They'll pry Lotus Notes out of my cold, dead hands

by Esther Schindler

If that's your attitude, maybe we should talk.

During Microsoft TechEd, I got in a conversation with someone who spoke wistfully of Lotus Notes, which she clearly loved. She worked in a huge company, so big that her "just a tiny set of Notes users left" was 500 people.

Somehow, Notes has drifted from the "every enterprise runs it, of course" application to a niche product for an ever-diminishing user base. I haven't used Notes in years, and when I did it was (as for most publishers) primarily a bloated e-mail client rather than a powerful application for business workflow. (The Tech editors at Sm@rt Reseller used Notes to track story; eWEEK used an Excel spreadsheet.) Yet, it's obvious from my TechEd chat that Notes is still much loved, even if a company has moved on to other (if not greater) things — the way most professional writers speak of WordPerfect 5.1.

So I'm thinking of writing an article about Notes Loyalists... or at least those who wish they could be. (This is meant to be a "there's life in the old gal yet" article rather than the sort of article that uses the word "beleaguered.") Unfortunately, I'm not in any Notes discussion communities (I don't even know where to find 'em). Since I know that vowe still has a Notes gang hanging around him... hey, anybody want to help me out?

Update: The story is online now. [vowe]


This could turn into the mother of all comment threads on :-)

Volker Weber, 2006-06-26 22:28

The phrase "there's life in the old gal yet" remindes me very livid on the last lotussphere cult shirt with the qoutes like:
"notes is 80's technologiy." - Steve Mills, Senior VP, IBM Corporation
and "Notes is dead!" - Forbes, 1997, 2001, 2003 and 2005
and "Notes? Nobody uses it anymore, we use Excell istead" - middle managment...

Gregory Engels, 2006-06-26 22:52

Actually, to anver it seriously, we just should take the phrase Somehow, Notes has drifted from the "every enterprise runs it, of course" application to a niche product for an ever-diminishing user base.
What is the basis for this statement?
In my experience nothing could be further from the truth. The official numbers states that there are more than 120.000.000 people around the globe using Notes. - This sounds not like an niche product to me. If 120 million users qualify for a title "niche product", than we live in a world of niche products.

Second - ever-diminishing - again, what facts underlie this statement? Notes Sales has seen double digit grow for a series of quarters, and this in an overall stagnant market.

I'll make a different conclusion: Even at Microsoft TechEd Conference there are people who are not afraid of stating, that there are using notes and defend it successfully inside their organisation. For this must be a reason. Think.

Gregory Engels, 2006-06-26 23:03

Ever-diminishing user base? LOL! That's the funniest thing to be posted here in a long time. If this were a caption contest, my entry would be "Misinformed".

Richard Schwartz, 2006-06-26 23:07

Oh, this'll go well. *snicker*

I'm the sort of person you're asking to speak with, but I have no interest in participating in an article that will perpetuate the myth that "Notes is Dead. Again."

If your attitude becomes, "How did so many people get so deluded about the relative strength of Notes?" then we should talk.

Rob McDonagh, 2006-06-26 23:25

Volker, you should be ashamed for baiting us like this:-)

Christopher Byrne, 2006-06-26 23:42

What's my basis for this statement? My perception, based on talking with lots of IT staff. Obviously, I'd see less Notes presence at TechEd than I might otherwise, but I've attended about a dozen conferences in the last 6 months, and Notes is no longer visible at any of them. Not even in the sense of the person sitting next to me using it as their e-mail client. I no longer hear of any small or medium sized business adopting Notes; rather, I just heard a long horror story about a company that was pressured to move to Exchange. (And the techie who used to work there said, "They love Exchange, but they don't know why.")

If Notes sales are up -- then why do I see no evidence of it in the marketplace?

My whole point was that I didn't want to write a "Notes is dead" article; what I am (or heck _was_) looking for is several people who'll say, "We're still using Notes, and boy am I glad we are... for reasons A, B, C."

