Ability to work disconnected – does it matter so much?

One of the strengths of Lotus Notes that always gets brought up in any technology discussion is the Notes’ off-line abilities.  To date, nothing else truly matches the replication engine that’s been a core part of Notes for the past 20 years and the ability of Notes to provide full fidelity of applications in disconnected mode.  Many Notes proponents, when discussing pros and cons of Notes vs. other technologies, will beat their chests, “But, replication!  A couple clicks and we can work off-line!”

But how much does that truly matter today?

Other than being on an airplane and being too cheap to pay 5 bucks for Internet access, I can’t think of another situation where I find myself completely and totally disconnected.  Ubiquitous wireless networks, Verizon 4G air card, tethering through my Blackberry – I can always get online.  The Skynet is here.

If I don’t have the laptop with me, then my Kindle or Blackberry (or iPhone and iPad for many others) can get me online.  And even if I do have the laptop, rather than waiting for the fat client to load, I pop open a browser and go to my applications.

Web and mobile — that’s where the true power and the true differentiation lies.  How easy can take my application to the web and serve it up on my travelers’ iPads?

I’m waiting for the day when Notes proponents will beat their chests, “But, the iPad!  A couple clicks and my application can work on an iPad.”  Think that day will come?

Or are the off-line abilities still a big requirement in your organization?


How to send doclinks outside of Notes

A client of mine was in the process of migrating from Notes to Exchange (don’t ask, they really had no choice).  The migration was supposed to be pretty quick, so we didn’t bother with coexistence: just use SMTP to forward emails between systems.

They have a couple of applications, mainly a CRM system, in Lotus Notes, which send out email notifications with doclinks to documents in question.  When the email would show up in Outlook, instead of a doclink they saw plain text listing the database, the view and the document — no doclink.

I was ready to modify the app to start sending notes:// URLs instead of doclinks, but first decided to dig around in Router configuration settings.

Under the MIME – Conversion Options – Outbound tab I found a field labeled “Message content”.  It was set to “from Notes to Plain Text”.  I changed it to say “from Notes to Plain Text and HTML” (one of the available options) and, as if by miracle, Outlook users started seeing active clickable doclinks coming in from Notes.

In all our tests, the only mail platform that didn’t want to recognize clickable doclinks was Yahoo.  Otherwise — Exchange, Gmail, outside Exchange servers — everything was showing a hot doclink, which would take the user into Notes and to the right document.

A bit of Router magic saved me from changing code in an ugly app.


Moving on up to the Exchange side

I took the plunge.  I finally did it.  I moved.

As some folks read and reacted with disbelief on Twitter, I switched my email platform from Notes to Exchange.

We, at PSC, have been running both systems in parallel for quite some while:  Exchange for the Microsoft team, Notes for the IBM/Lotus team.  And as a Mac user, I just wanted to use Mac Mail and iCal.

Sadly, Lotus continues to take the high road when it comes to allowing people to use clients other than Notes with its Domino servers.  And Exchange 2010 integrates rather nicely with Apple and its native Mac apps.  I’ve been tempted to make the switch for quite some while now.  End of the year, my calendar being pretty empty, seemed like the right time to do it.

I am rather impressed how simple and uneventful the move was.  I had to setup some general mail settings (signature, refresh frequency), configure appearance and configuration of my BlackBerry, that was about it.

I used IMAP to download email from Domino into Mac Mail.  That way I still have easy access to all my messages from Notes.  Mac Mail allows me to easily move things around between accounts as does iCal and Address, making populating my newly minted Exchange account a snap.

The biggest issue I had were my contacts.  For some odd reason, Mac Address would not import all contacts exported from Notes in a VCF file.  Out of 300-some contacts, it would only import 13 – 15.  I had to resort to the magic of Outlook 2011, which imported everything perfectly and synchronized with Mac Address.

If I think about it, I’ve never ever used anything other than Notes for email in a corporate environment.  We’ll see how this experiment (pardon, “move”) works out for me.  I yet might switch to Outlook 2011.

One thing I miss already is the ability to be prompted whether I want to save a copy of the message in my Sent folder.  Not happy about my Sent folder filling up with silly 1-line responses.  Anybody knows if Mac Mail can be configured to prompt?


Domino server is crashing – SMSDOM panic

This happened just today.  Installed a brand new Domino 8.5.1 server 64 bit.  Installed the latest Symantec anti virus for Domino on top of it.  Ran a manual scan and crashed the whole server when completing the scan of a particular mail file.

The very reproducible crash would generate an SMSDOM Panic error with a rather generic error message of “Entry not found in index”.

When Google yielded no appropriate results, we called Symantec and they immediately pointed us to this technote.

Apparently, this is a well known problem with a simple fix.  Follow the steps in the technote to replace the nntask.exe and life, once again, is good.

How to Ctrl-Break on a Mac

A Lotus Notes user on a Mac for 2 years now, the only thing I miss about Windows is to be able to hit <Ctrl><Break> to stop/break out of whatever Notes is doing. And only now I discover the answer…

<⌘ Command><.>

Can’t believe it took me 2 years and paying attention to an Excel window to discover this.

First GRANITE User Group West Technical Meeting

We have discussed the idea of holding a Technical meeting in the Western Suburbs on the months opposite the Loop meetings. At yesterday’s GRANITE meeting, we decided that PSC will have the pleasure and the honor to host the first of these meetings at its Schaumburg office on Monday, March 15th from 3pm – 7pm.  Our office is on the 5th floor in suite 500.  (Google Maps link is here.)

