Category Archives: Software

Domino Admin Best Practices: Finding the Gremlins


Here is a slide deck of a presentation given by Kim Greene and me at IamLUG.  Just realized we didn’t share it, so here it is.  Still very applicable.

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IBM’s next generation cloud email solution is coming to CONSUMERS for FREE!


Last week IBM provided a glimpse into their next innovation in email.  Code-named MailNext, it is now formally named Verse.  This is the next evolution of Connections Cloud, their enterprise cloud suite of software.
Now, just a week later, IBM has announced plans to make Verse available to CONSUMERS for FREE!!!
This is unprecedented by IBM.  First, this is the first time IBM has targeted consumers rather than businesses.  Second, the price is right to attract users to experience the new concept in messaging.  Free.  A brilliant strategy to finally take an aggressive action toward marketing their product by first winning over their market as individuals and then as businesses.

Long ago Microsoft did this by including Outlook with every operating system. Consumers used that interface to use POP to access their personal email accounts.  Familiarity at the consumer level made it easy for businesses to be persuaded to use it along with Exchange server for an enterprise messaging system.  Then Google repeated this successful recipe to build a strong consumer base before diving into the enterprise messaging marketplace.

Now IBM is going to apply the same formula.  Unlike Google however, IBM is not going to turn consumers directly into profit like Google does with their advertising and scanning of email.  They will be targeting Businesses to provide the revenue.

The beauty of this formula is simple.  Email is the software equivalent of a Gateway drug into the collaboration software market. And IBM intends to get you addicted to theirs.  In this case, those hardcore drugs are IBM’s collaboration software suite:  Connections (team, B2B and B2C tools for file sharing, activities, wikis, blogs, forums, surveys, & more);  Sametime Instant Messaging, video, audio, web conferencing, and Notes & Domino.  And IBM is taking the same approach as the State of Washington, making their gateway drug very accessible and affordable to everyone.

I have to wonder if this isn’t at least partially driven by IBM’s new partnership with Apple who has proven how successful consumer loyalty can be.  Many of us who work with the IBM technology and understand how much more powerful it is than the competitive products have long blasted IBM for shunning the consumer market. I have often thought one of their biggest mistakes was separating the application designer tools from the Lotus Notes client which took away the power for end users to apply their own energy to create the custom applications they needed. At that point in time they disarmed their greatest allies and advocates of the software.  It looks like the giant has finally awoken and recognizes the power that the individual has on the choice of software in the workplace.  I am anxious to see what this new evolution will do for improving our productivity in the most widely used software category in the world. How do you think this will impact the landscape of the collaboration software market?  Want to see for yourself? Pre-register here.

Latest Gartner Magic Quadrant report on Social Software for Business


When you hear the term Social Software, many of us think of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and other similar consumer-oriented websites.  But social software is becoming more broadly adopted in the workplace as well. Gartner recently published a report assessing 17 different vendors of social software solutions for business.  Some of these I had never even heard of before reading this report.  Gartner ranked them in their magic quadrant graph as well as identified what Gartner sees as their strengths and cautions.  I have not yet explored all of them, in depth but I am certainly familiar with three of the more popular ones: Google, IBM, and Microsoft and I think Gartner is spot-on with their assessments of these.  But I would add more detail…

Google: Google has a great experience for the individual user.  But because Google Apps for Work is based on their consumer-grade offering, it lacks some of the basic requirements and central control that businesses often need.  Given that Google is and will likely remain a consumer product-driven company, that will always be their challenge. That also explains why they rank so low on the execution scale and miss the magic quadrant.  On the other hand, they seem to have replaced Microsoft as the new golden child to consumers (think Android vs. Windows Mobile or gmail vs. hotmail) which gives them momentum in the workplace driven by end users who want to use the same software at work as they use at home.  The risk to businesses is that consumers are as fickle about software as they are about women’s fashions and consumers don’t concern themselves so much about things like user support, security, high availability, and privacy.  Google’s roadmap.

