June 16 2010 Wednesday
This post is about application development on the Notes/Domino platform. Everything else Domino-wise is just hunky dory and I have the balance sheet to prove it!
Take a look at the image above and you will probably see a yellow line descending into the vortex of despair.....more on that at the end.
I really feel like I'm watching this sudden, albeit needed frenzy as an out of body experience. To a "T" all of the posts in the last 48 hours have indicated about the lack of employment opportunities in the Domino development world. I can't argue about that. It is true. I can't recall the last "net-new" customer Domino application I was involved in, either as a developer or architect. That may even pre-date the forming of STS back in 2005. Sure, there are lots of maintenance app dev jobs, but not anything new, at least in my sphere of influence. It is not due to lack of skill (our entire organization runs on custom Notes apps, and soon to be XPages apps) on my part. More likely it is lack of faith on my part. Maybe I'm secretly a "Notes App Addict", creating applications to run my business in secret, but hoping no one else realizes, afraid of the stigma that maybe attached to me.
As I mentioned on that last This Week In Lotus podcast I saw a stagnant, frozen platform that suffered from a lack of love and nourishment from it's parent (IBM) back in 2003-2004 time frame (or thereabouts). After the addition of LotusScript in R4.0 and "Domino" being added in 4.5 nary a useful feature was added to Domino Designer between then and the (re)birth of XPages in 8.5. There were a few, but that was a long 10-12 years. I think the most notable was Designer being separated with the advent of R5.
During this time, IBM started doing services in markets usually serviced by partners. IBM directly competing with the partners that had made the product such a success. Microsoft, ever mindful of smelling blood in the water lurked about, picking off customers, picking off partners (play Jaws theme here). We then had IBM executives stand on stage and declare Notes all but dead. The waters that Microsoft had been trolling suddenly bubbled up like a school of piranha feeding on a wildebeest. The partner eco-system all but evaporated, and with them the customer base. After all, a services organization will quite happily "migrate" you and get all new licenses to boot. I don't agree with that stance, but I understand it. Seeing this prompted me to basically pick up my toys (app dev skills) and expand my skill set to pretty much every product in the Lotus portfolio, yet still I exhibited the classic addict symptoms, secretly squirreling away, using Notes apps to build an empire of sorts.
Fast forward to this week (well, technically last week was Jake's first post on this and JonVon's was this week), and all hell breaks loose. I'm at a loss as to why it is a shock that Lotus Notes and/or Domino developers are having to re-evaluate their options, be it short term, long term or something in-between. I said to a Notes developer a few months back, you can probably go your entire career being a Lotus developer, I'd doubt you'd be able to go 5 years being a Notes developer. See, my complete lack of faith.
So, how can this aircraft carrier that is Domino development be turned around? I really don't have a single answer. I think XPages and DDE are a good start but there is so much catch up needed after a 10 year hiatus that this is just scratching the surface of the issue. And the "black smoke monster" has not been sat idle, waiting for IBM to catch up. They have been making things easier, simpler and lowering the barrier to entry. Slowly eroding the customer and partner base.
So what can or needs to be done to avoid the vortex image above? Thinking Designer being free is not the panacea that people hoped. It should have always remained free, but freeing it alone will not change a thing. Sorry. Do not pass go, do not collect 200,000 new client seats. I think the comments on both JonVon's blog and on Ed's response have a lot of good ideas....somewhat like an IdeaJam....When you look at the comments on all of the blogs, I think the commonality of the responses indicate a complete lack of relevance with Domino development inside of many organizations, analyst firms and hell, even me. How can we make it relevant? Here are my suggestions, that just for the record, may not be new, may not be mine, and have been voiced by me previously at various locations around the U.S. Here goes....
1) Renewal process needs to be changed. Reps need skin in the game here. (I have an entire post brewing on this one.....)
2) Domino Apps are horrendously expensive to run sans-Express. You really wonder why LAMP and RAILS took off? You have to be at least as good as, and magnitudes cheaper than the competition to pull back from this. Think Hyundai in USA. The Genesis was 2009 Car of the Year. What did Hyundai have in 1999?
3) IBM need to stop cannibalizing your own client base (as Lance said on Ed's blog) with license changes, or even worse, Lotus Live.
4) I really love the idea of an Adobe Air based email client.....really I do....drool. An excellent example of true 2.0 capabilities available in Domino (again, as Lance said).
5) XPages needs OTHER F***ING data sources. Without it is never, ever going to be considered "enterprise strength" by anyone except a Lotus Notes developer....and don't charge me $25,000 of the privilege. If you continue to ignore this (or make me use Java) then you will fail. Plain and simple.
6) For the love of god, revisit the niffty fifty. OpenNTF is NOT the forum for this. OK, so Sharepoint doesn't ship with these. Really, that is your reason for not doing this?...That is what we call a potential opportunity!!! Proactive, not reactive! No offence to OpenNTF and the great work out there, but most Domino customers have no earthly idea this even exists. And even if they did, creating a team room database is far simpler than installing an OpenNTF application.
7) Polish what is already there and continue to increase the use of standards based app dev....true HTTP, DDE fixes, etc
8) Flood, yes FLOOD the markets with sales reps.....1/2 to 1 Lotus rep per State ain't working. Half of Florida plus Georgia is the size of the U.K.. Mind share is king. Domino app dev has next to no mind share.
9) You insist on "Notes is more than just email", but email is where it is at right now, so at least make it a world class email application - fix the stupid crap, allow me to move full text indexes to a separate drive so I can actually turn it on and not run out of space! Indeed try to make a mail client out of XPages, that may provide a good lesson in futility.
10) Directory independence.....sadly it is an AD world. TDI is nice but "Integration" is not what customers want.
11) Rejuvenate the partner community, I'm no ISV and never intend to be, but a platform is only as vibrant as it's ISVs. Kudos to those here now. When I count ISV's I struggle to use all 10 fingers....not good. On a similar vein, don't let the ISV's drive the application development road-map, that is what Notes developers, working as FTE's in side organizations are for....see 5.
12) Bribe, educate or photoshop pictures of analysts and "IT Journalists" with various farm animals. Get them to see what Howard Stern sees. What David Allen sees. What we see. While you're at it, also do this to others in the IBM SWG. Then get them all to write about it.
So there you go, the Lotus Notes and Domino application development 12 step program. Like addicts around the world, we now have a blue print for recovery. Now revisit the image at the beginning of the post, hopefully you now can see the stair case of hope and recovery coming up from the vortex?