Sheesh. and Harumph.

esther schindler, 2006-06-27 00:17

It’s a legitimate question, and would make for a good article. Esther, don’t be put off by initial reactions: the plain fact of the matter is that we’ve read this “Notes is dead” crap so many times, it triggers a Pavlovian reaction (understandable).

Oh, and one tip, for what it’s worth: I wouldn’t bother talking to people at TechEd about things like this: the answers may be a little—ahem—skewed ;o)

Ben Poole, 2006-06-27 00:28

Your premise is faulty. You expect us to leap at the chance to be part of a story denying that Notes is useless, or dead, or irrelevant. "Still using Notes" indeed. Your words make it very clear that you believe Notes to be, basically, an historical footnote. Lumping it with WordPerfect? Ridiculous.

If you expect Notes loyalists to be impressed by the opportunity to be interviewed, perhaps you should consider the issue from our perspective. We don't agree that we've lost. We're done with being on the defensive. When people buy into Microsoft's PR monopoly and claim that Exchange has won, we laugh. When the press runs another "Notes is dead" story, we mock them.

Sheesh? Yes, that's exactly what I thought when I read this post. Sheesh. Where've you been hiding, that you can't find Notes people? Go to Lotusphere instead of TechEd, or go with Volker to the ILUG. If you wanted to find Windows advocates, would you go to Linux World?!?

Rob McDonagh, 2006-06-27 00:31

Well actually YES, I would talk to people at Linuxworld about their Windows use. The intent is to find out the reasons that people change, or don't change. So I don't ask for input only from the people actively using a technology; I ask the people who rejected it why they made the decision to do so. That's called fairness.

And please remember that this idea started with a woman talking about how much she loved Notes. It obviously wasn't her choice to change environments. And I decided to follow up because I liked Notes, too.

My premise is faulty? Okay, show your work. From where do you get your statistics about Notes usage? Not just Notes *sales* (though that would be nice too) but its actual use in corporations? You bring up Lotusphere (which I attended, a few years back); what's the history of its attendance? I.e. are there more people at Lotusphere than there were, say, 5 years ago? 10? How many vendors are there in the exhibit hall, year after year?

You ARE being defensive, by the way. I showed up wanting to write a "Yay for Notes! Gosh isn't it useful!" article, and you're accusing me of saying that it's dead. I _do_ think it's perceived as fading. If that isn't the case, I'm perfectly willing to listen to evidence otherwise.

Where have I been hiding that I don't run into Notes users? Right here, Rob, in the middle of Phoenix, with subscriptions to about 65 different discussion lists. Notes hasn't come up in a long time, though I've certainly seen plenty of off-topic gripes about Exchange.

esther schindler, 2006-06-27 00:58

Time to do my part to help this comment thread asplode.

My experience mirrors Esther's. I've worked in a lot of orgs that are paying for Domino for some apps and Exchange for their email. I know of a few large pretty large migrations to Exchange that are already in progress. I'd bet that there's more than one (US) federal agency out there that's paying for licenses because they've lost track of where there are servers hosting apps still.

Everywhere I go, Domino is considered a "legacy platform" where they're still supported but new development is being done on something else. Eventually, those "legacy apps" on Domino are going to get replaced and some time after that, there won't be any need to pay to support those Domino licenses.

Maybe IBM doesn't see it (or isn't talking about it if they do see it) because of the growth that's happening somewhere else. I'm not a biz guy so I don't know how all that works...I just know what I've seen and done over the years and I've been seeing a lot of Sharepoint installs.

One of the biggest shocks to me when I went to Lotusphere 06 was to see how much really cool and useful stuff other companies were doing and then realizing that I'm not likely to work for an org that's going to be doing anything like that.

