikely event that your server is compromised (or the more likely event that one of your apps has some dodgy code) you could erase files on your file servers, or even fill up the hard drives and cause them to crash.

  2. If for some reason, you expire, change password or adjust the rights of the user being used by the server, you may suddenly find that your domino server stops working. If your Domino and Windows domain administration teams don't communicate well, they may be completely oblivious to the reasons for the failure.

Option 2 - Write Local, Move Via Service
This was the option I ended up using. It's more complex than the original method but it's more secure and easier to fix if a problem occurs.

Write Locally
First chose a folder where you're going to write temporary files on your local domino server. D:\TEMP is a good choice, though you should consider having a sub-folder for your app. (eg: D:\temp\travelplanner).

Note that C:\temp is a bad choice. You should avoid writing temporary files to the operating system drive of the server - if you fill it up, the server could crash.

Create a Batch File to update the file
You can run the batch file from your domino server or from a file server. It doesn't matter.

Here's mine;
  1. @echo off
  2. cls
  3. echo Checking Templates INI file on Community and M Drive.
  4. echo n | COMP \\domino4\D$\temp\Community\community.ini D:\Data\Public\Templates\community.ini | FIND "Files compare OK" > nul
  8. echo Copying Templates INI file from Community to M Drive.
  9. copy \\domino4\D$\temp\Community\community.ini D:\Data\Public\Templates\community.ini
  10. echo.
  11. :END
  12. echo.
  13. echo.

I'll just explain a few things....

You shouldn't have line numbers, I've only added them so that you can more easily see which lines wrap and which don't.

The source file on the domino server (written by domino) is called;

The Target file on the file server (used by internal users) is called;

Note that since the target is a local reference and the source is a UNC Name, it implies that the batch file is being run by the target server. This makes sense since we really don't want to introduce additional processing to the domino server.

In step 4, we don't want to copy the file if it hasn't changed, hence we do a COMP (DOS file compare). The COMP command produces silly prompts, so we're piping it to a null device.

In lines 5 & 6, the DOS Errorlevel command is a very old facility that lets us work out what the outcome of the COMP command was. You need to always check for the highest errorlevel first. (ie: 1 is higher than 0).

All of the echo statements are irrelevant but useful if you need to see what's going on during testing. To test, add the word pause on a line of its own at the very end - but don't forget to remove it when you start scheduling it.

Scheduling the Process
So, we now have a batch file that will copy our file from the domino server to the file server. The next task is to schedule the batch file to run at regular intervals - and with correct rights. Here's how;

You should do this on the target server (not the domino server), unless your batch file is changed to work in the opposite direction.
  1. Start the scheduled task wizard; Start, Control Panel, Scheduled Tasks, then click Add Scheduled Task

  2. At the introduction, click Next.

  3. Browse and Select your application (the batch file)

  4. Give your Task a name

  5. Select the time to run as Daily (we really want to run every half-hour) but we can't do that in this section.

  6. Choose a time (6.00am is good),

  7. Choose Weekdays and set the Start Date to today.

  8. Click Next

  9. Put an appropriate domain/directory user name and password (with rights to run as a service) in, then click finish.
You now have a scheduled agent which will run once daily. If something goes wrong with the password, then only the copy script will fail - you can still copy manually. Plus, the extent of the security compromise is limited to the batch file (which hopefully you've stored somewhere where only IT people can change it).

Modifying the Scheduled Task
To modify the scheduled task, simply click Start, Control Panel, Scheduled Tasks, then locate your task, right mouse click on it and choose properties.

You'll notice an advanced button. Click it and make some changes.

In particular, you might want to click the [X] Repeat Task checkbox and fill in a regular repeat interval (30 minutes) and an Until time.

I'm not sure what happens if you don't have an until time but I have visions of a new agent starting every day (so that you have 5 by Friday). I'd recommend that you put one in. If your task is supposed to run 24x7, you might repeat until 11.30pm and then kick off a new task at 12.00am.

So; that's it! You can now run your task whenever you want. You might find that the newly created task doesn't kick in until midnight - if so, check your date, Windows has an annoying habit of putting tomorrow's date in when you select daily task.

If you're after more comprehensive info on scheduler, you might want to check out this site;

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Experience (Nightmare?) with DELL

I'm not a person who does a whole lot of product bashing here on my blog but right now, I'm pretty miffed with DELL and it will be a cold day in hell before I give them yet another chance.

