Does the Notes Mac Client have a future?

by Ken Porter

At last year's Lotusphere (January 2003), the Notes 6 Client on Mac OS X was held up by IBM/Lotus as a sign of their commitment to the platform. I haven't been to every Lotusphere over the past decade, but last year was the first time I had ever seen a Mac used during a keynote session to demo the Notes Client. The Notes 6 Mac Client was at feature parity with is Windows cousin, and at the time, it seemed that IBM/Lotus was fully committed to its continual development. In the 12 months since Lotusphere 2003, something has changed.

This past January at Lotusphere, questions were being asked about the future of the Notes Client on the Mac, and the responses given by IBM/Lotus staff that I heard, were nothing more than a unenthusiastic 'we're not sure.' I have been thinking plenty about this issue since leaving "The Sphere", and I now think the death of the Notes Mac Client is a real possibility. In fact I think an argument could be made that within IBM, it already is dead.

Notes 6.5 was released last fall with plenty of buzz about its Instant Messaging integration. When compared against the Notes 6.0.3 client, the Notes 6.5 Windows client is clearly a more advanced product. However, if you do a side by side comparison of Notes 6.0.3 and 6.5 on the Mac OS platform, there is little to distinguish the two products. If you run the OpenNTF mail template on the 6.0.3 client, I think you could argue the two clients are functionally equivalent. Was the release of an anemic Notes 6.5 client for Mac the first public sign that IBM/Lotus was no longer committed to the Mac?

At Lotusphere 2004, I sat through Monday's "ID101 Lotus Notes 6.5 and Beyond" session where there was no mention of the Notes Mac client. During the session Q&A, someone asked if there was going to be a Notes 7 for the Mac OS X platform. I don't remember exactly how Heidi Votaw responded, but it was a terse response; IBM/Lotus had not decided if there was going to be a Notes 7 for the Mac OS. This revelation made that evening's Mac Birds of a Feather (BOF) session a must attend event.

There was plenty of frustration being expressed by the attendees of the Mac BOF. The lack of IM integration in Notes 6.5 for the Mac, and Notes support for only Microsoft's Internet Explorer were only two of the issues discussed. Internet Explorer on the Mac is really out of date, and Microsoft has publicly stated they are no longer developing the product due to the popularity of Apple's Safari browser. Bill Hume, who was co-hosting the BOF, appeared to be unaware of this fact.

When the question why iNotes doesn't currently work in Safari was asked, the Apple representative attending the BOF (sorry, I don't remember his name) stated Apple is aware of two missing features in the Safari browser that prevent iNotes from working. However, Apple is committed to making Safari an enterprise class browser, and Apple is working on updating the browser to add the features that iNotes requires. We should expect those features to be added to Safari something this year at which time there would be no technical reason iNotes couldn't run in Safari. Bill Hume said that Apple shouldn't waste its time with Safari; that IBM/Lotus were not targeting iNotes for the Safari browser. Safari is the best browser for the Mac OS platform, so I found that statement disappointing.

It was later stated at the BOF that 10% - 30% of Domino customers have "influential" Mac user populations which was a larger number than I would have guessed. So the level of ignorance and indifference I witnessed Monday about the Mac OS platform was a bit surprising. Had the Mac OS platform completely fallen off IBM/Lotus' radar?

Perhaps the most coherent statement of how the Mac OS platform fits into IBM/Lotus' future plans came at Thursday's "Meet the Developers" session. I asked what IBM/Lotus' strategy was for the Mac OS platform. To paraphrase Kevin Cavanaugh's answer, he said that for the Notes 8 (Notes/Rich Client Hybrid) time frame, they plan on supporting Windows, Linux, and Mac OS as equals. But until that time, IBM/Lotus had to make tactical decisions on what they do the Notes Mac Client. The lack of IM integration in the 6.5 client was an example of one of those tactical decisions they made. So it appears that IBM/Lotus will support the Mac OS in the long term, but what about the Notes Client in the short term?

Is it reasonable to expect the Notes Mac community to continue to pay their maintenance fees and in effect subsidize development of Windows only features in Notes? Unless the Notes Client for the Mac is kept functionally equivalent to the Windows client, I think Notes Mac customers will become alienated, and IBM/Lotus runs the risk of not having any Mac customers when they finally release the Notes 8 hybrid client.

Comments

I heartily agree. This state of affairs has existed for some time, though. The first 'OS X' client actually had to be installed under OS 9 (or Classic)! What was the point of that? And this was under 10.1, if my memory is correct. That was an entirely stable and usable version, and Notes was the only program keeping OS 9 on my system.

I think the greater danger to Notes is the emergence of real meta-data management at the filesystem level and a subsequent lowest common denominator approach using document-level (rather than field-level) collaboration. For most people, this is good enough. This is clearly what Microsoft is targeting with WinFS and Sharepoint services, RieserFS4 also provides the needed infrastructure, and OS X is not very far off the mark either.

Yes, you lose the fine-grained control over permissions that NSF provides, but the Pareto principle applies here. Online HTML access to a central database is satisfactory for most cases where tight permissions control is needed, and Safari (and Mozilla) are certainly up to the task of providing a good Javascript-based thin client right now. We've done some very complicated data collection using Palm OS (version 3, at that) as the primary client, with custom synchronization to a Domino back end, and it works very well, indeed.

David Richardson, 2004-02-09

Having a working Mac OS Notes client was a critical factor for me - I would not have made the move to Mac OS X if it hadn't been available. I don't really mind if it's no longer supported, though - a Notes 5 client on Windows works just fine for accessing anything I care for that's running on a Domino 6.5 server, so I assume I will be able to work with the Mac OS X 6.5 client for quite some time.
I have lost any trust in a long-term future for Domino/Notes anyway, so I'll be moving to more standards-based (and less capable) solutions in the long term. And I doubt that I'm the only one.

