It is the apps, stupid

by Volker Weber

Every time somebody offers migration tools away from Notes, or some company actually does a migration, the Notes faithful repeat their mantra: "you cannot migrate the apps". And as carriers fear the word "bitpipe" the Notes aficionados are up in arms when they hear "asbestos", because of this rather stupid article, which contains a lot of rubbish and one interesting parallel: "It was really easy to install, but ... it was very expensive to get out".

A company, which uses Notes for mail and calendaring only, is an easy target for a migration. If they are using customs apps, replacing those won't be easy. However, actually telling your customers, they can't get away from their Notes apps, would make them feel like being taken hostage.

There are Notes customers out there, that have expressed this concern and have implemented "no Notes development" policies while maintaining their existing infrastructure. I have even seen some less understandable policies like "Notes apps only in Java" as if those would be more easily portable down the road.

Enter Xpages. IBM once promised you could use your Notes apps in a browser, automagically. Turned out that was not so easy either. So IBM did not promise you could easily turn your Notes apps into Xpages apps. And you can't. You rebuild them as Xpages. Rip and replace.

The question that customers are pondering is "should we do that"? In this light I would not make too much noise about the asbestos problem.


Interesting analysis! I have written about some aspects of this problem too (e.g., co-existence), and I agree with your points.

It does seem (to me, anyway) that XPages does not represent an "evolution" of technique for Domino (and eventually, for Notes Client) apps, although it certainly does represent an evolution in functionality (and most of the web sites/apps I've seen built with it do look pretty good).

I have heard speculation in one or 2 places along the lines of, "If I have to redo everything for XPages anyway, maybe I should consider other technologies as well".

I'm just technology advance ever comes without unintended side-effects.

Bob Balaban, 2009-07-15 01:12

I don't agree that we have to redo everything to use XPages. I know some people ADVOCATE for that approach, because XPages is a great refactoring opportunity. But I've got a whole suite of custom Domino apps at work, and we'll splice in XPages wherever we choose without changing the rest at all. Replace all of our forms? No. Replace certain specific, targeted forms? Sure, where we get a major boost from XPages (grids, repeat controls come to mind). Replace our view UI? You bet. Replace our scheduled server-side LotusScript agents? No. Replace our QuerySave agents? No. I'm continually baffled by the idea that I can't use XPages without throwing away all of my existing code.

Rob McDonagh, 2009-07-15 01:26

Just for the record, how easy would it actually be for a reasonably complex SharePoint application to be migrated to another system platform? Say, to Domino, Oracle or to Google for example.

Ian Randall, 2009-07-15 01:28

@Ian, good question, and it begs another first. Has anyone seen a *complex* SharePoint application? What makes it complex? How would it compare to say a Quickr application, in terms of development time, functionality, etc.? I would love to know if what is considered complex for SharePoint is the same for Quickr/Domino, and what it takes to get there.

Rob Novak, 2009-07-15 01:42

Volker, I admire the way you try to provoke conversations with sharp sticks to the eye. Alas, there are many logic errors with these arguments. I don't have time (or strong enough motivation) to plumb them all, perhaps others will, but here's some of the more apparent ones.

(1) To point out that the business value of Lotus Notes lies in custom business applications, and that email is only one example of such an application, is an appropriate justification of the strategic decision to migrate to or remain on Lotus Notes Domino. I only recently presented Notes to a company who is on Outlook/Exchange and I specifically made it clear if they were to migrate from one platform to another (in any direction) for email alone, that would not provide any significant business value. The value of the Notes Domino platform lies in the ability to respond to business requirements with applications developed quickly with excellent ROI. After showing some sample applications they were blown away and will become a customer shortly I suspect.

(2) To argue that the addition of new more powerful design options for creating applications (e.g. XPages) automatically renders the existing apps obsolete or in need of rip and replace does not follow. Some applications, that could be improved by incorporating XPages and could be done cost-effectively should be reengineered. But if it works, leave it alone. And there was no promise that XPages would automagically move existing apps to the web. Maybe that's what some would like to hear.

(3) Any company that has a policy to not develop anything using a proprietary product (and all vendors products contain proprietary elements) because they may want to change vendors one day isn't realistic. That would mean if they ever did change vendors, they couldn't implement anything proprietary to that new vendor so they'd be free and clear to hop to another vendor. I suspect you don't maintain your website with a text editor either, do you?

Roland Reddekop, 2009-07-15 01:55

Actually, I do.

