The Lotus Forgot series: An alternative to a full Designer client on Mac or Linux and lesson on who develops applications


We don’t need a Designer client for the Mac or Linux. We need one for the people.

I understand the effort to create a full new instance of the designer client on a different platform is a daunting task. And in the end, who might use it? Developers. Some of those developers will use Macs at work. Some will be college and high school students. Some will be computer-savvy small business owners and entrepreneurs who serve as the CEO, CIO, developer, and user all in one. From IBM’s perspective, this may seem a rather small niche to dedicate the resources. It’s about ROI. So I propose a solution that would reach a much larger market and have a broader impact in enabling people to serve their own simple development needs:

Add basic development functionality back into the Notes client.

Yes, make the Notes client as it once was in the days before R5 when the ability to create applications was an integral part of the Notes client. What would it include? View development (which is already there), Formula language (which is already there in some capacity), and form development. Some agent development probably too. Provide people with enough to be able to serve their own basic needs without overwhelming them with complexity.

Why do this? Simple. Empower the people. Power users have always existed. They were what made the early versions of Notes so successful. It was easy for them to create their own tools in Notes and they loved it. LOVED IT! I can recall many times in the R3/R4 days when users came to me with a database that they had created or made a copy and modified it and wanted to share it with other people on their team. I took it, maybe cleaned it up a bit, and put it on the server where their whole team benefited. This was the root meaning of collaboration: Not just sharing data, but sharing solutions. By the users, for the users. It was truly Rapid Application Development (RAD). Before they had Notes, people were doing this in 1-2-3, Access, FoxPro, etc. It is no coincidence that the Notes client began losing favor among end users as soon as they lost their ability to explore what Notes can do by creating their own applications. The greatest advocates of Lotus Notes are those who can create applications in it.

People did not stop creating their own applications when the designer code was removed from Notes. But now they just do it in other tools like Access and Excel. Sure, there is also Sharepoint and Quickr, but those do not provide for PERSONAL tools. People will not “play” there they way they do with other software. Sadly, while users today are far more computer-savvy than they were in the 1990’s, they are being denied the opportunity to apply those skills to their job, at least where Notes is concerned. As a result, Notes has lost its appeal. Users have been driven away to other tools and no longer know (and have no motivation to learn) what could be done in Lotus Notes. To them it is no longer a PERSONAL productivity tool. Now the only way to get an application in Notes is to request it from the gatekeepers of I.T. It’s like building a Lego kit and giving it to a kid and then saying they have to bring it to you if they want to build something different with the pieces. Sure, the designer client is “free”, but it is not given to employees and for the most part they don’t even know it exists or how to get it.

If we are sincere in our belief that the power of collaboration and Open Source is truly for the benefit of all, then it should be made accessible to all. It should not be hoarded by the professional Domino developers of the world. It should not be locked out by the administrator who doesn’t want the additional work to manage the applications nor the I.T. director who doesn’t want to deal with losing control of application development process and his feeling of importance. Do not waste time defending this practice with the “good ol’ boy” mentality claims like “But the users don’t know how to create good applications.” or “their rights must be restricted for their own good or for the good of the company.” This is Social Business. This is the definition of Web 2.0. (See video)

Eliminate the hierarchy, eliminate the red tape. Empower the people. The more you empower the people around you, the more successful you will be. The more they must depend on you, the less you will be able to achieve. It’s the axiom of good leadership.

IBM may never feel justified in creating a full-blown designer client for Mac OS or Linux. They may never go back to having the simple developer client for the masses that was so successful. So while you wait for IBM to decide what to do, I suggest this: Let your people know the designer client exists. Make the designer client available to anyone who asks for it. I would even encourage them. If you have any programmers in the company that code in other software, be sure to give it to them.

Notes was founded on the principle of giving people the ability to create their own custom applications. (The History of Lotus Notes) That principle has clearly been forgotten.

If you agree, please vote for this idea at IdeaJam

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Posted on March 12, 2011, in Marketing, Software and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Great post Dave, well reasoned, powerful.

    Other tools have the same functionality (Access, Sharepoint), and yes – although some options are still there – it is not in the face of the users who might have the inclination to use it.

    Empower the users. Create the User Driven Revolution.

  2. Agreed, but I’d like to see something more like, what did you guys call it..Innova?, ship with Notes. Define your data. Push button. App. Like everyone else is doing with modern web frameworks these days. Yes there is additional work required, but bascic CRUD functionality with a nice UI should be simple. Even simpler than building with forms, views and formulas.

  3. +1.
    I had the same history with Notes 4 and usrs coming to me to share their own creation.
    This should clearly be back.

  4. I think you just caused several heart attacks among the admin community. But I couldn’t agree more. I just wrote an article for a the swiss SMB association about this subject. The USERS know best, what they need. If companies allow the power users to build tools, they get immediate benefit. I have seen several times a drop in productivity, because personal tools where removed. It’s hell for the users and often a reason to move on.

  5. This is a great idea. Sometimes you just want to create a simple db app.

    Could this bare bones designer be built as a Notes Application itself? I know there is support in LotusScript for some editing of design elements and you can call out to the C API for other parts of it. Do you know if there is capability in XPages that lets you modify/create design elements?

  6. Designer costs nothing extra to deploy. So since that change at 8.5.1, why aren’t more companies deploying Designer instead of just the Notes client?

  7. I would say several reasons:
    1. You can’t use smart upgrade to change kit types.
    2. The full designer client is a heavy install.
    3. The license change happened very recently. It will take time to be implemented.
    4. The notion of giving the masses the ability to develop in Notes has been gone for 12 years. This new freedom is a culture shift, though it fits the trend of social media. (Part of my motivation for this post is to share that very idea.)
    4. The full designer client can be overwhelming, even for power users. Compare it to the simplicity of developing in R3. Yes, that software was more rudimentary. But all the basics were there.

    A designer client that is easily consumable by the masses, not just programmers, would earn the support of users without giving help desks nightmares. As users become aware of and take advantage of development tools, they will be able to see the power of the software and once again create a demand. Meanwhile, by all means, give the designer client to everyone you can.

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