IBM: Of these 3 most popular players, IBM is the only one focused exclusively on Business needs, some would say to a fault. The benefit here is their solutions start with the specific needs of business and build up from there and avoid the fickle consumer-driven market. Of course, that can also be their bane.  As a result, sometimes their user experience has lacked the fine tuning that the consumer-focused companies have. On the other hand, their solutions offer functionality for the knowledge worker that is totally absent in the consumer-first solutions.  I am anxiously looking forward to how this is influenced by their recent partnership with Apple. Given IBM is all about business process and data center while Apple is all about user experience and personal devices, this could prove a great marriage.

I completely agree with Gartner’s assessment on IBM’s need to market to developers and third parties to contribute.  The reference to customers’ perception of it as a complex solution would be valid if they were comparing on-site-based solutions.  But they aren’t.  In fact IBM and Microsoft are the only two of all 17 to even offer their solutions as both cloud-based and on-site.  If we limit the comparison to cloud-based versions, this is not a factor. It has also been impressive how IBM has demonstrated its commitment to their cloud solutions by adopting a cloud-first strategy.  Functionality is being added on a monthly basis to their cloud solution with those features being released in the software edition afterwards.  I know they have a busy roadmap. I just wish it were published.  Rumor and blind faith is not a business strategy.

Microsoft: While also primarily a consumer-product-oriented company, Microsoft has solid footing in the business software solution market. Microsoft is more of a latecomer to the social game, but is doing a good job catching up with their acquisition of Yammer. Yammer is good at what it does and even before its acquisition by Microsoft, it was adopted by many organizations starting with pockets of rogue employees, forcing I.T. departments to catch up. This is proof that I.T. leaders should be actively pursuing a social software solution or risk having the employees do it without them. Microsoft has a published roadmap of upcoming features.

When you read Gartner’s article, I recommend starting with the criteria definitions on the right, where they explain what they were basing their evaluations on.  Without understanding their criteria, the assessment can be misleading.

I think the report avoids two very important criteria that concern businesses:

1. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity:  Nowhere in the report does it mention the infrastructure supporting these solutions. From the end users’ perspective it is irrelevant… Until something goes wrong.  A hurricane, gas explosion, terrorist or hacker attack. “In the cloud” does not mean out of harm’s way.  One of the strongest arguments favoring a cloud-based solution is the assumed resilience to such events. Cloud solutions can reduce the need for businesses to invest in redundant data centers, etc. provided they themselves have executed their own plan adequately. Given the high failure rate of companies that encounter a catastrophic data center event without a DR-BC plan (as published by FEMA), a CIO should be very interested in this criteria.  I am very familiar with how IBM and Microsoft address this and am comfortable with both of them. I don’t know enough about Google’s infrastructure for the Google Apps for Work. Regardless of your provider, you should know their DR-BC strategy and implementation.

2.  Customer Support and Responsiveness to Customer Requests: Yes, there is some mention of customer support in the Customer Experience criteria. That may have been reflected in the rankings, but it was glossed over in the report narratives. Of these three solution providers, Google seems to apply much of the same support philosophy as they have for free gmail accounts. Microsoft, on the other hand, has a good support center of well trained staff and a good escalation process. (I may be bias. I have friends on that team.)  IBM is also strong here. Many of the first level support team has 10+ years of experience and the support structure is such that the same technicians tend to take your calls, so they can build an understanding of your environment and have better continuity from one call to the next. (This is mportant in a cloud environment, as they do much of your administration, so you will make more calls.)

All three of these providers have various discussion forums.  IBM has Greenhouse, where you can also see new features before they go into production and can share product enhancement ideas that the community can promote.  Several product managers are active participants in the discussion forums and persistent, live chat sessions, engaging the customers.  When it comes to Social Business, IBM clearly practices what they preach. I expect part of that comes from IBM having a virtual office philosophy while Microsoft and Google are more campus oriented.  I have yet to discover that level of public accessibility with Microsoft and Google.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and if you know of it, please share it in the comments.