Volker Weber, 2009-07-15 01:58

Actually at Lotusphere '09 I showed some tooling that allows you to generate an XPage out of existing design elements. There will be more around that including language stuff @ sphere '10

Stephan H. Wissel, 2009-07-15 02:37

@Stephan - can't wait to see that, should be very interesting

Bob Balaban, 2009-07-15 03:19

My own experience is similar to Rob's: in the majority of apps, none of the existing data structure (forms/views) needs to change at all in order to add an XPage-based interface. In some cases, I've added one XPage to an existing site design driven by form and page elements in order to add a single feature that had previously been deemed "not worth the trouble". On the other hand, I've also built apps from the ground up with nothing but XPages (no forms or views... yes, it's true, you don't need either), and plenty of other approaches falling elsewhere within that spectrum.

The closest that XPages come to being a rip and replace solution is when the application already has a hacktastic web interface, chock full of hideous code to overcome the limitations of Domino's rendering engine in previous versions... in that scenario, no, you're not going to be able to just cut and paste all of that cruft into a new XPage... but why on EARTH would anyone want to? Just curious.

Tim Tripcony, 2009-07-15 05:28

Just to back up Rob and Tim's points.

Starting to use XPages is a good opportunity to refactor code if you have the time and budget, but if you don't then it is entirely possible to merge XPage screens into your web apps quite seemlessly.

Or in a case for a project I worked on recently, there was a ton of very sound LotusScript which we re-used in the form of very slightly modified agents that we then called from our new XPages and got the best of both worlds - scalable, performant, nice looking web application using "legacy" (and I use that word in context nothing more) LotusScript based business logic.

It's a good discussion to have, but I hope that it is recognised that XPages *are not a rip and replace design decision*.

Matt White, 2009-07-15 09:05

I am pretty sure you can migrate from anything to anything these days. It just becomes a matter of cost and time involved vs is the new system better?

It is pretty clear if all you are using ND for is email+C&S then you probably not using it to its full potential and as such yes you would be wasting money.

Holding off using the full features of any product in the fear that some years down the line you are going to have to migrate is silly.

Simon O'Doherty, 2009-07-15 10:23

Whatever you tell here. An upgrade to Notes and Domino 8.5 will not change any of your existing applications except the ones that are based on some IBM template. None of your existing applications will get a better look or gain much functionality. It is valuable that your old code does not break but that's about it. Heck, IBM has not even replaced the applets with something that works. Now if you decide that you want to improve your applications you have to do the work. IBM won't help you much here. There is nothing wrong with this. It will work for many Domino shops around the world. But what if Domino did not run so well in the past? What if you have a lot of applications that are aged and are in need of a big overhaul. That is what I see everyday. Old applications that do a certain job and are still in use because they still work.
Now what is needed to get this to a new level? You first have to invest time that you can start at all. Or as some said you are a novice again that has to master a new technology. Again, nothing wrong. IT is all about learning new stuff but what if your company currently does not consider Domino as a strategic development platform? Will you get the time and budget? Maybe yes, maybe no. Is XPages a technology that is again bound to the Domino server and has little use outside of the Notes world?
A much better approach in my opinion would have been to give existing stuff a better look and further enhance it so that there are not so many broken things (for instance full Javascript and CSS support in the client) and put Lotusscript in the JVM (like JRuby, Coldfusion, jPython, Rhino). Now you would have your old applications that look cool and still have all your valuable business logic and code. I am sure that if your applications move forward just by upgrading to a new version a lot of shops would maybe start to think differently about Domino.
And no matter what you tell. Maintaining an application that currently combines your old code and XPage enhancements is ugly.
The current strategy will work for every company where Domino alive and kicking. It will probably put an end to Notes and Domino in many companies where Domino wasn't healthy anyway
That's a pity.

Henning Heinz, 2009-07-15 11:20

I wouldn't make too much noise about the "asbestos" comment, either. Half of his argument was that Notes was too difficult to use, which has been seriously addressed since 2006.

If you're happy with the product and truly leveraging it, do you care about lock-in as long as the product is continuing to evolve while at the same time providing wonderful backwards compatibility?

I agree about XPages. There are a couple of bridges (running LS code from an XPage being the biggest) that really need to be built to allow meaningful co-existance with legacy apps. Without them I could definitely see some people not willing to make the jump.

Erik Brooks, 2009-07-15 12:50


Asked: I suspect you don't maintain your website with a text editor either, do you?

