Long live HCL Domino, but what about Notes?

What future does the Notes client really have?

By Hogne Bø Pettersen

Photo: Kristoff Bruers

The Benelux user group gathered for the annual Engage conference on May 22 and 23 in Rotterdam. Aboard the ship SS Rotterdam, 400 attendees—people from IBM, IBM partners, members of other user groups, sponsors, and IBM customers—had a great time interacting socially, making deals, listening to presentations, and hearing the latest news from IBM.

The most popular sessions were the ones that focused on IBM Notes and Domino. IBM announced v10 last autumn, after revealing that HCL had taken over all development for the product. A summary of all the new stuff coming in v10 and v11 can be read in my personal blog in this posting.

Blind alleys

Personally, I’m disappointed that there won’t be a new user interface for the latest version of the Notes client. Instead, HCL and IBM are going with the same design that the six-year-old Notes v9 already has. But on the other hand, what future does the IBM Notes client really have?

In this day and age, a heavy client is not something you want to have to deal with. I have great love for the Notes client, and I’ve defended it against haters several times. Yes, it can be cumbersome to administrate, but the Notes client has an undeserved bad reputation.

Still, webifying IBM Lotus Notes applications has not been an easy task for companies who want to modernize them. Traditional IBM Domino web-based development is very cumbersome. XPages was a blind alley (this was even acknowledged, on stage, by representatives from HCL) which never got its hoped-for big adoption, as it was much harder to use than modern web development tools.

But by using Node.js and the new and modern REST API they are promising to ship with Domino 10, webifying Notes will be much easier. In most projects I’ve been involved with where we have read from and written to the old nsf files, we have almost never used the Domino Designer. Still, the data has been on the Domino server, and we haven’t had to worry about Notes clients or how the data is stored.

Long live Domino

The advantage of this is that, even if you will have development costs when you modernize your Notes applications, you won’t need to worry about the costs of data migration. And, even if you do decide to migrate at a later stage, having originally coded the solution using Node.js means you won’t have to re-create the business logic or create a new GUI or interface after migration.

So, the future for HCL Domino as a platform isn’t as bleak as it was only a year ago. Personally, I’ve created solutions that my customers are using on the web without knowing or caring what platform it’s running on. They have never even seen a Notes client.

Lotus Notes end of life?

So that’s why I think the future of the Notes client is not so bright that you have to wear shades. Notes will just not be needed in the future. The evidence of the Notes client’s demise is even stronger if you also take into account what HCL said at Engage—that in the long run, IBM Verse will be the default web mail client, that they are working on an updated and lightweight mail and calendar client, and that you can use a new product called Nomad to run Notes applications directly on the iPad without the need for any coding or changes to the app.

And that’s not all. During the conference we even got to see a screen shot of a client called HCL Places. This client looked like a combination of Slack, Watson Workspace, IBM Connections, and Instagram. The idea is to work with your Domino applications as if they were a social intranet. However, the details are still sketchy and it’s still very early days for HCL Places.

Will IBM be able to recruit new customers when turning Domino into more of an open-source platform? It’s hard to tell. People have been saying Lotus Notes and Domino are dead since the early 2000s, and it still hasn’t happened. However, by the look of things, this prediction will most likely finally be true for the Notes client.

Hogne Bø Pettersen is a freelance writer, photographer, user trainer, and developer situated in Norway. He has worked with internet based solutions since 1990, as a professional journalist since 2000, and with IBM collaboration solutions since 1995. He likes Yes, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Star Wars.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2018.

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