Stefan Tilkov, 2004-02-09

Yes, this commentary makes sense, though it saddens me. I don’t reckon the first releases of the rich client will be available for OS X either. Call me pessimistic... but Apple users have put up with third rate support in terms of products and features for a long time now: wht sould things change?

It’s a shame... for example, OS X brought a lot of top-notch developers into the Mac arena — yet none of those people are going to be looking in Notes’ direction.

Ben Poole, 2004-02-09

I agree that Lotus should have made effort to keep Notes 6.5 in par between Windows and the Mac. Notes 6.5 for OS X simply is not worth the .5 because of the lack of IM integration. However, I can understand Lotus' point of view regarding Notes on the Mac. After all: how many Mac Notes users are there? I bet it's no more than a few ten thousands, if it were more than a hundred thousand I would be surprised. Compare that to the installed base of Windows Notes clients, which (if we have to believe Lotus) is approaching a hundred million. It's a simple calculation of costs and benefits, and an unfortunate one for us Mac users.

As much as I regret not having a full-featured Mac Notes client, and certainly no Designer and Admin client, I can understand Lotus' point of view. However, I agree that they should be more clear about it. If there's not going to be a Notes 7 client, just say it, don't attempt to avoid discussion about the subject. I welcome the idea of the Notes Rich Client, though I don't expect too much of it, at least not of the first 8.0 release. Currently I'm running the Notes 6.5 Mac client, and sometimes the Designer in Virtual PC, but this is not a winner if you take a look at performance. I also keep an eye on the Darwine project at SourceForge, which is developing WINE for Darwin (x86) and OS X (PPC). But once again, this is x86 emulation and won't be a real match for the performance on a real PC. Until (if ever) Domino development is migrated to Eclipse, and the client reaches version 8, we will have to be patient I guess.

Pascal Frencken, 2004-02-09

Yes, I’d be interested to know the proportion of the x million seats that are Mac-based. The issue I suppose is that Notes is very much a “corporate” application, and corporates are over-whelmingly Windows-based.

Personally, I’d much rather use a Mac at work, but we’re very much in the realm of Notes, and we’ve coded apps that use the Win32 API etc. ” not to mention all the Wintel / IE-only portal development. So I guess I’ll just have to dream... ;-)

Ben Poole, 2004-02-09

Actually, I was at a session about the RCT (Rich Client Technology) in which Jeff Calow showed the same "functionality" of running local Notes applications in the Rich Client (the one showed in the General Opening Session as well, no edit, just a page/form shown in read mode).
Afterwards, being asked how far that will also be available on Linux or whether it would only be available on Windows with a Notes installation (because of running with the Notes DLLs), Jeff explicitly stated, that all three platforms (Win32, Linux, Mac) are a target for Lotus Workplace Rich Client with full functionality...

That certainly is not the Notes client, but at least it's (somewhat of) a commitment to both Linux and Mac, which have both been left aside by the "true" Notes client more than once.

Ragnar Schierholz, 2004-02-09

It is very common for IBM/Lotus to be not precise for any future version of the Notes client, when they start to drop support for it.

I don't want to missuse this post, but it is exacltly the same with the Linux client. Whenever you get an very unclear message about an release of an Notes Client for an specific platform, then be sure that IBM/Lotus is dropping support for it.

Like it or not, IBM/Lotus is living in an Windows x86 world for the client.

The funny thing is, that serval days ago I readed on Slashdot, that Microsoft is planing (still an rumor) the XBox2 to work on PPC. Keeps wondering me, if Windows will be portet to PPC as well, because now Windows is the base for the current XBox? If so, then maybe we will see WOM ("Windows on MAC". Does not exist, but I have seen MOL "MAC on Linux". Would be an funny name for it ;) anyway...)?

Cheers

Stevan Bajic

Stevan Bajic, 2004-02-09

The Lotus management type at the Mac BOF this year said, if I recall correctly, that somewhere between 10 and 30% of the Notes installed base has a significant Mac population. That is, apparently, the extent of their market survey.

jbwalkup, 2004-02-10

I too was at the BOF session that was mentioned and was one of the more vocal members since 30% - 40% of our entire population works on Macs. Our CTO later had a more priviate meeting with the supervisors of the person running the BOF and we were made much more clear promises that the MAC client for Notes was going to be supported in Notes7. We left Lotusphere after several conversations with Lotus management much more encouraged with their willingness to support the Mac platform.

Don't expect the MAC Notes client to make the "dead man walking" march just yet. While the total population of Notes users that are Mac are not significant, the percentage discussed is that roughly 30% of Corporations have some Mac presence and that presence is usually critical to that corporation (I know it is with ours) so Lotus was able to understand the importance of the Mac client in these corporations.

Randy LeTourneau, 2004-04-23

... the percentage discussed is that roughly 30% of Corporations have some Mac presenceCombine vague numbers like that with the equally vague statistics quoted by Lotus at the BoF session, and I just I don’t see how they’re going to sway IBM.

Surely all remaining Mac support effort will be put towards the rich client (well, I hope it will. So far I’ve only heard definite mention of Win32 and Linux platform support for the rich client).

That said, if Workplace is anything to go by, the rich client AKA “Notes 8” — in its capacity as (effectively) a new product — will not be feature-rich.

Maybe I’m just being overly pessimistic, but I think IBM have truly missed the boat with Notes on the Mac.

Ben Poole, 2004-04-23

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