Stuff that's on my mind

by Volker Weber

I find it quite hilarious that people discuss whether it is ok that I am not posting positive stuff about Notes 8. What is my agenda? Do I even have one? Let me explain:

I write about the stuff that interests me. I write what I see. You don't have to agree with me. Feedback is encouraged. But do not question my ability to see things as I see them. It is pretty easy to do actually. Just open your eyes and describe what you see. It often is not what you expected to see. And of course I make mistakes. That is what the feedback is for.

Let's make an example. Read my first Sonos impressions. Pretty bad, eh? Well, the problem was that one of the units was broken. Sonos followed up. We found the problem. We fixed it. They did not want me to return the units without having experienced what they offer. And a single Sonos player does not show what this system does. I kept on trying. Being pretty persistent I finally became a huge fan. It has brought back music into my daily life.

Let's make another example. Ever since Marco gave me my first BlackBerry 7290 (which I still regard as one of their best messaging devices), I was immediately hooked. I used a dozen different devices in one year, and I liked all of them. SureType (in German) never convinced me. But the BB service is exceptional. Then one day, RIM updated their OS to version 4.2.1. And I was no longer able to connect. No problem, since the Pearl runs fine on 4.2.0. But the newer devices don't. I reported the problem to RIM. They listened. I met an engineer five months ago at CeBIT. He told me that they changed the way they read UMTS USIMs in 4.2.1. The USIM worked fine in a 4.2.0 device but not in 4.2.1. To my knowledge, this problem was never fixed. I am not even sure it was filed as a bug. Since I know that others are not having this problem, I have asked my provider to check BB service on my SIM, and they also replaced it, giving me the latest generation of USIM. All to no avail. BlackBerry no longer works for me. Yes, I have a test SIM which lets me test new devices, and that one works, but I am not carrying two phones.

So I quit using BlackBerrys day in and day out. I got more interested in Nokias. I like the 9300, the E61(i) and the E90. Looking at my usage pattern, the E90 has won my attention. I have not used any other phone day in and out since I have the E90. I am still convinced that the Samsung 600 (Blackjack for those Americans) is a very, very good device to use, but I am currently waiting for the WM6 update to appear for German devices. If you want to use any of the aforementioned devices, you better have an Exchange account. That is pretty simple for me since the hosting package for this very website contains an Exchange account with Direct Push. Setup is extremely easy and it works. As a Mac user you will also lean towards Nokia smartphones, since they are much better supported than Windows Mobile devices - right out of the box (with some free downloads).

This is how life goes here at vowe's magic flying circus. I write about the stuff that is on my radar.

Now what about Notes? I have been a Notes user since way back when. Wrote some applications, educated people on how to use it, all the way from end users to 2nd level admins and developers, a four digit number of them. Worked in 3rd level support. Acquired lots of certifications, and generally know what happens if you flip this odd option over here. Then, five years ago I got a Mac. No problem, I thought. There is Notes on the Mac. IBM is all about choice and they support different platforms. I think I have continued using Notes for at least two years, if not more. Then I switched on IMAP support in my server and quickly learned two things: (a) Notes is incredibly slow, buggy, complicated, and frankly butt ugly compared to the other stuff that is out there on the Mac. And (b) the IMAP implementation on Domino is simply terrible. The other thing I learned is that if you keep your data in an open format, you suddenly are free to use any tool you like. Want your calendar in Google Calendar instead of Mac Calendar? Piece of cake. Want to import your contacts into a different software? Easy as that. You only need to make sure you never fall into the trap of investing in software which does not have the option to leave by letting you export into an open format, without loss of functionality.

I continue to keep Notes on my radar. I install basically every single version in a VM and kick the tires. I move my messages over there. I try to look at them, and play with them. Find stuff, organize it. Hey, I can even route my mail there. Pretty simple since I have a switch which lets me send my mail to (a) my IMAP server, (b) my Exchange account, (c) GoogleMail, (d) any test server. On and off. Easily.

