Don't shoot the messenger

by Volker Weber

Jake Howlett builds great Domino web sites. In fact, he was the first one I have ever seen who had built Domino web sites, which did not smell of Notes views. has been one of my favorites in the Notes world.

Jake has always been very clear about the problems he is facing when building good Domino sites and how to work around them. Yesterday he said:

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one within our "community" who ever speaks out.

Shortly thereafter all hell breaks loose in the comments.


There's some very interesting and relevant quotes from many different people in that thread. Reading it says a lot about the state of the Notes/Domino community at the moment..

Ross Hawkins, 2006-11-22

Reading some of the comments I think my blog is probably a little smelly about Sametime.

Seriously though, most of Jake's complaints over the years have been very valid.

I did work for a company with 46,000+ customers and I also know the internal struggles that go on within them trying to decide what does and doesn't get done with a product. There were many many decisions I did not agree with, but then politics was never my game and I tended to come at things from customers point of view a little too passionately which it turns out it not always the best way to win a battle.

The sad thing is, it's been many years since I left, and many of the items that were being discussed back then are still being discussed. Not to worry, Domino 9 will address them :-)

I actually blame Microsoft for some of these problems, if Microsoft competed with Notes from more than just the email angle, then there would be a lot more effort in the other aspects. Take a look at Sametime, until LCS started to make significant inroads and threaten Sametime at a number of key accounts, Sametime basically had some new colours, a new name and a new name every few years. Now with some significant competion IBM are back on the case.

Carl Tyler, 2006-11-22

I still don't get it ?
Why develop pure web applications with Domino ?

I am a long time Notes developer (12 years) who did nearly everything with this product (and i still think that it is great).
However you have to use its strength and unique features, only then its awesome.

- If you need to create applications that run off-line (or in several locations) its a good reason to develop them with Notes
- If you want rapid development and easy future customizations and a flexible data storage, then Notes is strong in this (for Notes clients)
- If you want a large list of useful standard functions (Full-Text, Security, Data handling ...) start developing in Notes

But if you want to develop a pure web application then why would you want to do it with Domino ?
I don't see any advantage here ?

- the development will take longer
- the data storage size will be limited
- the web server performance will be worse
- you will find fewer developers and much fewer code examples
- the orientation in your code/design elements will be a catastrophe

My opinion is that Notes is a good development tool but only if you use it right.
For me web application only ever made sense when they were used by both Notes clients AND web-clients.

Or am i missing something ?

Hynek Kobelka, 2006-11-22

I don't think you're missing much, Hynek. I have used Domino for a pure web app many times, and I currently lead a group of developers who work 90% on exactly that sort of application. But we don't use Domino because it is the best-of-breed for pure web development. We use it because it has other strengths that meet our business needs (replication, security, workflow, messaging, etc). We know of the limitations it has as a pure web development environment, and we have either accepted or worked around them.

If you're building a web application for a customer that has no infrastructure for such applications, barring some specific business need for one of Domino strengths, you wouldn't go with Domino at all. You'd use Ruby on Rails, or LAMP, or whatever.

The piece of the equation that is missing from some "purist" critics, and this was pointed out repeatedly to Rod Boothby but he still doesn't seem to grasp it, is that in the real business world it matters whether you have an existing infrastructure or skillset. If you're a big Notes mail site and you've got a bunch of Domino developers, the correct *business* decision about where to do your web development is likely to be Domino, even though it isn't a perfect aesthetic solution.

There has been a lot of criticism lately, aimed at Domino not being Cool and Hip and Web 2.0 and XHTML compliant, and in general not being the perfect web development platform. I think the critics are missing something. Domino is, and has always been, best-of-breed at very few things (replication, security). It is, and has always been, pretty good at just about everything else. It's never been the perfect ANYTHING development platform. It's pretty darn good at lots of things, but it's great at a smaller subset.

I tell people at work constantly - Domino is a Swiss Army Knife, not a scalpel or a sword or a cannon. Used properly, it is very powerful. Used blindly, as though it was the proverbial hammer to every nail ("when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."), and it is very frustrating.

I'm not suggesting people should stop complaining, by the way. Complaints can lead to improvements. But I do think people ought to have reasonable expectations, and expecting Notes to be as nimble as Ruby on Rails when it comes to web development simply isn't reasonable. Ruby on Rails has been around how long? A couple of years? Installed base of how many users? How many pre-existing applications requiring compatibility? It's hardly an apples-to-apples comparison...

Rob McDonagh, 2006-11-22

I just don't get it myself... I can understand the want for RAD, and that most CMS solutions out there can generate/maintain/server some lovely W3C-compliant goodness... but outside of a small subset of these issues I can't see anything "business-class" from a functional-solutions-end that can't be done via *development*.

