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?


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.

New opportunity – moving from Exchange to Lotus Notes

It is not often that I get to talk to companies looking to move from Exchange to Lotus Notes.  Every such conversation is a special treat to me.  So when I had one this week, I felt that I should mention it.

A partner of ours engaged me in a conversation with their client.  The client is an IBM shop (a bunch of AS/400s) when it comes to the back office.  They use or rather used to use Microsoft Exchange for their email.  Apparently, 2 weeks ago they got hit by a Windows virus that effectively shut down their email.  The virus affected them so bad that their email has been down for 2 weeks.  As the result, the words “Microsoft” and “server” are some of the dirtiest words known to the president of the company.  

We are now talking about deploying Lotus Domino and Lotus Notes on a couple of iSeries boxes.  The powers to be made the decision to switch without ever seeing a Lotus Notes client.  I walked them through a demo of Lotus Notes 8.5.  We mainly looked at email, calendar and contacts.  The initial reaction: this does everything we want, it looks good and it works well.  The biggest selling point — if they ever get hit by another virus, the iSeries and Lotus Domino will remain unaffected. 

Right now we are working on sizing the hardware and estimating the effort involved in moving 1000 users from Outlook to Lotus Notes in fastest possible way.  Can’t wait to start this project.

Why do I care what email client you use?

When Ed Brill posts an entry like one from December 13 (Link), it sparks too much thought in my head to fit it all into a comment.

It’s almost 2009, why are we still fighting over what email client a user wants to use?  Email is ubiquitous, that’s what standards are all about.  POP3 or IMAP — both are fine protocols.  As long as my client talks one of those and my server talks one of those, I can use my client against my server.  As a vendor selling email servers, why do I care so much about what client is being used to access my server?  I still get to charge access fees regardless of the vehicle used for access.

Imagine if the development of the National Highway System was sponsored by Ford.  We’d all be driving Model T’s right now to be able to take full advantage of the highway.  Not a Ford? Sorry, you can’t go faster than 45.  The Tollway Authority, at least in Illinois, at least to my knowledge, does not discriminate, does not care what car you drive: Ford, GM, Honda or Ferrari — all get charged the same access fee.  You drive whatever tickles your fancy or fits your budget, but everyone gets to pay $3 to drive on the Chicago Skyway.

IP Telephony vendors figured this out long ago.  With the advent of SIP as the standard, even Cisco, in addition to its proprietary Skinny protocol, started supporting it.  The IP telephony vendor – Cisco, Broadsoft, Asterisk – cares about selling his switch.  What phone you use, is of less import.  And while, of course, they would love to sell the cobranded and pre-packaged phones with their solution, you can opt to use a brand of your choice.

And if you want to be a phone vendor, your phone has to be able to compete with other phones and be able to be used with all kinds of switches.  Aastra, Polycom and others have long been playing this game competing on features, price, compatibility.  And if you can’t make a phone as good or better as one of these vendors, get out of the game.

Imitation is the best form of flattery.  In release 8, Lotus pretty much all but publicly admitted that users want Outlook.  The layout, the colors and other UI nuiances of the 8 version of the mail template pay homage to Microsoft Outlook.  In the words of the great Bugs Bunny, “if you can’t beat them, join them”.  There are fans and then there are fanatics.  Fighting fanatics is usually pointless.  IBM has a great server — Lotus Domino.  Microsoft has an OK server — Exchange.  Microsoft has a great client — Outlook. IBM has an OK client — Notes.  Right or wrong, Outlook is king: users like it, users want it, 3rd party vendors integrate with it.  So why fight it?  Why not let users make their own choice of which client they want to use?  Users don’t care what server delivers their email, take this decision out of their hands.  As long as I get paid every other week, I don’t care what payroll system my company uses.  As long as my email gets to me, I don’t care what servers it went through.  Why not make Lotus Domino mail open to be accessed by other clients?

Lotus Domino is a great server.  Its advantages over Exchange are numerous.  From the IT perspective, most organizations I deal with would rather run a Domino infrastructure: it runs on most any platform, it stays up, it is easy to administer.  But alas! Users want Outlook and Outlook automatically means Exchange. Let’s stop allowing the users and the impetuous CEOs hold IT hostage.  Let the users decide what applications they want on their desktops.  And let’s leave the back-end decisions in the hands of people who are qualified to make them — the IT department.

