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.
- Go to http://www.openoffice.org/
- Click "I want to Download OpenOffice.Org"
- Click Green arrow marked Download Now (the system choose the right version for you).
- Click Save.
- 17 Minutes download (Really).
IBM Lotus Symphony
- Go to http://symphony.lotus.com/
- Took forever to draw the page?? huh? I'll overlook that as a problem at my end.
- Choose Lotus Symphony 1.3 (Download)
- Presented with 1-5 of 5 Results (I just want one... can't it autodetect then give me an option to change?)
- Found "Windows" and clicked on it.
- Choose a language (English)
- Click Continue
- Arrive at Confusing IBM ID Screen ... (wtf)
- Click proceed without an IBM ID
- Entered First and Last Names, Email Address, Region,
- Tick Privacy thing.
- Tick Licence Thing
- Click I confirm.
- Click Download
- "Please select a file for download" - the file you've just selected comes up as not ticked. (wtf2)
- Tick the file and click Download Now
- 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.
- 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.