My first Intel/AMD PC was an IBM XT and I was pretty happy with it at the time. A few years later when IBM went down the Microchannel route, their brand name got so dirty that I thought I'd never see myself going back to it. I was therefore quite surprised when their hardware turnaround (they abandoned microchannel and came back to the fold) produced such great devices. I stuck with IBM until they stopped making PCs - and never regretted a minute of them. Those were classy machines.

When IBM sold out to Lenovo, I had to find another brand name. It's fine to buy some brandless junk for home but when you've got a business to support, a brand name is everything - and they usually come with a SLA. Unfortunately, there weren't many brands left in the PC market.

I decided to get myself a DELL for home. The first and last computer I'll be buying for myself over the internet. At the time, I didn't have a lot of spare cash, so I figured I'd skip the 3D graphics card and go with the onboard one until I had enough cash to pick one up later. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box to find that there was no graphics card slot. They'd also taken all my expansion slots and left me with one. This disappointment in DELL caused me to look elsewhere for my brand name PCs at work.

I tried HP/Compaq but we had a few machines die after a couple of years, so I wasn't impressed. I found that the Sony Vaio was unbeatable as a laptop but a couple of years ago, they moved to Windows Vista and wouldn't sell us one that ran XP for our corporate environment. At the time, DELL were the only one who would, so they got the sale. Of the five DELL Laptops we bought about a year ago, two have already had their motherboards replaced and the rest are still going, but are often the subject of complaints from staff. In fact, the Sony Vaio fleet which is about 18 months older than them are still running rings around the DELL in terms of speed and comfort.

Despite some misgivings, I stuck with DELL and bought seven desktop PCs. One was dead on arrival but DELL refused to replace it and instead decided to play swap-shop with refurbished parts. A second had a hard drive failure within the first week of use. After a few quibbles, the DELL technician swapped out the hard drive. The other five are still going luckily. One really irritating thing though is that the two dead PCs now refuse to take our SOE image. This is the same Ghost image that we successfully stamped across the other five. After arguing with DELL people for quite a while, I got someone here to inventory the devices. It was interesting to note that the serial number and model number of one of the devices did not match what was written on the box. The internal architecture is different - an SOE killer.

Admittedly I haven't chased the whole DELL thing as hard as I probably should have because I've been busy with other things but this morning, with several people away and a new starter in our company, those spare PCs were looking tempting. (the two DELLs which have been sitting in a back room, dead more or less since their arrival in August last year. Both DELLs once again failed imaging, so I've provided our new starter with one of the "retired" five year old IBMs. It's doing a pretty good job considering.

Meanwhile, I grabbed the DELL CDs and loaded Windows XP SP3 onto the machine. There was no restore CD to speak of, just a Windows XP install. After installation, there were no drivers, so I put the driver CD in - and got nothing. Apparently only Vista drivers are supplied. I eventually got a network driver for Vista of the CD and made it work. It was a shame I couldn't do that with any other drivers. the video drivers were Vista specific, I had to find XP Drivers somewhere. I went to the DELL site and tried to download it but the site uses FTP, which our firewall dislikes. I didn't find a http download option. Eventually, I got a driver that worked from the NVIDIA site. Unfortunately, this trick didn't work with SoundMax - Time for a new strategy.

I unblocked FTP on the firewall and went back to DELL. I knew the drivers were probably SoundMAX because the DELLs in the image had them. Of course, this being a wrongly labelled PC, it could mean anything. I ran the DELL driver detect software on their website and it identified the correct driver and offered to download it. I accepted and for some reason it took about twenty minutes to download a 13MB file. I knew it wasn't our connection, or the PC itself because after a while I got bored and downloaded the Google Chrome browser. It was downloaded and installed before DELL's driver reached the halfway point.

Finally, it all downloaded and I looked forward to having a functional PC. Alas... The driver quit installing complaining that it wasn't really the right one after all.

Today, I'm writing a memo to management stating in less detail than this post, "No DELL hardware - never, ever again."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How to Add a "Contact Me" Form to your Blog (or Website) without exposing your Email Address

A long time ago, it was common practice to simply put your email address on the web using a mailto url link. Unfortunately, this practice results in a ton of spam coming your way courtesy of spambots.

A Potted History of Methods
Over the years, a lot of different methods for getting around this problem have become available. These include the low tech methods, such as having text which reads "send email to myaccount at hotmail dot com" and needs to be reinterpreted by the reader.

The use of escape codes (try for an example), and several other ways of encoding the address in javascript.

No method has been more successful than simply giving people a blank form to write their email in. Now, in Lotus Notes/Domino, this is simplicity itself but when it comes to html, you need to write a bit of code - and even then, you need to be careful not to expose anything on the web.