Probably the biggest factor that will trump all others is where you are starting from. Mail migrations are expensive, so if you don’t pick a vendor that already provides your email system, their solution either needs to integrate well with what you have or you need to be prepared to go through an expensive and disruptive migration.

New easy way to get your IBM software downloads via SmartCloud!


OK, you’ve seen my article giving a detailed review about how bad Passport Advantage website was for many years.  It took awhile to get fixed.  But for the most part, much of that has improved dramatically since – and at least partially because of – that article.  But downloads are still a bit of a pain.  That is, until now!

If you subscribe to SmartCloud Notes, you can get to your downloads in Passport Advantage directly from the Apps – Downloads and Setup menu.  It’s almost as good as the days before IBM, when it was just Lotus.  This feature is exposed only to SmartCloud administrators, as it should be.

There are many more features about to be released, but I was asked not to publish them in social media just yet.  Yeah, right. like giving your teenager the keys to the camaro on a Friday night and telling him to drive slow.  It seems every month there are new features surprising us in SmartCloud.  Cloud is really the wrong word.  It is such a breath of fresh air to see such dynamic, rapid deployment of software.  I have seen so many features that I personally suggested, getting deployed so quickly and frequently, you would think I was the Product Manager.  But why would IBM hire me when I already do the job for free?

OK, so I won’t break my oath to be quiet about the new features.  I will let IBM do that: https://apps.na.collabservtest.lotus.com/help/index.jsp?topic=%2Fcom.ibm.cloud.whatsnew.doc%2Fll_wn_whats_new.html

IBM Connections in the Cloud New Service Update!


So you aren’t a computer geek, but your job involves collaborating with others.  Do you use email?  Maybe share files and other content with people inside and outside your organization?  Maybe at work you bounce between email, calendar, todos, onenote, Sharepoint, Dropbox, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Skype, AIM, Google Apps, Yammer, SurveyMonkey, Yahoo Groups (or some other discussion forum), Google+,  WordPress, LinkedIn.  Then you use email to tell everyone about things like when a task is due or when you have completed one.

You really NEED IBM Connections.  The only company to provide One Single, Seamless Ecosystem to do it all.  Not a piecemeal collection of disparate products.  Not a collection of products thrown together by company acquisitions and then rebranded as if from one company. Gartner even puts IBM’s social software ecosystem at the top of the class.  IBM SmartCloud for Social Business.
And the best way to do this is with their Cloud version.  ASK YOUR IT DIRECTOR OR CFO ABOUT IBM Connections and IBM SmartCloud for Social Business.

By the way, Connections in the Cloud (IBM SmartCloud for Social Business) is getting an update of features that will be available in the on-premises version later this quarter.  Software releases now follow cloud releases.  This trailer is cool:

Check out the IBM Social Software Product Manager, Luis Benitez’ article   for more details including a link to sign up for the webcast to see what’s new in the May update.
See his slideshare post of the new features too.    (Be aware that the second slide in the deck is a link to the video above. Don’t miss the rest of the slides.)
Visit http://collabserv.com for a free trial account.

Get the most out of your Connections account at IBM Connect 2014 (Connect O’Sphere)


If you’re attending IBM Connect 2014 next week you can get much more out of the experience by taking the time to get set up in the community on the conference Connections community well in advance of arriving in Orlando.  This will give you access to the session information, allow you to create your own schedule, connect with other attendees, and get a more socially interactive experience at the conference.

First, you should have received an email from connect2014@us.ibm.com with your login credentials.  Your credentials for logging in should consist of long numbers.  Secure, but difficult to remember if you’re trying to log into the website.  My advice: don’t.  Instead, go to the app store on your mobile device and download the IBM Connections app.  I actually like using the app better than viewing it in a browser. The website is great, but in the app everything just flows a bit more smoothly.  But best of all, you don’t have to keep logging in.  Enter your credentials once and you’re done.