Reply: Actually I do (linked to some Mac-based text edtor)

But from the sidebar: "The content is managed with MovableType"

Clarifying, my last point in my previous post was that everyone who has to manage a stack of code to do anything of real significance, and doesn't have an infinite amount of time on their hands to maintain it 100% by hand (i.e. no vendor tools) is going to use proprietary vendor tools to be cost-effective. And by that very fact, migrating to another vendor will always require refactoring.

Roland Reddekop, 2009-07-15 14:20

Again, no. I have not touched the code in years. What I did touch is templates, and that I do with Subethaedit. Templates contain the same tags they always did, and some PHP includes which are pretty standard.

Migrating the content to other platforms is easy, because they all can import from Movable Type. Migrating the templates is a different matter, but all other platforms understand the concepts of title, abstract, body, keywords etc. Writing different templates would be feasibly but not necessary.

If this site would be based on Domino things would look VERY different of course. But it isn't.

Volker Weber, 2009-07-15 14:31

Yeah, I'm not really sold on this argument either. Sensational headline, but only a fool purchases a product/uses it, but won't develop in it for fear of migration at a later date. If everyone thought that way, nobody would write apps. Have you tried migrating a Sharepoint app out of Sharepoint? Security breaks, GUI breaks, ain't pretty, and that's migrating to another MS platform!

A "no Notes development" policy? aka "the business is afraid of the ease of building useful Notes apps that the business will rely too heavily on in the future". Anyone who is trying to implement this type of policy shouldn't be in management. I can't imagine what would happen if I told my customers "Sorry, I could build that for you in a couple hours, but I'm sorry, I can't. You might find it too useful, and I don't want to go through an exhausting re-build again in a product that's not as easy/cheap to develop in".

I think this has been beaten to death, but you don't sell Notes on mail and calendaring. You sell it on incredibly RAD developement, upgrade ease, portability, scalability, overall cost of suite, etc.

Mike McPoyle, 2009-07-15 14:38

Mike, call those stupid. It will not change it. People are not afraid of Notes they just have once decided to not move forward in this direction.

How would you sell those Notes today?

If you upgrade to Notes 8.X all your existing apps will get a prettier look.
You can even apply a common theme if you want and all your apps will get this look. We have enabled a lot a new features that you can use immediately. we have opened Notes so that is works perfectly well with your infrastructure, be it Microsoft or something else. And if you have a PDA you can put everything there too. You can print out everything in PDF (it will even work if the document is more than 1 page). And if you still have a Fileserver mess we can solve this too (with a CIFS interface that works). And all this automatically works on the web too. And it looks pretty.

Maybe making Ben Langhinrichs rich would be unavoidable.

That is how I would like to sell Notes in 2009 but this is not what I have. I think that the Notes and Domino platform does need massive growth to become more relevant as a development platform. Many want (more) Notes and Domino books in book stores again. You would just need more consumers who buy them.

Henning Heinz, 2009-07-15 16:42

@Henning - I like that unavoidable bit. LOL.

Ben Langhinrichs, 2009-07-15 17:17

@Roland: Count me as an ex-Notes developer who is more productive with non-proprietary tools. With the margin increasing as the complexity of the system does.

Can't see every returning to proprietary platforms.

David Richardson, 2009-07-15 22:18

@Henning: I'm not saying that it's not proprietary, it's just that most platforms are. Microsoft, Google are no less proprietary. Google possibly even more so, since you're running a cloud-based service.

Saying that you have a blanket statement of 'no new development in X' is irresponsible from a business standpoint, regardless of what 'X' is. You either need to migrate or drop the statement, because you can't keep your customers in limbo. Thinking that the grass is greener (less proprietary) in another technology is unrealistic.

Mike McPoyle, 2009-07-15 23:26

irresponsible from a business standpoint, regardless of what 'X' is

Now that is a pretty bold statement. In finance terms we are talking about a "hold" recommendation. Don't sell the stock, don't invest in it. Pretty common.

Volker Weber, 2009-07-15 23:33

Wrong, irresponsible or unrealistic. I have not seen anyone coming back and a lost account is a lost account. IBM has a much more pragmatic approach into this. You know, if you want to move away from Domino they will do it for you (if you can afford IBM).

Henning Heinz, 2009-07-16 00:41

Volker, I do see you as a promoter of Notes / Domino. What would be your answer to customers which want to move away from Notes / Domino? It could be the IBM mantra ;-)

Where is the business value to move e-mail/calendar to MS? The time is over that everyone uses Outlook at home - since we have Office 2007.

Thomas Landgraf, 2009-07-16 16:07

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