Getting External Help
It makes no sense to reinvent the wheel when there's a free service available.

Kontactr ( is a service which allows you to pop up a form on your site for email. You receive the email within minutes and the only caveat that I've found so far is that they include a small advert at the end of the email being sent to you. The users of your site don't get presented with Ads.

Procedure (for Blogger)
  1. Go to the Kontactr site and register.

  2. Open your blog and click Layout, then Page Elements then Click Add a Gadget.

  3. Google will pop up a dialog box for you to select the appropriate gadget. Choose the HTML/Javascript Gadget. (note: If you haven't had a browse through these gadgets, you really should - there's some fantastic stuff there).

  4. You will now be prompted to put some code into the box. Switch back to the tab that you have Kontactr open on and choose either the embed widget or the buttons code. You may need to experiment to see which code works best for your site.

    As a general rule, the Embed widgets are best used in the middle of the page while the buttons are best in a navigation menu.

  5. Copy the code from Kontactr and paste it into your google gadget.

  6. From here on, it's just a matter of clicking Save a few times..

  7. You might want to preview your blog before saving it though - and you might want to consider dragging your new gadget around to a more suitable place on the page.
That's it.
These gadgets never cease to amaze me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lotus Foundations in Australia

After a seemingly interminable wait from IBM, it looks like Foundations is finally released (and moving) within Australia. This article from Australian IT looks at the benefits and low cost of implementing the solution.

Flexible EPSI takes the Lotus Position,,25462866-24169,00.html

If I were starting out with a small business, there's no question as to what I'd be recommending because unlike the competing products, IBM Lotus Foundations will give tech-savvy businesses room to grow.

Their comments on the use of a hosting solution (which would be one of my other choices) are particularly interesting;

"We went to the shared environment, but we grew reasonably quickly and it just became more expensive as every licence was a lot more money and the bandwidth we were consuming was costing us money," EPSI co-founder Nigel Wilson says.

"We wanted more flexibility to do more things, and this hosting organisation was just not set up for that. "

BTW: Well done Graham.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Trusting the New Document Formats

Today, I read a brilliant article;

Update on ODF Spreadsheet Interoperability

Rob Weir has repeated a series of tests he did a couple of months ago. This time on updated software. Specifically, he's testing to see how well spreadsheets transport (with their formulae intact) between the various Open Document Format (ODF) compatible applications.

The results of his earlier tests were quite encouraging and it was exciting to see that Microsoft were coming to the party with Service Pack 2 for Office 2007 offering support.

But what kind of support exactly?

Well, it turns out that they're VERY incompatible and very dangerous too. They happily import values into Excel but they lose all the formulae. Nasty. Imagine importing a critical financial spreadsheet without knowing that the formulae are gone.

There's a couple of Notes on the site for IBM Lotus Symphony to correct but since they concern the beta release, I think IBM are excused.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Microsoft/Dell Glitch Inspires some Creative Linux (GOS) Work

A bit of Dell and Microsoft Bashing
This morning when I arrived at work, my computer had installed a Microsoft Windows XP update (for Office 2007, which isn't even installed on my PC - it's running 2003) and rebooted. The result was that my screen was now partially blurry. Something had screwed around with the video drivers. I wasn't sure if it was a problem with the video card or the monitor but there's an easy way to find out. I booted from a handy Ubuntu boot CD (my trusty Bart PE didn't seem to work on the DELL).

These boot CDs are brilliant. They let you get work done without having to install an operating system. In my case, I was able to connect to the network and open some large documents to assure myself that the monitor blurriness was gone. When I booted back into Windows, the blur came back too.

I called DELL and explained my actions and was given the extremely helpful advice (NOT), that since it was obviously not a monitor or video card problem, I could either put in the DELL System Recovery CD, or Reload the Operating System manually. The analogy of rebuilding your car because you find a pot hole in the road springs to mind. I don't know where DELL get their technicians.

A Unique Temporary Fix
Well, I was in a hurry but I wasn't about to tolerate the blur either. I grabbed a PC that I found lying around and put in one of my Random OS CDs. (If you have to do this, you might as well have a bit of fun). In this case, it was the Google Operating System (GOS) which is based on GNOME Linux. My terminology is probably all wrong here because I don't know much about Linux - but that's one of the points of this post. The solution was quick and easy - even for a dummy like me.