The details:
1.  Download and install the app on your mobile device.
2.  Launch the app.
3.  Add your account credentials for the Connect 2014 Connections server.  (The app allows configuring for multiple Connections servers)
Enter a title:  Connect 2014
Server URL: https://connections.connect2014.com
Username:  <your user ID from the email>
Password: <your password from the email>

You’re good to go.  Start by entering your profile information so people know more about you.  Be sure to post a photo of yourself (a photo or bitmap of anything other than you is really quite useless.  A simple head shot is perfect.)  Add tags about yourself to indicate your areas of interest.  Next, go into the profiles and search for people you already know and add them to your network.  After you connect, tag them with relevant tags that will help define who they are.  Then go into the schedule area and add the sessions to your schedule so you have a plan.
Unfortunately, the forums do not appear to be available via the app.  This is disappointing given that most people will want to interact on the forums via their mobile device.  Who wants to log into a website to get to the forums, especially with those numeric credentials? Still, I think you will find the app very handy for getting the most out of the conference.

See you at IBM Connect O’Sphere 2014!

How to download and install the IBM Connections plugin for IBM Lotus Notes


(New versions of these plugins are now available.  Read here.)

Summer vacation is over.  I was deliberately taking a break from my blog to enjoy the fantastic summer and give focus on the business.  While I was quiet on the surface, I’ve been very busy in the background.  More on that later, but for now, some useful content…

IBM Connections with Sametime is amazing.  It’s like a useful combination of features you will find on Linkedin, facebook, WebEx or GotoMeeting, Skype, dropbox, wordpress and IdeaJam  and it’s ideal for any business larger than 1 person.  And it is no more dependent on your email client than any of those apps are.  But if you use IBM Lotus Notes, as many Connections customers do, you will get even more value with your Notes client by using the IBM Connections Plug-ins for IBM Lotus Notes.  There is a version for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  So where do you find this cool plug-in?  How do you install it?  Here are step-by-step instructions.  And while you’re in the application catalog, be sure to look around at the other useful plug-ins, like the IBM Connections Desktop Plug-in for Microsoft Windows, or the IBM Connections Widget interface to LinkedIn.  Have an iPad?  Cool.  Be sure to go to the App store and search for the IBM Connections app.  In some ways I find it even better than the website.  Here is a screen shot of the app.  It will give you an idea of the features in IBM Connections:

IBM Connections app for iPad

IBM Connections app for iPad

Now here are the instructions for getting the IBM Connections plug-in for IBM Lotus Notes:

1.  Click on this link:  http://greenhouse.lotus.com .  The following website will appear:
Greenhouse website

(Addendum: If you don’t already have a Greenhouse account, go ahead and click the Sign Up link now and get the process started.  You will need an account before you can complete the download.  Among other things it will prompt for an IBM contact.  If you don’t have one, mention me and this article.  They use this to validate accounts as real people.)

2.  Click on the link for the IBM Collaboration Solutions Catalog. Info about the catalog will appear:
Greenhouse app catalog

3.  Click on the Launch button.  The Catalog will appear.  At this point you can click on the Most Popular tab and you will probably find the plug-in at the top. (it’s very popular)
Connections Plugin

3a. If you don’t find it at the top of the Most Popular list, you can select IBM Connections in the product list.
Connections Plugin

4.  Click IBM Connections Plug-ins for IBM Notes.  The description page will appear.
Connections Plugin download

5.  Click on Start Download in the top right corner of the page.  The License Agreement will pop up.
EULA

6.  Click I Agree. The download button will now appear in the top right corner.
Connections Plugin download

7.  Click the icon to download.  It will prompt for where to save the file in the usual way depending on your browser. (These screen shots happen to be in Firefox.)  The file is about 80 MB.
save download

8.  Once the .zip file has downloaded, unzip it.  You will find it contains 3 zip files, one for each supported operating system.
Zipped files