There was a short glimpse of hope for Notes on the Mac with version 7.0.2. Very impressive, how it was back in business after the 6.5 (really a 6.0) disaster. Then came Eclipse, IBM fumbled Sametime Connect, and now fumbles Notes 8 in a very big way.

Would I run my mail inside a VM? Probably not. Especially since I have such a quick, elegant and effective solution on the Mac. It would be absolutely impossible to sync the zoo of smartphones from a Notes mail file and address book. The support is simply not there. (Corp IT does not like local sync. They prefer big bad BES servers and locked down BlackBerrys.)

Am I going to continue to be interested in Notes? Of course I will.

Am I impressed by Notes 8? Yes and no. Yes, because they really pulled this off. Much like you would be impressed if somebody eats a pudding with an IBM spoon. This thing really works. No, because I feel it missed the big and maybe only opportunity to simplify. It just became one order of magnitude more complicated. I know that others feel differently. That is perfectly fine with me. I hope this world is big enough for the both of us.

Just imagine that I adore this ship and not that one.

Comments

There is so much "positive" being written about Notes, it is a pleasure to read a bit of reality, specially if it correlates to one's own experience. Keep up the good work!

Jan-Piet Mens, 2007-08-29 23:21

Volker - so long as you continue to call a spade a spade, I will continue to read your blog. Thats what counts and I thank you for it!

Colin Williams, 2007-08-29 23:44

I am surprised that you are explaining yourself. I have always believed that you are very clear in your writing. Not that this matters whether or not I will read your posts (I will, FWIW). Yes, I am a Notes fanboy, but I enjoy your views on that space. And that "enjoy" isn't for entertainment purposes, but rather for a different viewpoint, one that I probably will not see elsewhere, examining a feature/interface/use case that I would not have thought about or considered. Rock on!

Gregg Eldred, 2007-08-30 04:09

I, for one, appreciate the explanation. :-)

Charles Robinson, 2007-08-30 05:53

All the tools exist to do exactly what you want with Notes. I'm not talking about customization. I'm talking about writing, from the ground up, a set of small and simple single-purpose programs -- with all of them still based on the Lotus APIs, leveraging the Notes storage format and the Domino infrastructure, and doing whatever else people want (e.g., unified inbox for Notes mail and multiple IMAP mailboxes). So, there's a technical opportunity.

And if this is an IBM "fumble", that must mean that there's a market opportunity that they are missing. So it seems to me that where there's an opportunity, someone should be willing to go for it. Someone should be willing to go in and get what IBM is missing. Someone should build and market the "simplicity for Notes/Domino" approach. It's the best of both worlds, right? The stability and security of the Notes/Domino infrastructure, but the ease and agility of the modern lightweight loosely-coupled clients approach. (Although, it's hardly modern, given that Kernighan et. al were espousing "do one thing and do it well" to programmers, system managers and hackers 30 or so years ago.)

Who will do this? Let's say someone came to you and said they plan to go for it if they can raise some funds, would you consider investing?

And to avoid apples-to-oranges in terms of ability to deliver, market window, etc., how about if someone you respected, someone with a good track record, had come to you three years ago and said, "we know IBM is going the wrong way, so we're going to do it the right way with Notes". Would you have considered investing?

Richard Schwartz, 2007-08-30 07:21

Urgh... I must be tired to have messed up on "et al." ;-)

Richard Schwartz, 2007-08-30 07:23

You did not mess up the et al. You missed the point of this posting. On the vector you are taking: "fumble" as in "can't ship on the Mac". I don't argue whether it's important to you. Just about me.

Volker Weber, 2007-08-30 08:23

I stopped being a Lotus Notes admin years ago, but I keep up on the 'advances' of Notes by reading this here blog.

Lately, I've been wondering how many Notes users are still out there and wondering when somebody is finally going to pull the plug on Notes or rewrite from the ground up. There are so many other solutions out there that IBM needs to get it's act together.

However, if in the early days Lotus Notes was the reason I kept reading this blog, I've become a fan of Volker's blog because he keeps on discovering new devices, new things to wonder about. And he is honest in what he talks about, it's his experiences that he writes about. And that is why it is my first site that opens up in Firefox every morning.

