Saturday, March 05, 2016

Notes/Domino is Dead, Long Live NoSQL/Domino!

I was having a conversation recently and there was a couple with no kids who were annoyed that their friends were saying “the club scene is back!” when in their mind, it had never left.  They pointed out that it was the other couples who’d left the scene to raise children and that now that those kids were old enough to stay home on their own, they were able to return to the club scene. It was not “back”, THEY were back.

It’s like the concept of object permanence doesn't apply. People assume that things are long gone, simply because they personally are no longer using them.

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard IBM Domino pronounced “dead” over the years and yet it keeps going. People move to all-Microsoft companies and then they start at ours and say "I thought Notes was dead."

No, it's not dead... in fact, we’re still developing in it now and its future today is much more assured than it was five years ago. 

The fact is that the model still works. The access controls on domino databases (nested groupings, database access controls, reader and author fields) run rings around most other systems. Sure, the user interface is "clunky" at best but the model still works very well indeed. Even IBM Connections, the most likely successor has far less functionality and much more inflexible security than domino. Connections is good but it's never going to be a complete replacement.

A State of Change
Over the years, there have been a few half-hearted attempts to re-skin the interface (Notes 7 and 8) or to produce "lightweight" versions of it (iNotes and the Firefox plugin). These have inspired developers to produces equally half-hearted attempts at porting apps to the web - and I've seen some shockers.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I've been responsible for more than a few of those "shockers".

There have also been many attempts to replace the system with other "prettier" ones, like Websphere and Workplace but for the most part, these were slightly less clunky interfaces built in far less capable models. In fact those systems did far more damage to Notes/Domino than the competitors ever did.

To everyone’s surprise, of all the interfaces, it was Traveler that caught the imagination. IBM jumped off the Blackberry ship at exactly the right time.  Far enough in front of the iceberg that by the time Blackberry was sinking, most of us had a pretty effective upgrade path.

It's no exaggeration to say that Traveler almost single-handedly decided IBM's current path.... Mobile FIRST!

Then there’s Verse, IBM’s revamped mail which simply couldn't get here fast enough. If you haven’t tried it, you really ought to. It’s great.  There’s still a lot of features missing but it’s getting there.

What’s really funny is that people at work are pushing me to get them off that old clunky mail system and onto Verse. I no longer try to explain that they’re the same thing, I think that the rebranding is a very good move.

Speaking of rebranding, I've noticed that IBM is increasingly referring to Domino as "NoSQL". That's what they seem to be calling it on Bluemix.

I can remember having to write papers to justify building databases on Non SQL platforms. I explained that SQL is only good for certain types of data.  It was hard work and everyone was focussed on this “newfangled SQL”…. until finally I mentioned that SQL was in fact invented by Edgar Codd of IBM back in 1970. It wasn't “newfangled” and it certainly wasn't "Microsoft’s idea".

Finally, Finally!!! IBM is getting it.  The Notes client is dead. It’s fine as a development tool but it’s dead as a user tool.  The engine is still Domino NoSQL and the future is web and apps. 


Frederic Dehedin said...

Excellent article! Absolutely agree.. altough i worked and loved the Notes Client for many years, it has it's age now and unfortunately IBM is not putting any significant effort in evolving it. The expectations of customers / users are changing and Notes Client applications are struggling to keep up with them. It would have had a chance, if IBM would have made it as a kind of Super-Browser: Light wight, Built In EMail/Calendar/ToDo, API for XPages, Applications where developers can access built in functions (but mainly these are Web Applications).
Developing a new application for the Notes Client? i don't think that's a good investment.
Developing a new application in XPages? Yes why not! And since the NoSQL Keyword is hip, you can use it as a sale argument too:-)

Anonymous said...

A little ironic when you sum up by saying "The Notes client is dead." It's not dead, it's just that you're not using it any more! You can return to the club scene, there are others their still happily and successfully using the Notes client.

Gavin Bollard said...

Anonymous. Good point about the irony.

We are actually still using it though. We're encouraging everyone to get off it for mail (I'm mostly off it and using Verse). We're also trying to migrate our critical Notes systems to the web but we're not there yet.

That's not IBM's fault. It's ours.

In terms of development, the client is no longer being "actively developed". It doesn't mean that Notes systems are dead though, simply that the client for those systems should be a web browser.

Bill M. said...

And the browser works so well when one is disconnected on a plane, train, or rural area with no cell coverage. IBM has a great tool to cover those areas so you can get to your data and be productive. Having a robust browser experience is key and it is good that IBM is moving to that arena. It just is not a panacea.

Nice piece overall. Thanks for the reminder of the SQL inventor.

Brandon Willoughby said...

Great Article Gavin!! Love the Zombie!!

I wanted to add to Bill M's comments,I do agree that IBM Notes has offered a valuable solution coming into the 'mobility' era but I think it's value position is continuing to fracture due to ever increasing improvements/accessibility to global infrastructures/technology such as Internet access.

The likes of Facebook, Google (Alphabet) and Amazon all vying for break-neck growth in their businesses have a need to have as many people connected as possible (even if they offer it for free) All of these players and more are currently heavily investing in commercial use 5G connectivity from the sky through aerial and satellite technologies across all countries and we all gain to benefit.

So, it stands to reason that we 'MAY' be connected for the majority of the time we are on top of the surface of earth in the not too distant future.


Neil P said...

I, similar to many people, worked with Lotus Notes / Domino for many years. Even from the early 2000's browser based solutions were the way to go. My recent experiences with Web, JAVA and SQL based solutions are horrendous. Things that would have taken days to implement in Domino seem to take weeks and months to develop similar functionality.

I have also been looking at NoSQL solutions (MongoDb & MarkLogic) as the skills gained on Domino are very transferable from a solution and architecture perspective. One of the key differentiators of many of the new wave of NoSQL databases is the capability to store huge amounts of documents (big data) and the to meet the performance requirements associated with this. This is still one of the major areas of let down for Domino. The .nsf size limitations restrict the potential usage of Domino compared to other NoSQL databases.

If only IBM would overcome this limitation and focus investment on the backend storage capabilities and associated performance of Domino we could see its rebirth !!! That and overcoming its horrendous licencing model would seriously make me push for its usage again.