9.  Unzip the one you need and run the installer as per your OS.  For Windows it is setup.exe.  When the installer runs, it may prompt to be trusted.  Click Yes.  Then the language option appears.
language selection

10. Choose the language and click OK.  The installer will run.
Installer 1

11. Click Next.  The license agreement will appear.
installer 2

12.  After printing and reading the agreement and getting written approval from your legal department, select to accept the license agreement and click Next.  It will remind you that Notes must be closed before continuing.
installer 3

13.  Close Notes if it is open and then click Next and then click Install.  The installer will take surprisingly long considering how small it is.  Be patient.
installer

14.  Launch Notes.  Pull down File – Preferences.  Click on the Connections section.
ConnectionsPlugin14

15.  Fill in the info for your Connections server.  If you want to test it out on Greenhouse to see everything it can do, enter the server URL of https://greenhouse.lotus.com and use your username and password for your Greenhouse account.  (You should have had to create one before you could download the plug-in. Don’t have one?  Go back to that browser window where you downloaded the plug-in and click Sign Up in the top right corner.)

16.  Click on Status Updates, Files or Activities to expand the section and see content from Connections.  Note that when it is first expanded it may take a bit longer to load the content.  So be patient.
Sidebar widgets and plugins

That’s it.  Be sure to search for me in Greenhouse and connect with me there and I can share some communities and activities I have already made to demonstrate how they work within connections.  And don’t forget to go back and browse all the other cool apps at Greenhouse as well as the iTunes app store for iPhone/iPad apps on Connections, Sametime, and more!

Let me know if this was helpful.  I am considering doing these as a video.  Would you prefer that format over an article?

ADDENDUM: If you get the following error:

AuthenticationError

Then recheck the User Preferences.  Click on the Advanced button and make sure it is using the Java Form with the authentication URL of:
https://greenhouse.lotus.com/activities/j_security_check

ConnectionsAdvancedPreferences

If that doesn’t fix it, there are several knowledgebase articles on the topic.  Search for that error message to find them.

A web resource by the Federal government to educate managers and employees about effective telecommuting


In light of all the recent controversy Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has stirred up over telecommuting, you may be interested in checking out this online resource by the U.S. Government.  It has training materials if you are a telecommuter or if you manage telecommuters or if you are a telecommuter coordinator.

http://www.telework.gov

One trend I have noticed in the computer industry is that, when it comes to working remotely, companies tend to be much more tolerant of it for software developers than system administrators, even though both are equally possible remotely.  In fact, it is becoming rare that the data centers housing the servers that administrators manage are even located in the same location or region.  This is especially true with the rise in cloud computing and server virtualization.

Passport Advantage Revisited 2 years later…


In August 2011 I posted an article giving a detailed analysis of the design of the IBM Passport Advantage website.  That article received a great deal of attention, not only from the Lotus user community, but also from executives at IBM.   I was even contacted by the person who oversaw the team responsible for the site. Finally, I thought, we would see some relief in our pain dealing with this website.

It’s nearly 2 years later.  There have been some changes to the IBM websites, but Passport Advantage has had no significant changes.  I’m here at IBM Connect 2013 to once again ask the question “When will you fix this website?”  If you’re here, watch for it at “Ask the Product Managers” session.  I will report the results later.

Microsoft hires Lotus Professionals for Cloud Computing at Office 365


That’s right.  You read the headline correctly.  I’m not the only Lotus professional working on the Office 365 project.  My friend, a fellow Lotus professional just joined the team.  Surprisingly, I didn’t know anything about it until a week before he started.  Now you might be asking yourself:  “What would Microsoft need Lotus professionals for?”  No, it has nothing to do with things like mail migrations.  It’s all about BlackBerry Enterprise Servers and messaging.  I think this illustrates more than ever that if you have universal skills, like understanding the concepts of messaging or troubleshooting, you are highly marketable, regardless of the details of what product those skills are used on.  It’s not about being a professional of a particular brand.  It’s about being an expert of a process.  Conceptual understanding transcends the syntactic details.  Demonstrate that and you will display higher value (DHV).

