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.


giuliocc said...


Well put. IBM ultimately suffers from 2 things.
1/ IBM, traditionally, is NOT a S/W company. They sell boxes of stuff, and huge support contracts.
2/ Because of "1", they live in the "build and they will come" or "we built it, you work it out" culture.

Change those 2 things and we may see some genuine progress.

Graham Dodge said...

Hi Gavin,
Bad news... you do come over sounding "all negative" on this point. You are covering two issues here - free software and easy download.

First, I completely agree with you about the complexities of the IBM web site. It is confusing and difficult to use and I don't see why I need to maintain multiple separate IBM identities and passwords as:
* an IBM/Lotus Business Partner
* an IBM Supplier
* a member of IBM DeveloperWorks
* an IBM Certified Instructor
* etc.

Second, Domino Designer really is free for single use. If you want to run a Domino SERVER then you need a separate license, but I've been doing valuable Domino Designer work on a laptop (without server) for literally decades and I'm sure thousands of other developers do the same. I've had no problems in getting answers from IBM locally on the boundaries around this issue, so perhaps you're talking to the wrong people there?

Ed Brill said...

Gavin, I get it, but it isn't what the 8.5.1 announcement was.

NO, you cannot use local databases as an end-user under the free license for Domino Designer. Here is the license text, which is freely available and not hidden behind any stone walls:

"Licensee may use IBM Lotus Domino Designer ("the Program") only to develop applications on an individual system that is not connected to an IBM Lotus Domino Server. IBM Lotus Notes is provided with the Program as an application development environment. Licensee may use IBM Lotus Notes only to develop applications and to use such applications on the same system on which the Program is installed, and for no other purpose.

To deploy applications from the Program to an IBM Lotus Domino Server, Licensee must acquire an IBM Lotus Domino Enterprise Client Access License and a Proof of Entitlement to an IBM Lotus Domino Server. "

I am not oblivious to the value of a stand-alone Notes client but that was not our objective with 8.5.1. Our objective was to invigorate the app dev community, as outlined here:

The registration process is cumbersome but the data is what we want in return for making these offerings free. OpenOffice asks nothing because no commercial entity is behind it. And, Symphony's license allows you to freely distribute it -- users do not need to download or register with

@Giulio, IBM is in its own right the world's 2nd biggest software company.

giuliocc said...

ED. Good point..

But how much of that is in IBM's exclusive efforts in s/w development ? or by acquisition ?

Gavin Bollard said...

Thanks Ed,

I started working through the licence agreement line by line but ultimately it's the words;

"Licensee may use IBM Lotus Notes only to develop applications and to use such applications on the same system on which the Program is installed"

that matter.

Essentially, you can download Notes and build your own personal APP and USE it. As far as I can tell, that local usage is not restricted to self-developed apps. You can download from OpenNTF, you can be given (or buy) a local app and you can use the built-in Notes templates to create your own database.

So long as you don't touch a domino server with that client.

The other bizarre thing is this phrase;

"To deploy applications from the Program to an IBM Lotus Domino Server, Licensee must acquire an IBM Lotus Domino Enterprise Client Access License and a Proof of Entitlement to an IBM Lotus Domino Server."

Does anyone else read that as "developers need their own server"?


And Yes... I get that this release was intended to encourage developers but I stand by my statement that new systems grow from user interest, not from new developer toys.

Felix_Dzerzhinsky said...

It would be nice if IBM made the Lotus Note client free and able to work with Google Calendar without the need for a Domino server. People using it at home would have to influence purchasing decisions in companies.