I booted into GOS, then clicked the Install Icon on the desktop. After a few questions about my Country, Language, Machine Name and after selecting a user name and password, it started copying files. Eight minutes later (on a very old machine), I was booting smoothly into my new Operating System, already preloaded with goodies. The system informed me that there were updates - 279 (332.4 MB) to be exact. Since I was going off to get a coffee, I figured that I'd let it run. It took 40 minutes, but most of that was downloading time.

The next step was to remote desktop my windows PC and see if it came out blurry.

Getting a Remote Desktop
This was a bit tricky at first because the Google OS ships with a "Remote Desktop" already installed. Unfortunately, it's for VNC (which requires additional software on your PC). I wanted a Native Windows remote desktop. The answer was surprisingly simple.

  1. All you have to do is click (GOS - which is the GOS equivalent of the Start menu), then choose Add/Remove...

  2. A dialog box appears and you type Remote Desktop to search for it. The "windows" remote desktop is called Terminal Server Client.

  3. Simply tick the empty checkbox to the left of it and click Install.

  4. Everything else is automatic.

  5. After the installation, you can start the utility by clicking GOS, then Internet, then Terminal Server Client.

  6. In the computer name, I put the IP Address of my Windows computer and in the username, password and domain boxes, I put my normal logon credentials. That's it. It all just worked.

Of course, the screen was a bit small, being 640 x 480 but I soon discovered that if I clicked on the other tabs in the Terminal Server Client, I could set some sensible defaults. Now I had my Windows system back, and no blurry screen. That meant that I could continue work until I get around to resolving that other problem.

Notes 8.5 on the Google Operating System
It's a perverse thing that I can't help myself. I'm always interested in what Notes can do. I decided to install the notes client onto GOS. It worked first time, so here are the instructions.
  1. Put in your CD where you've saved your carefully downloaded Linux version of the IBM Lotus Notes 8.5 Client.

  2. Copy the file C1W0TEN.TAR to your desktop (I remember from ubuntu that it didn't like running from CD).

  3. Double click on the file and Extract IBM_lotus_notes - 8.5.i586.deb to the desktop

  4. Double click this file and it should launch into Installer.

  5. As usual you'll be prompted for your administrator password but then the software will install.

  6. To launch the software, click GOS, then Office, then Lotus Notes 8.5. Of course, you'll have to go through the usual setup routine, and you'll need your ID File but most of us can do those steps in our sleep.

After that, it should just work. I'm impressed. Chalk up another tested OS for Notes.

And here's an annotated picture of it all working happily together...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spouting Gobbledygook (IBM Licensing)

All companies have internal buzzwords and gobbledygook but most are fairly conscious about providing an intermediary translation before shooting it off to their customers.

This little gem? from IBM was so bizarre that I felt it was worth sharing;

I received an email today indicating that IBM had decided to make some changes to their licensing. As a customer, I try to be careful about reading such things because sometimes they highlight problems and sometimes they give us extra benefits.

The email consisted of a two page "covering letter". The first page of which said very little other than suggesting that a licence change was happening and giving a rough date. It pointed you to the attached document (the second page).

The first paragraph just tells you very little other than identifying that it's to do with IBM's Passport Agreement Programme (I'd already figured that part out). It's the second paraphaph that prompted this post.

I've reproduced it in full below because quite frankly it's one of the best examples I've ever seen of "over-use of internal buzzwords in an external communication".

Expanded list of eligible products and elimination of unique parts for Sub-capacity licensing
IBM has recently expanded the number of products eligible for Sub-capacity licensing (“Eligible Sub-capacity Products”) and announced the elimination of different part numbers for Sub-capacity licensing. All Processor Value Unit (PVU) Products are now Eligible Sub-capacity Products , unless they are specifically listed as not eligible on the Sub-capacity licensing web site at the link below. Your existing PVU Sub-capacity license entitlements will not be converted to PVU license entitlements, but can be used on an “as if converted” basis using a ratio of 1 PVU Sub-capacity license equals 1 PVU license. Your existing Software Subscription & Support (S&S) entitlements for PVU Sub-capacity products will be migrated to PVU S&S entitlements on a 1 for 1 basis at your next Software S&S renewal date on or after July 1, 2009.

Maybe that means something at IBM but it means nothing to me (the customer).

The file attachment is described as
  • Sub-Cap_Notification_Letter_InternationalEnglish.pdf
I'd suggest it be renamed;
  • Sub-Cap_Notification_Letter_InternalGibberish.pdf
More isn't always better - next time IBM, just send me a one-liner in English please.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Registering and Deregistering the Lotus Domino Server Service

The Scenario
We have a test server which is used for development test purposes only. It was set up with Domino on the C: drive (which normally I prefer to keep clean for the operating system). Domino was apparently later installed on D: drive but the old installation was not removed and the Lotus Domino Server service remained in startup.

