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.