Sunday, September 06, 2009

My impressions of Lotus Notes and Domino 8.5.1 beta

For those of you looking for my food-oriented writing, keep moving. This isn't going to make much sense. :-)

Why Am I Here?

You might be thinking "Hey... I know you... aren't you that formerly relevant guy who hates Notes and Domino and now just pokes fun at Ed Brill and taunts Nathan?"

It is no secret that in my day job I work with Visual Studio, Access and SQL Server and we use Outlook and Exchange for e-mail. But we don't have a collaboration platform. We tried Sharepoint and it became apparent it wasn't for us when I couldn't even get a demo environment set up in a reasonable amount of time. I tried out Notes and Domino 8, but I have been very disappointed with the performance and overall build quality of every release so far.

The worst bugs were in Domino Designer, and I happen to be a developer. Since the other user populations -- end users and administrators -- were getting lots of new features that actually mostly worked, I finally decided that IBM simply didn't care. Here's how the cycle would go: we would yell at them at Lotusphere and they'd make a promise to do better and we'd cheer. Several months later they'd give us something half-baked, we'd yell, they'd make a promise to do better at Lotusphere and we'd cheer. Lather, rinse, repeat.

As if to prove this point, the first Domino Designer in Eclipse is an atrocity. It just doesn't work. Period. There are scores of regression bugs and much of the new functionality is not complete. Things that were promised and demoed at Lotusphere 2008 were not shipped in this release, which came out in January 2009. I had participated in usability sessions during which I was told the functionality I was working with would be in 8.5, but it wasn't. I took it very personally. I felt like Lotus looked me in the eye and lied.

So when I heard that supposedly one of the primary goals in 8.5.1 was to fix was was left undone in 8.5 and to finally make Domino Designer a usable development environment, my first reaction was look back at the long history of broken promises and broken software and be dismissive. I finally decided that after harping about this for the better part of a decade I had to see if they were really doing it or just giving more lip service. I requested to participate in the 8.5.1 managed beta. I had to know.

Notes Client

The first thing I noticed is performance is much improved. From the time I double-click the Lotus Notes icon until I get the password prompt is consistently 3 - 5 seconds. After I enter my password the time to load my "My Work" home page is another 15 - 20 seconds. I used to have startup times of over 45 seconds so this is a huge improvement.

Working with mail, calendar, to-do's, and follow-up items is smooth and efficient. In previous releases I had pauses of up to 20 seconds while the calendar or e-mail loaded, but that's completely gone. Now it's a second or two and it's loaded. I really like the new UI for mail and the improvements made to the icons and visual clutter since 8.0. I have not had any weird errors or application hangs and so far the toolbars haven't been moving around randomly like they used to. I haven't had a single crash yet, either. The performance and stability of the Notes client by itself has improved tremendously across the board.

Domino Designer

How about Domino Designer, the application I hated so much I changed jobs to get away from it? DDE 8.5.1 is much more responsive and much more stable than 8.5. It's still not as speedy as the old Domino Designer, but it also doesn't make me want to claw my eyes out (yet). I haven't had code go missing, and I have only had one crash. The Eclipse LotusScript editor is a little quirky and isn't what was promised, but still an improvement over what was available in previous releases. Code assist works for custom classes and will autocomplete method and property names. You can type out a function or object name, hover your mouse over it, and help pops up in a little window. I'm definitely impressed. This is close to what I expected when release 8.0 came out in August 2007.

What? No Sturm and Drang?

Some of you may be shocked to see me saying mostly positive things about Notes and Domino. I've always liked the idea of the products, I just haven't liked the implementation. 8.5.1 is a game changer. It's showing the promise of the platform and is a great jumping off point. Sure it's two years late, but at least it's finally here.

I do have a list of issues with 8.5.1, some of which are quite serious. Originally I started writing a vitriolic exposé of these as well as what's been left on the cutting room floor.
The license on the latest beta build dropped the secrecy requirement, so I could do that. After taking a step back and looking at the whole picture, I came to the conclusion that ultimately there is more good than bad in 8.5.1. Sure there are problems, but after screwing around for two years IBM/Lotus finally came up with something that doesn't make baby Jesus cry.

And let's not forget this is beta software and there are several weeks of development between the last beta release and the final gold build.
Some of the problems I have reported may be resolved. There are a few things I already know are being deferred or simply aren't going to be available, so you can be sure a more critical writeup is coming.

Final Thoughts

Coming full circle, the reason I'm writing this is because I am shocked by what I have seen in 8.5.1. I have been one of the harshest critics of R8 and I'm not a raving fan yet, but there is finally hope. I wrote off R8 as a lost release, one that was basically an entire beta cycle between 7 and 9. I never expected any R8 release to be usable. If you did the same you owe it to yourself to give 8.5.1 a try. It has issues and there is a lot left to be done, but is head and shoulders above any previous R8 release.

Disclaimer: IBM Lotus Notes/Domino and Lotus Notes Traveler 8.5.1 is prerelease code and there are no guarantees from IBM that the functionality presented or discussed will be in the final shipping product.


  1. Reading this and knowing that this is coming from you makes me smile.
    Would you say that you will be join us in release 9,5 ?. Now wouldn´t that be a something to write home about!.

  2. (Skipping ahead...)
    So does that mean you're going to join us at the annual back room LS dinner???

  3. francie, you go straight to the important part. :-)

  4. I'm making no promises or commitments to anything yet. :-) A trip to Lotusphere would still have to be out of my own pocket, and they're not very deep these days.