And when I say development, I don't mean *hacking* as much as I don't mean RAD/WYSIWYG/"So all I have to do is download this from sourceforge and click 'Go'?" approaches. Sometimes I think a lot of people are simply bitching and moaning about having to do actual work!


Chris Toohey, 2006-11-22

Well, so i am one of that guys who do not do actual work?

My boss said to me in a talk we had about our further strategy regarding some of they key databases over here two weeks ago: "We do not pay you to work around tool based problems. We pay you because of your ability to connect different systems to a working unit." So everytime i have to work around a bug or missing feature either in the client or when it comes to web development. I do this with a bad taste in my mouth and looking over my shoulders.

Thomas Schulte, 2006-11-22

Setting aside the core issue—Jake raises plenty of valid issues about Domino—I don’t understand why the “messenger” persists in using the platform if it’s that unfit for (his) purpose.

I seem to recall that Jake started on a LAMP odyssey some time back, surely an environment better suited to the type of development he wants to do?

Whilst pointing out Domino’s flaws (and making constructive suggestions) can be useful, it soon just turns into a pointless whinge-fest, especially when you’re dealing with something as monolithic as IBM. Life’s too short!

Ben Poole, 2006-11-22

So Ben your advice would be: Leave Domino, use other tools? Do not raise a voice. Nothing you can ever do will create a reaction?

Thomas Schulte, 2006-11-22

Guys, I do not want to discourage a discussion here, but it appears that commotion is over at Jake's.

Volker Weber, 2006-11-22

Your are right Volker.

Thomas Schulte, 2006-11-22

Thanks for the support Volker. Some times it does feel a bit like I'm being shot down whenever I speak out.

Jake Howlett, 2006-11-22

@Thomas: not at all. I’m just saying we should know when to give up ;o)

Just to be clear, I’m not shooting people down; I think many of the complaints about Domino are entirely valid and should be aired. And, well, they have been. Many times. IBM either want to listen, or they don’t.

If a significant proportion of design or coding is about working around a tool’s shortcomings, an alarm bell should ring saying that maybe the tool / platform is inappropriate for that application.

Sorry for continuing the discussion here, I’ll be quiet now (I’m not allowed at Jake’s place).

Ben Poole, 2006-11-22

It's interesting that Jake feels like he was shot down, when in this particular thread, all he did was point at a few other people who spoke out (including vowe), and added the dramatic Come on guys, don't be afraid to speak your mind.The equivalent of yelling "food fight!" in a crowded college cafeteria. There's nothing less useful than a pile-on bitchfest, whether it happens on,, or

His follow-up is more useful and I will try to get a comment in sometime in the next day or so.

Ed Brill, 2006-11-22


I hear ya, and I'm not saying that you don't work because you want your given tool to do what other tools do - but while you can sometimes use a wrench to drive in a nail, maybe the given case warrants grabbing a hammer.

And no-one is saying that you shouldn't comment on functionality that you want - I think it's our duty as the product evangelists and champions to question the current solution - but the one thing that I see far too often are people that don't know that the product can do A but that bitch and moan that the product can't do A, or that while it CAN do A... it can't do it A the EXACT way that I want it to for this application and NOT THE EXACT way I want it to for that application.

I'm not a fanboy of either camp - I've complained as much as I've complimented, but a lot of the things that people are requesting are addressing functionality that would only benefit say 1-5% of the Domino Web Development community... Now, as a responsible vendor, is it honestly in IBMs best interest to invest the time and energy into implementing such functionality that would possibly only be utilized by such a small subset of their user base when said functionality could impact the overall user base?

Chris Toohey, 2006-11-22

It comes down to the question: Is the thick client dead?

Google thinks so, and soon we will see GoogleOS (Linux lite, that boots up to Mozilla and friends).

IBM and MS think not. I think the Eclipse client will win over the strategy, simply because of open standards and exstensibility.

In the long run, the Google way of thinking will win out. We will always be on-line, with our thin and/or mobile client, and always have access to all the data in the world, and all the free applications we need to manipulate that data (although this is similar to the ideas I read in comics as a kid: the huge central super computer, that stored data in water, etc.)

Villi Helgason, 2006-11-22

as always we have two sides. The internal to our in/external customers where we live from all what notes/domino can offer !
Therefore it's dangerours too shout out loud about trouble/problems and so on because we would leave an unsecure feeling for them. And our customers are not able to get a complete picture from all the details - so they are a little bit upset.
But on the other side there's the big blue where we are the customers and the big point is that nobody really knows what's going on about our wish list, problems and so on.
Instead we hear all the details about the new upcoming version.
That's why the community is so frustrated, nothing else - Jake doesn't see the expected improvements he needs for his customers/projects and he didn't saw that others had the same problem.
On the third we have IBM with its own problem circle (management, ressources, standards, culture) and the only things that the community wants are basic improvements in the core product which you can't sell as good as new features in terms of marketing. And these improvements are needed intime not in 2010+x.