Scott Gentzen, 2006-06-27 00:58

Show MY work?!? Show me a statement I've made for which I need to show work. I did not quote any statistics about Notes usage. You have claimed that Notes is "a niche product with an ever-shrinking user base." Show YOUR work. And giving your personal impression, based on a trivially small number of users spoken to, with specific examples from a Microsoft-oriented conference? Not good enough.

The errant premise of which I spoke was *not* that Notes is dead, because that's effectively impossible to prove or disprove, but rather that I should be interested in being part of an article or interview where the author was treating Notes as the plucky underdog or the forgotten product. Oh, and there's a difference between being defensive and being ON the defensive. I didn't say I wasn't being defensive, I said I (well, we) was done with being ON the defensive.

I also suggested that if, as you say, you can't find anyone who champions Notes, you might want to visit Lotusphere. Gee, what a crazy idea. However did I think of it? And your reaction is to twist my suggestion about how to find Notes advocates into a responsibility to demonstrate robust attendance and/or vendor participation? I reject that false link, but in the interest of accuracy I will tell you that I have not missed Lotusphere since 1995, and while there was an attendance and participation dip between 2002-2004 (name a segment of the economy without such a dip in that time frame) for the past 2 years there have been growing numbers of both attendees and vendors. Are the numbers back where they were in 1999 and 2000? No. But they are moving in a positive direction, and this past year's conference was the best I have seen (for participation and enthusiasm on the part of attendees) since 2000.

Rob McDonagh, 2006-06-27 01:37


There is a side effect to having an application that requires less budget to maintain and build apps for -- let alone manage. It doesn't get attention in the company.

I recently did a security review for a major financial firm. A household name services company that uses notes. They have about 15,000 Notes users. They use it for mail and literally hundreds of applications.

It is managed by a total of 16 people, spread across several office buildings based on their roles.

The company has a Microsoft desktop team as well, which supports workstation software like Office & XP. The desktops are locked down, so you'd think this would be a small team. The desktops are identical, locked, and managed. That team has a couple of hundred people.

They'd never done a Notes security review. Why? They never gave it much thought. It "just runs". Then one day someone looked up and realized how much critical data was in this thing, and added to the list of software to be reviewed.

In this company, you'd have been hard pressed to randomly pick a Notes person from the IT staff compared to a Office/Windows person. In fact, you would be 96% more likely in a poll to get a favorable response from the IT people it company to Microsoft than to Lotus, since only 4% of the support people do Notes. The impression then, would be that Notes is not favored by the Company's IT organization.

From a budget perspective, assume for the sake of simplicity that a fully loaded support person costs a budget $100,000. The budget comparison then would be $1.6m vs. $30m. So which of those do you think gets more attention from a CIO and accounting? Hell, in a company this size, the Notes support staff budget literally falls off the chart in importance.

The numbers I gave (other than the loaded employee cost) are real and are less than 90 days old.

What I'm saying is, if you poll I.T. people, you're 96% more likley to find a preference for doing this without Notes in that company than with it.

This does NOT, however, reflect the reality. In reality, the majority of applications get built in Notes for departmental, workflow, teamwork, and collaboration. Why? Because they get done faster, cheaper, and end up reliable. The projects don't fail. The users have never seen an email outage that hit an entire department -- let alone one that lasted for days. They've never had a worm go through their email and send itself to other users.

Reconcile that -- 96%, had you polled them, would have given you Non-Notes answers simply because it takes only 4% of the IT people to support the Notes environment.

Real sales figures tell the story. The market is divided nearly in half for corporate mail users -- with some "also ran" mail software in the mix. In the US, Microsoft may have a small lead, depending on who crunches the numbers and how. In Europe Notes has a significant lead, and I believe that lead is even larger in APAC.

We can quibble on the details of the numbers. Am I an Outlook user because I own Office Pro? No, but I'm probably counted as one. The point is that with the market roughly split, and you hearing so little about Notes, you need to be looking for the reason why you're not hearing about it. I say, its because it takes 20 times less people to manage, so ther are 20 times less people talking it up.