Both IBM and Microsoft understood this long time ago.  You can use any browser to access your Hotmail account or an IIS website.  And you can open Word documents in Symphony.  Yet the email client war rages on.  The last frontier to be won or pointlessly lost.  If you can’t make a great client, stop making it.  I would much rather see the efforts and the dollars go towards making a great server even better.   If you win the back-end war, who cares what client is used to connect to your server — you still get to charge an access fee.

Upgrading Exchange vs. Upgrading Domino

We’re going through an upgrade of our Exchange environment to the latest and greatest Exchange 2007. Yes, I have to admit that for some strange reason folks in our Microsoft practice keep want to be using Outlook instead of Lotus Notes. I don’t understand their reasoning as they have to keep both clients: all our internal systems are built in Notes, but that’s their problem.

So after yet another email announcing that the upgrade had to be rescheduled, I got to wondering…

When we upgrade our Lotus Domino servers, I never hear about it. Domino is so easy to upgrade that it happens at night without anyone knowing. The only time I know that our servers were upgraded is when webmail asks me to install the new plug-in. And we have our business run on Domino.

So why is it taking what seems like several weeks to upgrade our puny Exchange environment, which does nothing but email for 10 – 15 people? Is it a problem with technology? Is it truly that complex to upgrade?

Any experiences to the contrary?

On lack of Lotus Notes integration

When talking to customers, one of the arguments against Lotus Notes that comes up time and time again is the lack of integration options.  There are many examples.  Book a flight on-line or buy tickets to an event and there’s likely to be a link on the page to add this event or this flight to your Outlook calendar.  There is never a link to add this to your Lotus Notes calendar.  Go to your contacts in GMail and you can import existing contacts using a CSV file.  “For best results”, GMail suggests “please use a CSV file produced by Outlook, Outlook Express, Yahoo!, or Hotmail”. Again, strangely enough, there is no mention of Lotus Notes.

Ask a software vendor if their product has email integration and they will tell you how well they integrate with Outlook.  Mention to them that your company uses Lotus Notes and, in the ensuingcomplete silence, you will be able to hear the gears in salesperson’s head turning to come up with a plausible answer.

I was reminded of the sad state afairs last week while listening to an IBM webinar on social networking strategies for small business.  The presenter, Cheryl Contee, tried to educate attendees on benefits of social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.  She mentioned several times how great these sites are and how well they integrate with Microsoft Outlook address book.  And this is on a webinar for IBM Business Partners.  Pardon my sarcasm, but someone had obviously forgotten to tell Ms. Contee that IBM and presumable a lot of IBM’s Business Partners use something called “Lotus Notes” to manage their email and address books.

So what is going on here?  According to the IBM website:

  • “Lotus Notes and Domino software has 20 years of leadership in the collaboration space.”
  • “Over 46,000 companies around the world use Lotus Notes and Domino software.”
  • “Over 140 million licenses of Lotus Notes and Domino software have been sold worldwide”.

Yet, the rest of the world acts as if all these millions of users don’t exist.  Is this a giant conspiracy to eradicate Lotus Notes?  Or is it lack of effort on the part of IBM towards securing 3rd party support for their product?  I certainly don’t know.  But if I were IBM execs, I would spend a little less effort on trying to rebuild Microsoft Visual Web Developer in the form of XPages and spend a little more on making it easier to add an appointment to my calendar from without of my trusted but neglected by the rest of world Lotus Notes client.

Bad news, good news

We are continuing to bring you the news from the Lotus Notes/Exchange Chicago front. I wish I could say that it was all quiet on the Chicago front. But the battle rages on.

One of PSC clients has just completed migrating all of their email users from Lotus Notes to Exchange. They are keeping Notes for now — a lot of their business uses a Notes application, which was developed over many, many years. However, even that application is scheduled to be replaced by a 3-rd party .NET application. Although it is not clear at this point when the replacement will actually take place.

Another PSC client has just decided to stay with Lotus Notes. Looking at Notes 8, they determined that it offered UI improvements enough to pacify the end-user community, complaining of the “horrible” Lotus Notes client. The perceived advantages of an Outlook client vs. Lotus Notes were not enough of a business case for them to justify spending a great deal of money on a migration project. I am glad to be able to add this to the list of stories of companies choosing to stay with Lotus Notes based on the merits of Notes 8.

Lotus Domino has better features than Exchange

That’s nearly verbatim what my client told me yesterday.  This client just completed migration from Exchange to Lotus Notes and that’s what their administrator — a former Exchange administrator, an MCSE — told me in a meeting.

Wow!!!  That was very cool.