YYes, I totally agree that we would see a complete other speed of innovation, evolution, development of Notes/domino if Microsoft would be a better competitor. Fair competiton is all we need and would be very helpful. Maybe this market is too small to get a major success (and earn money). What would happen if MS enters the market?
Most of the big companies can't change their deployed infrastructures (serveres & clients & apps) . This willl need a deep frustration that someone takes the risk to migrate from one world to the other world without really knowing what MS can and will deliver (and in what timeframe). I can remember visits of Clive Reeves in the late 90ies fighting against the "glorious future" of unnamed products from MS which they tried to sell to our company at a very high level.
And what did both told us what we will see in 1 or 2 years. Lotus/IBM delivered the expected features with Notes R 7 .... 5 years later than announced.

Maybe we should MS ask for help and for a real entry in the groupware market. But I think it would cost too much and they won't earn enough for this additional effort. They will do it step by step within 10 years ( and only small additional budgets ) - unfortunatelly.

Let's fight for a good future of DOMINO/Notes and we must prepare IBM for the real competition, they must move and improve faster at a better quality - nothing else!

Wolfgang Andreas Bischof, 2006-11-22

@me - I left one place where a bitchfest would be useless of my list -- :-)

Ed Brill, 2006-11-22

I have the solution to your problem, Mr. Ed Brill.

You know that 8xyz123b code you type when commenting on your blog? Change it to Notes/Domino questions: Who invented Notes? What year did Lotus buy Iris? Who found Greenland?

Any fool can type in 8xyz123þ, but you need to filter out the drunks and MS employees, who do not like Notes and Greenland :) I have the solution for you (see above: patent pending)

Villi Helgason, 2006-11-22


Ed has captcha? I've never seen it. Maybe I need new glasses.

Bruce Elgort, 2006-11-22

I dunno. There's always the friction between thin and thick clients, distributed computing versus centralisation.

People who study history (certainly not me!) might draw parallels between the humble vt100 and HTML. Both are thin clients. Both have limited compute-facilities and storage at the end of a wire. So why did the vt100 die ? It wasnt because it was expensive, believe me.

It was because centrally ran computer services couldnt keep up with user demand. Users demanded (and IBM invented, delivered) that solution, so they could "mashup" data themselves. Sound familiar ? This was the early eighties man.

Does Web 2.0 change that ? Ahh. No. Same story, different emperor, same clothes.

So as usual we'll have a mess of "in-between" computing facilities, on-line and off, screen scraping/thin client versus "power computing" where at least you can work on the plane.

Is either solution "right" ? Absolutely not. Choice is "right" - that is the business should choose the most appropriate business platform. Should that be thin or thick ?

Thats not the choice. Thats an implementation detail. The choice is to run your business properly, using the correct set of tools for the job.

EG: Is "Sage" - a thick accounting solution - better than an on-line accounting solution ? Thats not the choice. The choice is which is the more appropriate accounting solution for your business, right ?

And thats where the Web 2.0 evangelists are going to upset potential customers. These chaps dont appreciate that the folks with the money are the old farts (like me!) who understand a bit of history, and understand that the implementation of a solution is far less important than the business benefit it brings...

My surprisingly lucid two-penny worth.. :)

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2006-11-22

Every now and then somebody throws a stone into the water and the rest just follow them.

In my humble opinion, I think that if you are a Domino developer, if you have "a lot of projects in you body", if you have seen the transition betwen all the versions, the new features, the arise of web development, and you have been including web techniques to your Domino development in the last couple of years, you already or at least know hthe way to create a web app using the learned lessons.

I have my libraries, my css templates, my graphics, so I can create a web application in a couple of hours, just like with Notes development (environment that I have not programmed in ages).

The experience tells me that I have to use some CSS/HTML/XML editors to achieve some results faster than in Domino Designer, and I have internalized those "additional tools" to do my daily job and be more efficient and effective.

Discussions like Jake's or Vowe's are really good to test the community perception on how they feel in this step of the ND evolution.

Domino has its annoyances, but I personally think the responsibility to acquire new knowledge and use it in our projects, and read the right information on how to integrate it into Domino to make it shine, is part of the common sense of curiosity, challenge and experimenting that keep us alive in the development world. At least that is what I feel when, for example, I learn to create web sites without tables, use CSS to style web pages, use Java to perform some enterprise interaction, when I can create a script using my memory to retrieve methods and properties, when I use AJAX and UI libraries, when I use the Domino features as special fields, ACL, Messaging, SSL, etc.

The people that post comments on both sites are known names, and all of them are great developers, you already know that, but I'm sure that there's a lot of anonymous people that is out there doing their development with that feeling in mind, and have no time to blog, or read a blog.

PS: Sorry fo the long comment Volker.


Alex Hernandez, 2006-11-23

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