-- AP

Andrew Pollack, 2006-06-27 01:39

I am curious for Volkers opinion on this topic?
I am sure there are a lot of passionate notes evangelists although I am not one of them.

Henning Heinz, 2006-06-27 01:56

"...I say, its because it takes 20 times less people to manage, so ther are 20 times less people talking it up."

Ah, Andrew, that's exactly the sort of response that I was hoping for. It makes perfect sense to me, too, for very similar reasons. Six years ago, I had a 3-month contract job as OS/2 Network Admin for a regional utility service. I was the only person supporting 26 OS/2 servers (one of which, I might mention, was the Notes server), and I was (to refer to a US advertisement), "the Maytag repairman." If I spent one hour out of every 40 actually working, it was a lot; those servers were trouble-free. I had the luxury of being bored, for the first time in several years. Meanwhile, there were 17 people supporting about 30 Windows NT servers, each of which required a reboot at least once a week (the servers, not the people; the people seemed to operate just fine, and they were very nice).

The company had brought me on so that I could help them move everything to the Windows servers, since the company had decided to move to Windows. I was, as you might imagined, a little irritated by this. (I did, however, cash the checks.) A Mac friend commiserated with me, offering a similar Mac-versus-Windows anecdote, and pointing out an additional item: in corporations, managers are considered to be more powerful politically if they have more people reporting to them. That is, a department head with 25 employees is considered "better" than a manager with only 5 people -- even if those 5 people accomplish as much as the 25. Such is politics, and I suppose that's universal.

I also find it wholly believeable that Notes is more popular in one region (EMEA or APAC) than in another (North America). I'm sure I could get more Official Numbers (painted ever-so-delicately by PR departments to make the company look better... as do all of them, mind you) by calling IBM's official representatives, and it's likely they would give me some sort of info to back that up.

esther schindler, 2006-06-27 02:03

Well, I guess I'll be the one to step up and help with the "I'm not in any Notes discussion communities (I don't even know where to find 'em)."

Here are some communities:

and here are some customer references:

Alan Lepofsky, 2006-06-27 03:15

Don't want to contribute to all that blaming. So here is why I use Notes/Domino.

It is a secure and nearly virus free platform. Offers very excellent replication mechanisms (I am often on the road an need to be mobile with my personal as well as my clients databases). Relativly easy you can develop applications that work in Notes and the Web/Intranet (with the full Notes background functionallity). And as mentioned before, it is a reliable and staple system (e.g. look here: Eric Mack: Notes (Domino) server retired, after 11 years )
And finally it saves my income for a long time now. And hopefully for some years to come. Looking for to the Hannover releas which will offer new possibilities for application development in this area.

Frank Stangenberg, 2006-06-27 10:56

If you have to express Notes as a piece of music this springs to my mind: Escape . Any takers to come up with a Notes text for it?

:-) stw

Stephan H. Wissel, 2006-06-27 11:40

Esther - I see Notes as a collaborative application infrastructure - one with amazing strength and depth. One that is easy to install and run across many physical and political divides in an organisation, and one - ones installed and running - thats very difficult to remove. (Anyone can do eMail, lets face it. Its no longer a disruptive technology).

Why is it difficult to remove ? Well, MS - so far - dont have anything close. I mean, even a power-user can knock up a template, get it deployed and have people using it for something meaningful in a few hours. And it'll run forever. Securely.

Its the product that even IBM couldnt kill - and by god, it tried for three or so years. The Dark "Zoller" years, the "Dual Lane" years. Thank god they're past.

Mostly. There's still a lot of IBM salesmen out there unaware, and of course the Beast of Redmond pedding a lot of hogwash. Its better than it was..

Thank god for Ed Brill. He kept hope alive...

Now we have a killer, very stable product, that even IBM - begrudingly at times - is starting to sell to its customers again. This is a product thats had zero marketing between 2001 and 2005, and still increased seat count.