Now for some quotes you might hear among us Lotus experts  at the Microsoft:

“What do you mean, I can’t paste a screen shot in a Lync IM chat?”
“Where is the ‘Send and File’ feature?”
“You mean if I want to file a message into multiple folders, I have to make copies of it?”
“Why does everybody CC everyone on the team for every email?  Don’t they have discussion Dbs for that?”
“What do you mean, we don’t have a knowledge base?  How do we collaborate?  Oh, CC everybody.”
“I’ll just Google that, uh, I mean Bing it.”
“I could do this so easy in a Notes app!”
“How do I create a reminder on my calendar?”
“Notepad++ ?  Don’t let anyone see you using that.”
“Where is the workflow in this app?”

Yes, my friend, welcome to the team.

Viruses Happen


mr yuk

The good news:  I still have never had a computer get infected with an email virus while using Lotus Notes.  That 18-year run is still going.

The bad news:  My laptop got a virus through a random act of browsing.  It happened thanks to a touch pad strategically located between the palms of the hands where it can occasionally cause the mouse to move or misread a mouse click.  It has happened many times in the past.  I’m typing away when suddenly the cursor jumps to somewhere else on the screen and my typing starts appearing in the wrong place.  This time it went to the browser window and who knows what input it took before I stopped typing.  It’s the first time being a fast typist was a liability for me.  I just know that suddenly I started getting a chain of popups.

I closed everything and it didn’t look like anything evil happened, but since then my computer started crashing randomly and would never come out of hibernation properly.  A full virus scan revealed a problem, but it needed the help of a Norton Anti-virus bootable CD.  OK, I created the bootable CD from another computer and ran the repair tool.  After that the PC quit booting altogether.  This was a case where the cure was worse than the illness.  No, it won’t even restore to a previous recovery point.  Sure, I could resort to a system image recovery that I made some time ago, but there are no guarantees of recovery at that point.  Who knows what devilry is at work with the Norton tool and virus.

I put in a call to Norton support and pretty quickly the guy at the other end decided to escalate this one to the next level.  They actually scheduled a time the support guy would call back.  This is going to be a true test of Norton’s support service.  I’ll keep you posted.  Meanwhile, the blog will continue to be quiet thanks to this new time-sucking event.

Website Design Case Study: IBM Passport Advantage Website


Every year at Lotusphere in the Ask the Developers session someone will ask IBM “When are you going to make the Passport Advantage website user-friendly?!”  And every year the response from IBM is “What are you talking about?  It’s fine!”  Apparently usability studies are unnecessary.  After all, this is IBM.  How could the world’s second or third largest software company NOT know how to build a website?  Who are we to give them advice, right?  We’re just customers, not experts on web development, right?  We are mere ersatz of IBM’s erudite web developers.

Well recently I have been refreshing my web development skills in a degree program at Bellevue College and I would like to think I have become more than just a dilettante of web design.  As part of my studies, I am using the Passport Advantage website as a case study in best (and worst) practices in web design.  I would like to bring you along for the lesson.  Please join me in this discussion of what does and doesn’t work in web design, particularly as it relates to the success of the IBM Passport Advantage website in achieving its goal.  Hopefully by this vetting, all of us can learn something from this world class international website representing the third most valuable brand in the world.

My classmates don’t have access to log into this website.  So I will include some screen shots.  Hopefully this does not infringe on any copyrights.  This is intended for review by my classmates in the web design class and web authoring program for educational purposes only.

