Back from the HCL Lab Tour in Milano

by Volker Weber

Last year there was a DNUG conference in Darmstadt, in my own backyard, but I never officially heard about it. It presented an opportunity for the HCL team to meet me. At the time HCL was in a partnership with IBM to develop and support Notes, Domino and Sametime. Their first delivery was going to be Domino V10 about four months later, the first major release in five years.

The day before the conference I met with Richard Jefts, Jason Gary and Francois Nasser of HCL, as well as Andrew Manby and Uffe Sorensen of IBM. It was the beginning of a new conversation that I had not had with IBM in many years. They invited me on their first lab tour in Boston, but I politely declined. I had no intention to visit the country (and still don't have).

Lots of things happened since. HCL did deliver, Domino V10 was launched in October of last year in Frankfurt, and I attended the event. It was a weird day. There was no HCL logo anywhere, it was all about what IBM did. Shortly thereafter IBM and HCL announced their intent to transition all of Notes, Domino, Sametime and Connections to HCL. That transition is still on-going and has not closed. I believe it was targeted to complete at the beginning of the second quarter, but due to lots of unforeseen obstacles (US government shutdown?) that date is moving further away into the second quarter.

Meanwhile plans are being finalized for Domino V11 and beyond. HCL extended another invitation for a lab tour, this time in Milano. They invited me to provide a closing keynote, which was supposed to be a surprise so I was not included in the agenda and I had to be briefed separately from customers and partners on what was cooking at HCL.

HCL continues to work with IBM on Notes, Domino and Sametime since HCL already licensed the IP back in 2017. But they cannot possibly comment on Connections during the black-out period until the deal closes.

The major take-away is that HCL views the acquisition as a new beginning. That should have happened years ago, but it is what it is. You have to look forward. The best pilot cannot fly an aircraft without buying fuel. Ray Ozzie was financed by a 1.2M cheque from Mitch Kapor to develop Notes for five years (1984-1989). Eleven years later in 1995 IBM bought the company for 3.5B. And then poured a lot of money into marketing and selling Notes, making many billions in return.

Now it's HCL's time to pour more money in, to re-vitalize the business. They are not delusional. They understand and accept the challenges and they are making changes which were not possible in IBM. Read about all the technical details in many blogposts written by the community. Expect to see the elephant dance once the deal finally closes between IBM and HCL.

You can't write new software quickly, but you can in fact take old software and trim the fat to make it run in environments you would not have dreamed about. Getting rid of the Eclipse boat anchor lets you build a client that runs full Notes apps with agents on an iPad, an iPhone, or an Android device. We have seen that in Milano. Of course that lean client would also run on a desktop. You can also run a full Notes app in a browser since they distilled the Notes engine down to just 80 MB, which was a huge thing twenty years ago but no longer is today. Just profile a single web page of The Verge for comparison.

You may dismiss Notes as a weird old piece of software from the past. But if you look at companies that have migrated e-mail away from Notes, you will still find line-of-business applications that cannot be replaced without spending more money than customers are willing to invest. Those apps were cheap to write and would require substantial new investments just to get the very same result on a different stack to run their business processes. You can view this as a legacy problem or you can see it as an opportunity to actually write new apps on the same architecture. You don't even have to use the old tools, just the existing servers.

In Domino V11, HCL is further extending its JavaScript programming model for professional developers, plus enabling business people to once again build apps and workflows like Notes of old. The industry now calls this business-oriented development capability Low-Code, which is actually something that Ray and team invented back in 1989. And let's be clear: this is what HCL is shooting for. They will only have reached their goal when customers deploy new apps. It's not about milking existing customers being held hostage by applications they cannot get rid of. Interesting times, to say the least.

That is an uphill battle. IBM mostly relied on NATO (no action, talk only) for too many years. Things were promised and not delivered. Now HCL is promising and they want me to watch them. IBM did not successfully pull wool over my eyes, and neither will HCL.

Anyway, what makes an aircraft fly? It's money. Money buys fuel. Fuel burns to create thrust which moves the aircraft forward. The wind it experiences creates lift over the wings. Voilà. There is a new investment and there is a whole lot of work for the pilots to get right. I have confidence in Richard Jefts and his team. They are forward-thinking people. I would not have traveled to Milano if I thought otherwise.

Further reading: Gabriella Davis, Andrew Magerman, Christophe Jost, Paul Withers, Ales Lichtenberg part 1 & part 2, C3UG, DNUG.


Volker, thanks for your insigtful presentation at the HCL lab tour -
and "state-of-the-union" above ... U

Uffe Sorensen, 2019-03-01

This is great news. The platform has “nothing to loose” so trimming fat is definitely appreciated. Combine that with modern web development frameworks, APIs and tools + better hostability (i.e. dockerization) and we might have a modern web development platform that we can fall in love with again.
Please, HCL, make the pricing/purchasing model also more accessible to regular folks that don’t run their own procurement department. Best of luck!

Markus Dierker, 2019-03-01

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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