One of its downsides is that it does spark strong emotions. Most folks out there who hate it - hate it with a vengeance. Most are refugees from really bad implementations - old versions, bad architecture, bad hardware, etc.(In my humble opinion). You see, thats the other thing about it. It might be 15 years old, and have over 1,200 configuration options for the server alone, but it wlll quite happy run on inadequate hardware, bad network links, flaky hard drives.

The competion - all of the competition - seems far more fragile in that respect. You *have* to run the latest whizzy version of the other products, and you *have* to do expensive desk visits, etc, to make sure they have the latest clients. Else its virus-city.

The folks who use it - as you've seen in this thread - tend to be highly protective of it. Why ? Why on earth be protective of software by IBM ?

Its because it works, and it works really well. Easy, strong, deep. Moving off it to some hideous badly architected stuff just isnt good. So folks want it to stay, and quite happily/successfully fight guerilla wars in their corporates and on the web to keep it.

If only IBM marketing could catch up and understand how to sell this product. I had a stab at it here:

Okay. I may have to get a body double for the wall street journal, but thats slightly more effective than the waffle thats does get pumped out there. At least folks can understand big/small, high/low value, etc.

Is there life in the old gal ? Well, yes. Absolutely yes. The hannover release will finally give her front end a good going over - for the first time in ages, and hopefully get rid of that "its ugly" slander.

The server ? It just keeps getting better and better - both in terms of performance (number of users/ response time) and capabilty/features. You just cant do Disaster Recovery like Domino can.

Come along to Lotusphere in Orlando. Stand in the Business Partner showcase (I usually have some damn fine Scotch on the stand), and see the buzz.

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2006-06-27 20:59

Hi Esther,
Since you're in Phoenix, will you be attending the Lotus AdvisorLive conference in August? It's a perennial (often bi-perennial, if that's a word) event, popular in the Notes Appdev community. This next one is partially sponsored by IBM.

I (and many others I could introduce you to) will be speaking there and hanging out in the "Meet the Developers" lab. Please come on by and chat (IBM process would probably require a chaperone if you wanted to formally "interview" me, but I'm happy to chat anytime).

We can show you some very cool stuff. And I'll play my favorite Monty Python video clip for you: "I'm not dead yet!"


Bob Balaban, 2006-06-28 02:11

All: I've been responding privately to most of the comments here, since most of them are "How shall I refer to you in the article?" ::smile::

I truly appreciate all the help. I'm quite sure that none of the Notes fans will be disappointed.

esther schindler, 2006-06-28 02:17

I pretty much feel like the rest here. It's not a question of is notes dead or alive.

I know it is alive and that is exaclty my point.

We decided on using Notes vs. Exchange for one really simple reason at the time of decision making (where we didn't know too much about either system).

When the whole damm thing crashes or let's say the mailbox of the boss is gone. What does it take to have it come back to live again.

I had this question answered by several sysadmins who had both systems or one or the other.

After that the decision was really easy. We got Notes.

There is only one thing that I envy MS Exchange for sometimes and that is that every watch, Gameboy or calculator seems to have software to synconize with it. But if that is you decision basis ... oh oh ... wait for the first crash and keep lots of tissue paper at hand.

Of course there a hundreds of things one or the other does better, but as said, the above was the killer kriterium several years ago for me and it still hold true today.

Steffen Gutermann, 2006-06-28 11:16

I can't remember how many times I've said; "You'll have to pry my Notes client out of my cold, dead hands". That's Notes client as opposed to a browser client that needs lots of help to do much of anything.

Tim Latta, 2006-06-28 20:32

Thanks, everybody, for your help! The article is now live on the IT Business Network: You'll Pry Lotus Notes Out Of Their Cold, Dead Hands
Legacy means mature, not irrelevant.
Notes professionals explain why they remain loyal to the platform — and why, contrary to what you might expect, it isn't fading away. Not in the least.

esther schindler, 2006-06-28 21:32

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