Alex Boschmans, 2007-08-30 09:47

Gregg, don't be surprised. I just want to give those who read my site an advantage over those who claim to not read it, but feel inclined to explain what I am doing.

Volker Weber, 2007-08-30 10:54

As for missing the point of the post: It's not just "can't ship on the Mac". It's "can't even promise Java on the Mac when they do get around to shipping it". And on that I agree, it's a fumble. Or, rather, I think I'd say a big disappointment.

But the whole point of the post was "No, because I feel it missed the big and maybe only opportunity to simplify". And responding to that was whole point of my reply, despite the fact that I fumbled the period in "et al." -- and fumbled on the context of "fumble".

Richard Schwartz, 2007-08-30 12:37

Your blog gives a good lesson on how to look at thing as it stands.

I have learned this important lesson from your blog and it feels much better to just see things straight.

Thank You!

Ganapathiram Natarajan, 2007-08-30 12:38

Constructive criticism is good. I can't see anyone having an issue with that. It is when people complain about points that are somewhat superficial or complaining for complaining sake then it doesn't get taken seriously.

To give some examples from your other entries (one of which made me wander to this interesting blog :).

- Mail template layout in 8.
Your concerns are certainly valid however how they were initially worded would imply that is all you get when you get notes8. It isn't. There is a much more deeper level of customization in R8 then previous versions and allows you to make customizations without breaking underlying legacy applications. So every item you suggested should be there can be coded into the application if a company needed it.

- Scared to log a crash issue.
This came across as pure FUD to me personally. IBM allows you to log crashes fine and are proactive about fixing them. Complaining about crashes and not helping to find the root cause helps no one. You could argue it is not your job to do this and you would be correct, but it is IBMs job and they are more then happy to help to resolve/workaround these issues if they are brought to their attention.

That's my 2c. Personally keep the blogging. Negative feedback if valid helps. I personally am very against the whole fanboi attitudes. :)

Simon O'Doherty, 2007-08-30 13:21

Simon, I wasn't scared to log crash issues. I was posting a chat, protecting the other person. There is no way to get this done right. Either you will be accused of breaking privacy, or you are being accused of spreading FUD.

Do I report IBMers who say to me privately "to me it crashes a little bit too often"? Of course not.

As for logging crash issues themselves: I have no means to do that. I do not have a support contract. I can only log them here, and let somebody else pick them up. As I assume somebody has done with the missing print header.

Volker Weber, 2007-08-30 13:35

I can only log them here, and let somebody else pick them up. As I assume somebody has done with the missing print header.

Maybe yes, maybe no. Like the forums on developerWorks, such a bug report would depend entirely on an IBMer (or some other reader) choosing to do so. And this particular case hasn't entirely had a reproducible scenario established, IIRC.

This is why I said on Ben Poole's site that all of the negative postings you've done on Notes 8 in the last two weeks would have been much more helpful during beta. Several means were established to report bugs during beta, with or without a support contract. Now, we're in a phase where things have to wait for fixpacks or for 8.0.1.

I suspect this is why people want to know if you have an agenda. Nothing you have reported so far is a regression introduced between beta 3 and release, so they could (potentially, at least) have been addressed during the beta cycle. What is the benefit, other than increased vowe.net traffic, to reporting them now?

I think your reputation in the Lotus community as being a "straight shooter" and saying what you think has never been in doubt. But I equally think that the community in general is a lot happier about Notes 8 than you are, because it addresses their needs, much moreso than those you have expressed here. So the use case differences between the general Notes population and the few boundary issues you've chosen to highlight is what gets everyone uppity. And since you have a large readership in the Lotus community (though, I notice, 60% of poll voters say they aren't deploying Notes, only 30% of which are Redmond WA IP addresses), it feels, honestly, a bit like abuse of power.