As a result of the old service still being installed, the new one did not get installed - I'm not sure if this was a notes problem or if the person doing the installation had "cheated" and simply copied the folders to the new drive. It was only a test server after all. Regardless of the cause, the issues became;
  1. There was an old service which was disabled
    To prevent the wrong domino server from accidentally being started, the folder C:\Lotus was renmed to C:\Old-Lotus.

  2. The New Service was not installed
    This meant that everytime the server was rebooted, the domino service had to be restarted manually - and also, whomever started the Domino server, started it on their login. Anyone using a different login would not be able to get to the console (except via the Notes Admin Client) to monitor, run server tasks or to shut the service down neatly.
This post is all about how I managed to resolve the problem.

Knocking the Old One Off - Gentle Method
There's a nifty little uninstall routine for de-registering Lotus Domino services in Windows. All you need to do is;
  1. Go to a command prompt

  2. Change to the domino folder
    CD C:\Old-Lotus\Domino

  3. Run the Service installation program with the -d parameter.
    ntsvinst.exe -d
    You can read more about this here..

  4. Of course, you shouldn't get your hopes up because this didn't work for me. I'm sure it works fine with a normal notes install but if you've mucked around with the folders since, it doesn't.

Knocking the Old One Off - Rough Method
Luckily, for us, there's a windows equivalent for removing services. It's called the Registry Editor. Here's how;

  1. Start the Registry Editor (Start, Run, Regedit.exe)

  2. Browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SYSTEM/CurrentControlSet/Services

  3. Look for the folder/Service called Lotus Domino Server (LotusDominoData) and right mouse click on it.

  4. When the menu appears, choose Delete.
    (BTW: You'll notice in the right hand panel that the file path to the service is displayed, so you can actually check before you delete).

  5. When prompted to confirm deletion, choose Yes.

  6. You can close the Registry Editor now.

  7. You'll notice that this has had no effect. That's because, this being a Windows System, we have to reboot.

  8. Once rebooted, the service will no longer be displayed.

Putting the Right one Back
Now we can make use of that nifty little install I talked about earlier, only this time, we'll use the -c parameter, which creates the service. The instructions are more or less the same.
  1. Go to a command prompt (start, run, cmd)

  2. Change to the domino folder (the real one this time)
    CD D:\Lotus\Domino

  3. Run the Service installation program with the -c parameter.
    ntsvinst.exe -c

  4. This time, it works a treat - and no reboot is necessary. You can start the service from service manager in control panel and you can set it to be "automatic".
A happy ending. (BTW: The Server was Domino 8.5 on Windows Server 2003 but the instructions should work for several older versions of both).

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Next Generation of Browsers

It's been noted all over the place that the browser wars are starting again (well, they've been going strong for the last few years). I've been a long-time Firefox user ever since I forced myself to live with the browser for a month just to try it out. I coudn't go back to IE.

I've tried Safari, Opera and Chrome without feeling too tempted. I was impressed by the design of Chrome but the lack of familiar features (add-ons and scripting) failed to win me over. I'll admit though that I've found Opera to be the browser of choice on the Blackberry.

Recently, I decided to give IE8 a go. Ok, so it was on the morning of the FIRST day of release but that doesn't mean I'll be lining up for any other MS products. I decided to see how well it worked doing the normal things I do every day.

It almost made 45 minutes but then it crashed and I haven't used it much since then.

I then switched my attention back to the Chrome 2.0 beta browser I had been testing. I've been using this as my main browser for nearly three solid weeks now. I've left it running overnight on most nights and it's still as fast as ever. Remember, this is a BETA product. I was willing to tolerate some crashes but thus far, I haven't experienced one.

I also expected to have problems accessing some sites but I've had no problems so far. I've been right through all the major Google apps, iNotes and many of the major news and social networking sites. It also works with our intranet and extranet.

I'm impressed.

I'm not sure that I can live without Sharaholic or my "Copy as plain text" menu option but I've discovered that I need to start Firefox up for one of these less than three times per day. I'm also missing my Google Toolbar (for some reason it isn't available in Chrome).

I'm not ready to dump Firefox for Chrome yet - but I don't want to dump Chrome 2.0 either since it has proven to be even more stable than Firefox. I can't afford to have three browsers, so I guess it's goodbye IE8.