IBM and Lotus

A Note about the Age of this Material

I used IBM Notes for over 20 years and in fact, I still interact with part of it almost every day either at work or at home but I no longer actively develop on it. It's a shame but while the platform is still unparalleled in terms of simplicity and rapid application development, years of mismanagement by IBM have led to its demise. We abandoned Notes at work in early 2017 and I was involved in a mail and applications migration project - to Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint, Azure and SQL/NoSQL services. We completed the first stages of this project quite quickly and the stumbling blocks for further projects have all been rooted in change resistance within the organisation rather than lack of capabilities.

The remainder of this page is generally ... old.

Humble Beginnings

My very first experience with the Lotus brand was with Lotus 1-2-3 release 2.0 in the DOS world. When I first encountered the product, I had no idea what it was for. I spent a few days with it but because I was just out of school and didn't have any business experience, I was none the wiser.

I kept hearing people rave about the product because in those days, there were four things being "raved" about; Wordperfect 4.2, Lotus 1-2-3 2.2, dBase III+ and DOS 3.3, so I borrowed a book from the library. After 15 minutes with the book and the product together, I was convinced.

I had a bit of a play with the original Lotus Symphony (which was truly awful) and Lotus Freelance, which again wasn't terribly good but then Windows happened.

When the world went to Windows - and none of the major players made a successful transfer, I didn't have too many dealings with Lotus for a while. Then my boss chose Ami Pro over WordPerfect for Windows - and I was quite miffed. Surprisingly though, in retrospect, neither choice was right. My boss bought Lotus Notes 3 for the company but it took quite a while before I felt like I could identify the beast. Eventually, I decided that it was like a combination of the AS400 Stowe Registers systems and an email system and I started to find more and more uses for it.

Fast forward to the present and Lotus Notes is still my life, my main system and I've built hundreds of databases using it. I could not imagine life without it. In fact, I wouldn't take a job in a company without it.

IBM/Lotus and the Future

I really love a few things about IBM Notes, here's why;

  • Maintaining Backward Compatibility
    • IBM has long been a champion for backward compatibility. The Lotus Notes system is one of the most backward compatible "closed architecture" systems of today. You can still run version 3 applications - without conversion - on Version 9 Notes. Try doing that with a single version of Microsoft Access.
  • Versatility
    • It would be very easy for IBM to split their architecture off into a multitude of separate systems and simply link from one to another but this approach needs more servers and provides flimsier linkages. The Lotus Notes/Domino product can do email, database, collaboration, web services and mobile services - amongst other things. In the Microsoft world, this can only be done by using several different servers. This makes Notes extremely scalable for both large and small business - since a large business can run multiple servers and a small one can get the same functionality from a single server solution.
  • Commitment to Open/Source and Standards
    • Sure, we all like free stuff but there's a limit to how far IBM can go in the open source world without compromising their own products. They could have taken an approach which ignores Open Source altogether but instead, they've acknowledged it and built upon it. There are IBM products which run on Linux and there are IBM products, such as Symphony which are built on open source code. Most importantly, IBM is committed to industry standards - particularly those embraced by the open source community.
  • Connectivity Standards
    • There are a lot of standards in the computing world and more are being developed all of the time. IBM could have developed their own standards like .NET or ActiveX but they've chosen to support existing standards such as HTML, JavaScript, Java and Ajax. In addition, they've started supporting some of the newer web standards. This support for existing connectivity standards means that using IBM architecture will allow you to get the best out of your legacy systems.