XPages - where did that come from?

by Volker Weber

XPages is currently heralded as the future for Domino applications. Some people know that the technology was salvaged from the Workplace fiasco, but how did this begin?

In 2004, during the "dual highway" strategy, IBM needed a programming environment for Webphere Application Server that would appeal to Notes developers. Documents, forms, views. So they bought XSP from a small partner called Trilog Group, a company headquartered in the US, with research and development in France and Lebanon. Together with the deal, IBM scored the technical lead Philippe Riand. Trilog tells the story like this:

Founded in 1997, Trilog Group is an established leader and visionary in the IBM Lotus community. The company is best known for inventing the innovative XSP programming model, which IBM Lotus introduced in Domino Designer 8.5 as XPages. First developed by Trilog in 1999 under the FlowBuilder XSP brand and subsequently acquired by IBM in 2004, XPages let Domino developers easily create Web 2.0 user experiences for Domino web applications.

There is a small part missing: the years between 2004 and 2009. XSP morphed into Workplace Designer, then Lotus Component Designer. When it was killed, the team fought to be attached to Domino to stay alive. Thus, XPages. Philippe Riand is still the lead architect for the product. He works closely with Maureen Leeland, who owns Domino Designer.

Speculation: If the group continues to build a WAS implementation of XPages (taking it full circle to where it started), you could be running those XPages apps in the future on WAS, and with that on Portal, Connections and thus Vulcan. Without ever needing a Domino server.

What's missing? A software product that turns Notes apps into XPages apps. One of the things you did not hear this week was a sales pitch from a Lotus Business Partner to the attendees of a super secret conference about a product that turns everything into server side Javascript. Would not be the first attempt at converting Notes apps, would it?


Interesting in a scary way, that IBM needs to go outside it's own empire to find the inspiration to move the technology forward. But given how the product has wandered for the last 7 or 8 years this should be no surprise.

Looking at the ongoing carnage it seems to fit the observation that XPages is totally disconnected from the current marketing campaign which dumbs Notes down to email and mobile devices, thus playing into the hands of it's competitors by ignoring one of the technology's defining strengths, (ie RAD capabilities).

It also makes some sense how the twisted politics inside IBM have muddled the delivery of an effective IDE with a clunky Eclipse based architecture that frankly, still doesn't have the stability or polish of other IDE's out there to date.

Giulio Campobassi, 2010-10-07

I find it hard that anybody could "fight to be attached" to anything in IBM to "stay alive." If IBM wants to cut something, it's cut.

I'm guessing that GROUP's Genesis product was what was pitched.


That should come as no shock to the community at all. It's only been discussed on Nathan's blog for months now... with GREAT fanfare, I might add.

"If the group continues to build a WAS implementation of XPages (taking it full circle to where it started), you could be running those XPages apps in the future on WAS, and with that on Portal, Connections and thus Vulcan. Without ever needing a Domino server."

What is a Domino server, other than some add-on tasks bolted on top of NSF?

IBM learned the expensive way that they can't replace NSF. There's open source attempts to replicate (pun intended) NSF's capabilities, but they aren't quite ready for prime-time yet.

As long as NSF's flexibility, ACLs, and replication are still around in some form, we'll all be in good shape.

Though everyone does need to adapt. In 10 years you simply won't be writing Lotusscript prompt() statements anymore. Nor will you want to.

I do agree with @Guilio regarding the IBM marketing story. If Notes/Domino isn't marketed as RAD then IBM's missing *the* defining benefit of the product. Hopefully Ed's blog posts about this a couple of months ago have resonated through IBM.

Erik Brooks, 2010-10-07

@Erik: I agree with you, that NSF is the foundation of Domino. On it's capabilities the success of Notes as RAD platform is build and because of it's limitations the ongoing doom of the platform for enterprise solutions will be driven.

Since a long time IBM's product developments in direction of Websphere as seen with Quickr and Sametime show, that NSF may only have a future as base of mail - even using it for new (!) department oriented solutions are an uncertain decision. Why?