Ed Brill, 2007-08-30 14:29

There is a market for Notes, IBM adresses a demand and it certainly is a successful product. Now with about 50.000 worldwide customers and maybe more than 100 mio seats I do sometimes think how it would be possible to double the customer base (not the seats) in relative short of time.
I do then think about what people that currently do not use Notes (and do not intend to) tell me. There are a lot of use cases for Notes and there have always been show stoppers. Some of them are mentioned here (some have even been adressed) and I think it is legitimate to be sad when some stuff does not happen.
Recently there has been a story about the Kinder-Hospiz Sternenbrücke in Hamburg. It describes a use case for Lotus Notes (and of course other software if you like).
On the other side I also see larger companies moving some of their stuff away from Notes. Not that they are unhappy with it but there is a trend to do it with other systems like SAP. A lot of these decisions seem to be what is often called strategical. Now IBM does a lot to extend Notes and Domino in a way that companies do not need to do this (and they also improve the interaction with those systems). I am far from calling this a bad thing but it is at least a difficult area where technology and features alone often do not win the race. In some way I would consider it a defense strategy.
That is why I think that a smarter Notes could become a real winner.

Henning Heinz, 2007-08-30 15:13

Ed, an "abuse of power"? The only "power" I have is to write what I think. I may certainly be accused of not providing the balance that Americans are used to: say something nice, then say what you want to say, then add something nice at the end. German is a bit more like Klingon. You say what you want to say.

As for bug reports: I did not participate in the beta. You know why I did not. The bug I found is trivial. I am surprised nobody has seen it before.

I suspect this is why people want to know if you have an agenda.

Hence this posting.

only 30% of which are Redmond WA IP addresses

I am sure you mean this as a joke, although it is missing a smile.

Yes, I am seeing some ballot stuffing, for instance one guy voting for ASAP coming in from Net.Cologne. Caught him red-handed and he apologized. I can also filter by IBM proxy server addresses with surprising results. What I am certainly not seeing is ballot stuffing from the Pacific Northwest.

Volker Weber, 2007-08-30 15:37

Actually, "Power" comes from having a very large audience of people that respect your opinion. You may not think in those terms, but any of us who have a large readership realize that one can use or abuse that power to influence reader opinion.

As for the beta, actually, I do not know why you did not. As recently as yesterday, some of my colleagues suggested you as a beta tester for a particular upcoming release.

My point about the poll is that it doesn't really seem indicative of your readership... if it did, I can't see why you would feel like writing about Notes so much.

Ed Brill, 2007-08-30 16:08

Oh, I thought you did. I did not participate because (a) you did not have a beta I could use and (b) I cannot work in an environment where I am being told by my peers what I can and cannot say.

I am not sure what my readership is. And I don't worry too much about it. But you can take one thing for granted: the best Notes-haters are those who work (or have to work) with Notes every single day. Outlook users simply don't care.

I also have a question for you: what do you suggest I do when somebody I really trust says "Most of us are not in a position to say such things. I can't say in public 'Don't roll this out yet', as I will canabalise any customer work I may have"?

Volker Weber, 2007-08-30 16:30

I cannot work in an environment where I am being told by my peers what I can and cannot say.This from the person who wrote Too intimidated to speak? Besides, "the rules" came up months after public beta started. And if we didn't have a beta you could use, how did we have a public release that you felt you could criticize?


As for the person you trust who says "don't roll this out yet", I suggest they find another line of work. No software in the last 15 years has been released 100% perfect and bug free, thus the .0 syndrome. And thus the focus on building .0.1 or SP1 or whatever right away by most vendors.

Some customers will roll out the .0 release and be successful. Others will begin pilots or proof of concept work. That all seems to make a lot of sense to me in terms of both planning and risk management.

Ed Brill, 2007-08-30 16:51

And if we didn't have a beta you could use, how did we have a public release that you felt you could criticize?

A beta needs months of dedication. A product test takes maybe two weeks. Especially if you can tap into the experience of many others who cannot speak publicly.

I suggest they find another line of work.

Well, that was not what I asked. I wanted to know what I should be doing. But I am sure they will take your advice.

Volker Weber, 2007-08-30 17:00

I'm not sure I understand "A beta needs months of dedication" at all. We saw customers and publications all over the world do a prodct test on our public beta, in exactly the same amount of time that it has now been since our eGA. One download, install it, assess it. What is the "months of dedication"?

