Sunday, August 1, 2010

Back to basics with Notes


By Mick Moignard

There's been quite some discussion recently in the Lotus world about Notes and Domino's credentials in the application development space.

It's touched several planes, some about about how our careers develop, and our interests change. It's also looked at how we see the place of Notes and Domino in the marketplace, where it, and we, are going, and how the IT spectra of users and customer companies changes.

We've seen again just how passionate we get about about what we do and the tools we do it with. We've seen less about how to turn that passion into results.

Where Notes and Domino are going is a subject that I've been pondering at intervals over the years. I remember discussing this very subject at Lotusphere 2005 with none other than Ray Ozzie, who said he regretted that Notes, with the introduction of LotusScript way back 1996 with Notes 4, had become a professional developers toolset, rather than being something that end-users could make direct use of.

It's an opinion I shared at the time -- even though I too make the bulk of my living, from Notes and Domino application development. It's an opinion I still share with him now.

So has Notes lost its way, or rather, has the Notes community collectively lost its way, and even lost sight of what Notes is best at? I rather think it has, and I'm going to explain why. In this article, I'm going to talk about my history with notes. In later installments, I'll look at Notes itself.

Bits of history

I first encountered Lotus Notes on 15 August 1991,and like almost everyone else, initially wondered "what the heck is this?" I soon worked it out, and realised all the things that Notes could do that that just about nothing else could (and by and large, still can't). Of course, part of Notes' ongoing problems has always been that wide spectrum of things it can do and things it can be used for, which defies simple description.

One of the first applications I built with Notes was a simple workflow application that enabled our warehouse and office staff to collaborate more effectively over the process of dealing with reports of faulty parts from customers and checking the stock in the warehouse to see if we had any more faults.

It was implemented with five Notes release 2.1 clients, communicating via modems with a server that lived under my desk. Delivered and deployed completely underneath the corporate radar, I'm proud that this application is still in use today -- though now delivered, fortunately, via the corporate Notes and Domino service (and I'm no longer the maintainer, either).

We went on to deliver a number of other Notes applications as the company deployed a network, and we decided to adopt Notes for our corporate email system, to replace a mainframe-based email system. Many of those applications that were built on a shoestring in the summer of 1993 are still with us today, some even looking pretty much the same as they did then, but more importantly, still delivering the goods. We don't have the mainframe any more, though.