1. There is no real path of integrating NSF-based solutions in the enterprise (SOA)

Ok, you may admit that Domino is supporting web services for SOA-integration. That is correct, but more a theoretical option. If you not only want to read data out of NSF, Domino fails: There is no transaction processing and no (working!) locking mechanism which would prevent the beloved “save conflicts”.

2. Skilled Notes developers are an endangered species

Supporting the existing legacy Notes application which were “rapid” build in the past consumes most of the attention of their builders. Moving to a new XPages based world needs a lot of time. Instead existing Notes developers may decide to spend their time to move to a more promising platform or just sit down and wait for their retirement. The commitment of young and thirsty developer is hard to catch, if you can only present them a tool like Domino Designer: Unstable and patch worked, burden by the load of history. (That is why IBM is giving Domino Designer away for free ;-)

Peter Meuser, 2010-10-07

Maybe Domino Designer is free because Sharepoint Designer is "free".
I can only speak for myself but I really felt the power of IBM in recent years. If IBM decides that 16Bit limitations are what makes a platform look mature and that richtext is not going to change and that everyone now needs a bug ridden fat client with gigabytes on your harddisk you as the customer have to accept it.
The customer is not important in this process and that maybe is one of the reasons why you want to leave. Microsoft claims that just 7 out of the top 30 DAX companies are still relying exclusively on Notes and Domino as their collaboration platform and at least one in this, already quite small list, thinks this is not a good idea.
If you lock me in, the place where I live has to be a comfortable one. Telling me I cannot move because it is too expensive does not work for me.
IBM will again lose lots of customers. Not that they seem to care but if you are a Domino developer or a Business Partner you will have to think about it.
IBM recently bought Netezza, 500 employees and 350 customers, for $1.7B. Just 350 customers works fine for IBM.

Henning Heinz, 2010-10-07

@Henning: Thanks Henning for your comment, I forgot to mention the still existing 32KB limitation in Notes 8.x development, too.

Peter Meuser, 2010-10-07

Is a sales pitch at a super secret conference really a sales pitch? Not a very good strategy for selling stuff me thinks.

It is pretty obvious that XPages is the glue between Domino and Vulcan. It's just JSF. If they build the "JSP container" correctly they can drop it where they want.

Now, for tools promising to "convert", you always get square peg and a round hole. Still maybe this is will be the first, but in all my software engineering days I have never, ever seen a tool that can do what it promises.

Oh, and I would be surprised if IBM didn't have some super secret tool themselves that is some sort of asset of ISSL or in the labs.

To IBM, you really need to address the limitations outlined by Henning and Peter. Some of these makes Domino dev feel like a way-back machine.

Darren Duke, 2010-10-07

Darren said: 'Is a sales pitch at a super secret conference really a sales pitch? Not a very good strategy for selling stuff me thinks.'

Well, this is the only conference where they listen and act upon the customer demands. LOLA is where the new ideas are floated, directions set.

Lotusphere is more like a showroom: "Here's what our huge customers wanted, hope you like it - now lets pretend to listen to you moaning for a while".

Why do you think its so heavily NDA'd?

In terms of keeping their existing customers, its a fantastic way of keeping them inside the tent.

---* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2010-10-07

@Erik, thanks for the link you posted. Funny that our banner image states "it's no secret" :)

@Volker, the Genesis project is nothing new or super secret. Here are a few links that I hope can clarify it:

YellowDay: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

YellowDay: Partnering with IBM on Xpages Extensions

GROUP Business Software Acquires Salesplace CRM

Chris Whisonant, 2010-10-07

2 things :

- a "RAD à la designer" for JEE will never really work because the enormous majority of JEE developers want to be completely free to use whatever "in the mood" frameworks they want : I don't say they are right, but that's what it is. It could be a niche, nothing more...

- I prefer to think that those "conversion to xpages" tools will help all those old apps migrate to new domino version much faster so customers can better understand and then revive the domino platform as an application server !

Michael Bourak, 2010-10-07

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