Ed Brill, 2007-08-31 03:24

Ed, I really don’t think we need to pursue this. But I would say that a beta test does take some time. Maybe not months and months, but certainly more than a couple of weeks.

What you’ve described is a product test. If people only assess a beta for a few days, that amounts to little more than “kicking the tyres”. If you’re going to beta test something (especially when it’s as complex as Lotus Notes) then you get in deep, and over a period of time. Anything else is likely to miss a hell of a lot of bugs.

Ben Poole, 2007-08-31 07:59

Ben, I'm sorry to be pedantic, but I really am not following. How would it have been different for someone to download the Notes 8 beta in March or May or 30 days ago, install it and evaluate it versus what can be done in the last two weeks with eGA?

We were basically feature-complete in the first public beta and definitely feature complete (except week numbers) in the second beta. The second beta was a production build, so the (slow) debug code had been removed.

Either way, any issues like the possible printing one could simply have been reported to the beta forum and SPR'd. It might "miss a hell of a lot of bugs", but maybe the three that any one user discovered whilst kicking the tyres could have been reported, and thus, potentially fixed before release.

Ed Brill, 2007-08-31 13:57

How would it have been different for someone to download the Notes 8 beta in March or May or 30 days ago, install it and evaluate it versus what can be done in the last two weeks with eGA?

OK, let me clarify (and bear in mind that I'm a developer, so I may have a take on this that is different to others).

If someone elects to download a product beta, there are a few reasons why they might be doing this:

They want free software that 'kinda' worksThey want to spend some time on genuine testing and evaluationThey have some time to kill and like tinkering with stuff

There are also a lot of people who won't touch a beta release. And that's their prerogative—they might not want the instability, they might not have the time to dedicate to testing, they might not have significant interest in the product—the list goes on, you get my point.

Personally, I didn't install the Notes 8 beta. I simply didn't have the time to devote to give it a good going-over, so to my mind, why bother? (And I am a far heavier user of Lotus Notes than Volker).

Call me old-fashioned, but I think a beta-tester has certain responsibilities when assessing something. You could argue that these responsibilities have been diluted in this age of perpetual betas (Google mail, Flickr, etc.) but I still aver that if I don't have the time to properly work with a beta, I should leave it alone (and I should definitely not start writing about it publicly).

To my mind, these rules do not apply to a released product, no way. How could they?

Ben Poole, 2007-08-31 14:50

[Excuse me for being blunt]

A proper beta test requires man hours. Dedicated man hours to really tease out the problems.

[And switching to Klingon]

If you choose to play with the final product, and you find issues like the printing problem, that suggests to me that either beta testing failed or IBM couldn't prioritize reported issues properly.

Volker Weber, 2007-08-31 15:57

Can't say I agree completely. The amount of time Ben and Volker are talking about would be expected of Design Partners and/or people involved in a private or managed beta. Public betas requirements are much more relaxed. You give the time you have. If that means opening up only a few things, then that's what you do. The VM tools available these days make it easier than ever to install a beta.

I didn't have a lot of time devoted to Notes 8 betas (especially compared to how much I was involved in R5 and N6 betas). However, I did download the client, and try out a few things. Reported a few problems, etc., and made sure our existing apps opened OK. I neglected to test printing though. It seems I wasn't alone.

Others devoted more time, but that's not expected of everyone. The point of a public beta to let anyone and everyone download the thing and try it out, to whatever extent they can. The more time the better obviously, but there's really only the expectation that if you find problems, the problem should be reported in the beta forum (preferably after doing a simple search to see if it's already been reported). All in all, no more complicated than posting a blog comment.

You might think that a simple test or surface test would yield nothing that others haven't already uncovered. I'd suggest you're wrong. We all use software differently, especially something as layered as the Notes client.

Besides, it's a great opportunity to interact with Notes development teams. Notes beta forums are generally watched quite closely from what I can tell. Abstaining from the beta means you're missing that opportunity.

I recognize not everyone has even that much time. Just saying it's not that much different than a product test. Claiming that beta participation *requires* hours upon hours (or weeks) runs completely counter to my understanding of what Notes public betas have always been about.

