Home > Uncategorized > Is there a case for making IBM Notes/Domino free?

Is there a case for making IBM Notes/Domino free?

Lotus Notes, which became IBM Notes/Domino, is probably one of the most mis-understood and under-rated application platforms out there today. I use the word Application Platform carefully, because most people that have come across Lotus Notes will have experienced it as a clunky slow old email platform, but in reality it is an extremely agile and powerful application platform with email just being ‘one’ of those applications.

Back in the day, Lotus/IBM and Microsoft duked it out for years over who had the best email server, and who had the best email client, but in reality that conversation has moved on a long way. eMail is a commodity product that most people are used to using in a browser rather than a full blown client. People don’t care about email, they’ve fallen back into the just-get-it-done category of software products where less is more.

That was always the issue with Lotus Notes, people immediately though ’email’, and dismissed it from a previous encounter of the product which was probably 5 years out of date and running on 4 year old hardware. ‘Lotus Notes?! It’s old clunky and slow’, would be what most customer used to tell me. Today, it’s far from old clunky and slow, but people are still thinking of it as an email client/server platform.

Beyond email, the Domino server (the server part as it’s called today) is still one of the fastest ways to build very rich and powerful applications. As an example, I’m working on a personal project which I hope to grow into a large business over the coming few years. It’s a database driven idea, and I’m building a proof-of-concept in MySQL, PHP and various other bits and bobs because it’ll need to scale. While I’ve been building the database schemas, updating them with indexes, keys, foreign keys etc, I’ve been struck by how easily and quickly I could have built this in Notes. What has taken me 2 weeks so far, I could probably have built in less than 2 days using Notes/Domino – I kid you not.

So why didn’t I use Notes? Two reasons. The main one is cost. The IBM world I came from is builds software for the corporate world not the little guy. I’d need a Domino server, cha-ching, and a Domino Developer client, cha-ching, and probably a Notes/Admin client too, cha-ching, and maybe web-access clients, cha-ching… and using it as a platform would mean getting an all-you-can-eat-web-access-client, CHA-CHING!! The second, is that there is no Developer client for the Mac, it’s Windows only.

But given that Notes/Domino is disappearing at a high rate of knots out of the corporate world, maybe it’s time to think of the little guys again (Notes grew up as a work group server). What if IBM said, here, take this and build things, we won’t charge you? That’s an interesting thought to me.

Notes/Domino is still a big (declining) revenue stream for IBM, so giving away everything doesn’t make any sense, however they could release/open-source an older version, say Release 5 to the world, or they could say it’s free for up to 500 con-current users, or what if they took all the internal mail MTA’s out and left only SMTP?

If your application become super-successful, there would still be the path to the latest supported version if needed, because Notes is ridiculously backwards compatible – an application built from R1 will run on R9.

Speaking of support, Notes has one of the largest, skilled, helpful, support communities out there. It won’t fix any bugs, but you’ll sure get a lot of help solving every other issue you can think of.

So there you go, making Notes/Domino free at some level, would provide the community with a very powerful application platform that might just change peoples view of what was always a very powerful product.

It would be nice to hear some day that people were developing on a Notes platform, rather than a MySQL/PHP.

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