We also decided that the main topic of these meetings will be XPages. Specifically, Mike McGarel and Roy Rumaner will be starting everyone off on how to build an XPage application. Where do you start, what do you need to know and how does it work with an existing Notes application.

They are going to use Declan Lynch’s excellent 54 step tutorial as the focus of this project. At the first meeting we will be walking everyone through the first ten steps (more if time permits) in his tutorial. We will then ask everyone to do the next ten on their own before the next meeting.

If you want to start reading through the tutorial before the meeting, it can be found at http://www.qtzar.com/blogs/qtzar.nsf/htdocs/LearningXPages.htm

Please let us know if you are interested in this idea and if you are going to attend this meeting. If you have any other topic ideas, we are also open to hearing them.

We would like to get a count of how many people will be attending.  That will determine which room we will use for the meeting.  Roy started a thread on LinkedIn.  Please respond there or on our blogs.

Abbott lays off all of its Lotus developers

A couple of weeks ago Abbott Laboratories in Chicago let go all of its Lotus Notes developers.  Interestingly enough, they kept, at least for now, all of the contractors.

This may be a cost cutting measure.  But it sounds like another company making a strategic decision about the future of their Lotus Notes development efforts.  Sure, it will take some time to move existing Notes apps to SharePoint or some other technology.  And, sure, some apps may always remain in Notes.  But those apps will be in support and maintenance mode, with new development being shifted into some other technology, SharePoint being the most obvious suspect here.

In the mean time, there are a few more unemployed Lotus Notes developers walking around Chicago.

Lotus must get customers to upgrade

As we’re going into 2010, Lotus is faced with numerous customers evaluating their email infrastructures.  While Lotus reports record-setting rates of upgrades to the latest version of Notes and Domino (8.5), large numbers of customers are still running older versions of the Lotus software, with some of them going as far back as release 5 desktops and mail templates.  Lotus knows that customers on versions earlier than 8.5 are more likely to migrate to a different mail solution (Exchange and Outlook) as compared to customers who went through the 8.5 upgrade. The R5 mail template wasn’t all that pretty when it came out 10 years ago.  It looks absolutely horrible when you compare it Outlook 2007 and the likes.  Lotus’ latest release of the Notes client 8.5 looks and feels so much like Outlook and offers so much functionality that it makes it hard to defend the migration argument and the associated costs.

What Lotus needs to think of now is how to encourage its customers to upgrade.  Over the course of 2009 a great deal of effort and money — sales activities, SWAT teams — was expended on defending Lotus at existing customers.  Often these very costly efforts were not successful and the battle was lost.  Perhaps the efforts were pointed in the wrong direction.  Offense is the best defense.  Instead of trying to convince customers to stays, Lotus should make staying so appealing that customers don’t even entertain the thought of leaving.  Instead of defending against Microsoft, Lotus should look at making the 8.5 upgrade financially appealing to the customers by offering deep discounts on license renewals under the condition that within 6 to 9 months every Domino server and every Notes client will be upgraded to 8.5.x.  The somewhat successful V2V (Version To Version) campaign conducted at the end of 2009 could’ve been more successful with a simple phone call to the CFO: “How much will you be spending on your license renewals with IBM this year? How would you like to spend 50% less?”

This might be a hard pill to swallow for the sales force.  The initial impression is that they would be losing 50% of their commission and making 50% of their quota.  To address the concern and to keep the sales teams motivated, IBM could apply the customer discount after the commission and the quota fulfillment have been calculated.  And to overcome all internal objections, IBM can treat this offer as a competitive upgrade price situation.

This practice is not unique.  It is widely practiced by consumer services companies in markets where there’s a lot of competition.  Cell phone carriers, TV cable or satellite providers and even some credit card companies routinely offer credits and discounts to long-time customers who are considering canceling their contract and taking their business to a competitor.

Before it’s too late, IBM, should figure out how to get the existing customers to upgrade to 8.5 and upgrade quickly.  Making it a financially appealing decision, is a good first step.

JMP106 “Kum Bah Yah” meets “Lets Kick Butt” : The Integration of IBM Lotus Notes and Domino with Microsoft Office, .NET, and IBM Lotus Symphony

Thank you everyone who took time to attend our JumpStart session at Lotusphere 2010.  After a bit of last minute sweating over crashing demos, we did it!  All demos worked perfectly.  All slides came together.  Our demonstrations of insert image, insert slide and Windows Explorer integration with Lotus Notes were received very enthusiastically with a great round of applause, the best applause we ‘ve ever had during a session.  And unusually for us, we even finished ahead of schedule, leaving plenty of time for Q&A.

Keep in mind, most of the slides here are just place holders to help us keep track of the demos.  The collection of demos is coming soon.  I’ll post it next week.

My Lotusphere 2010 session

This year’s Lotusphere Sunday is going to be a little less busy than usual for me.  I am co-presenting with John Head a JumpStart session JMP 106 – “Kum Bah Yah” Meets “Let’s Kick Butt”: The Integration of IBM Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino with Microsoft Office, .NET, and IBM Lotus Symphony.  Unlike the previous years, we are only presenting it one time at 4PM. There will be no repeat session. So, if you’re interested in learning all about the integration of Lotus Notes and Domino 8.5 with Microsoft Office, .NET technologies, OpenOffice.org, & Lotus Symphony. We’ll start with the basics and build up to mail merge, exporting to a spreadsheet, charting, presentations, and integration on the Web, don’t miss JMP 106 at 4PM in Swan 7 – 10.  As usual, the session will be made up of demos, demos and more demos, all of which, including the slides, we will make available for download from our blogs.

Hope to see you at the session tomorrow.