All of that said, I agree with the Klingon conclusion. Something broke somewhere to miss printing of an email. Perhaps additional beta testers would have made the difference. There's no way to know at this point. Regardless of beta participation numbers though, you'd think someone internally would have been assigned a set of functional tests that included printing an email (both rich text/internal email, and MIME/external email). Especially considering this is a major release, and it's focused to a large extent on improved PIM usability. If not, we know it's on the list for next time. ;-)

Rod Stauffer, 2007-09-01 01:57

Sort of coming back late to this but just to clarify one of your points.

You can always log a crash/bug against Domino/Notes without a support contract. The only difference is that support will not spend time to help to resolve the issue for you.

It would be (if it doesn't already exist) reproduced, SPR'ed and call closed.

For R8 as someone mentioned they made the process easier to log bugs against the beta.

> "I cannot work in an environment where I am being told by my peers what I can and cannot say."

You will find that rule applies to all major companies or at least ones that answer to share holders. It is a quite obvious one. For example imagine you have an average office worker in the company building the product having to use the BETA product on day to day (ie. eating your own dog food).

Their response would most likely be negative because being a BETA it is impacting their day to day work. That is understandable. The issue becomes when that office worker goes out to his mates and says "Product X we sell! It is dire, I wouldn't ever use it". That gets around, next thing you know your defending yourself in the press and customers can canceling contracts over some ill-informed comment by an employee not qualified to make it.

If it was me I would prefer that the person who has the issue with the product addresses it internally.

> "If you choose to play with the final product, and you find issues like the printing problem, that suggests to me that either beta testing failed or IBM couldn't prioritize reported issues properly."

Cosmetic bugs would always fall behind serious issues like crash/performance issues. So if it was reported I would guess they would prefer a developer trying to resolve a crash bug then if printing header is there or not for a release .0.

thats .2 cents.

Simon O'Doherty, 2007-09-02 09:38

failing to print relevant information is not a "cosmetic" bug - it is failing functionality.
Still not as important as crashes, but I just wanted to differ "cosmetic" vs. "functional"

Christopher Semturs, 2007-09-02 10:33

Thank you, Simon.

It see, it's about time to amend the FAQ. Done that.

Volker Weber, 2007-09-02 10:35

You can always log a crash/bug against Domino/Notes without a support contract.
You know, people keep saying that, but I must be really dense: I have scoured developerWorks and IBM Lotus sites to no avail: I cannot find a way to report an issue without having some kind of customer reference number to hand.


So to my mind it’s not strictly accurate to say that anyone can log a bug report. You’ve still got to be a recognised customer (which is fair enough, I’m just making the point that some of these remarks are a little simplistic).

Ben Poole, 2007-09-02 12:33

@Ben

IBM Support for people with no support contracts:

http://techsupport.services.ibm.com/guides/callhandling.html

See "Product Warranty and Program Services" under the Lotus Section.

If you still have issues trying to log defects let me know and I'll see what I can do for you.

@Volker Having not read the FAQ before all I can say is "huh?".

Simon O'Doherty, 2007-09-02 19:32

Thanks Simon. This link is even better—actually has the phone numbers!! :)

IBM contacts

Ben Poole, 2007-09-02 20:46

Simon, I'm more than confused by your response to Volker's objections of peer enforced rules. You replied that that's to be expected. Sure, it's normal for IBM to have rules on what IBMers say, but that's not Volker's issue. Outside of IBM rules restricting their own employees, how is it normal in a *public* beta to have rules on what one can or cannot say? From my perspective, IBM didn't place rules on participants of the ND8 public beta. Nor did the public beta have rules from peers meant to stifle or restrict discussion (although John Head did have a ground rules post on his blog...which was later clarified). All in all, I'm stumped by your response.

Rod Stauffer, 2007-09-02 22:11

D'oh. Let's try that again...

Rod Stauffer, 2007-09-02 22:16

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vowe.net is a personal website published by Volker Weber a.k.a. vowe. I am an author, consultant and systems architect based in Darmstadt, Germany.

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