First, let’s find the URL.  If I were to guess at it so I could go directly to it, I would expect something like http://www.ibm.com/passportadvantage .  But that doesn’t work.  So let’s go to the IBM home page, http://www.ibm.com and look for a link.  You can find it on IBM’s home page, though with some effort.  You won’t find it in any of the menus at the top of the page, but if you scroll down, you can find it “below the fold” under the Popular Links list.  For that reason, I expect most people just use a search engine to find the site.  I searched for “Passport Advantage” on Google.com and it came up as the first link.  It was the second link listed on both yahoo.com and bing.com. It was also the first link in the results list when searched directly on the IBM website.  Here is the landing page for all of these.  The URL is http://www-01.ibm.com/software/howtobuy/passportadvantage/
<01_landingpage>
IBM Passport Advantage initial page

(click image to enlarge)

Not exactly an intuitive URL.  Note in the screen shot that it already knows who I am.  Am I logged in?  Well, no.  I need to click on the Customer sign in link in the box on the right labeled “Fast Access”.
Note that it instructs to use my email address for the user name.  Not exactly.  Some accounts (like mine) require the username that was created, NOT the email address.
<02_loginpage>

IBM Passport Advantage Login screen

(click image to enlarge)

By the way, if I click on the link that says “Not you?”  beside my name in the top right, I get this error page with no way back but to close the browser and start over:
<03_switchusererror>

IBM Passport Advantage error message switching users

(click image to enlarge)

After logging in, you get to what I will call the “homepage” of Passport Advantage.  Actually there is no home page for Passport Advantage and there is never an obvious path back to this page.  I could find no links that lead back to this page except by logging in.  The Home link on this page goes to the home page of ibm.com and once you go there, good luck trying to get back to Passport Advantage.  Assuming you know about the link at the bottom of the page, you’ll get back fairly easily.  But most people just google it again.  (even if you call customer support, they will direct you to find it this way!)
<04_homepage>

IBM Passport Advantage homepage

(click image to enlarge)

Great now you’re on the “homepage”.  There are primarily 2 reasons most Lotus professionals visit this site: 1.  To open a PMR with technical support or 2. To download software.  Let’s start with getting technical support.  Look closely.  There are no less than 7 links to get some kind of help, not counting the phone number listed in the bottom right corner, which by the way, is NOT the number to call to reach technical support.  Each of these 7 links go to different pages.  The one to open a ticket with technical support (called a PMR) happens to be the last one in the left pane, labeled “Online technical support”.  This would seem obvious but for the 6 other links to support on the page.  By the way, if you visit a page and then hit the Back button, you will occasionally get an error instead and it will prompt you to log in again.
<05_supportLinks>

IBM Passport Advantage Support links on homepage

(click image to enlarge)

Once you get to the place to enter a PMR with technical support, you may want to get back to the “homepage”.  Which link on this page do you think you should select?
<06_whereishome>

IBM Passport Advantage missing link to homepage

(click image to enlarge)

If you chose Home you would be wrong and once there you would not be able to use the back button to return here.
If you chose Return to the IBM Support Portal you would also be wrong. (See the next screen shot.)
The correct link is actually under related links.  Go figure.

No link back to homepage

(click image to enlarge)

Now let’s look at the second common reason to visit this site: downloading software.  For this function you “only” have 5 choices.  Again, they all go to different places.  Choose carefully.  You may navigate through several lengthy steps before realizing you’re in the wrong place to find what you’re looking for.
<07_downloadLinks>

IBM Passport Advantage links to download software

(click image to enlarge)

The downloads process continues through several confusing steps including prompting TWICE that you accept the software agreement, before actually getting to download the software.  And you had better know exactly what you are looking for.  There are no useful descriptions of the purpose of each software and many have very similar names.

In our classroom discussion the class agreed when it comes to usability, this site fails miserably,  It is laden with many confusing links that are not organized in any obvious, meaningful grouping.  There are way too many links without any form of structure or organization to the navigation. One of the class exercises is to create a site map identifying the navigation, but this website proved too complex to create a site map at all.  The arrangement of the navigation did not help to identify the relevance of the links either.  And why does it have 2 places to select a language? (one at the extreme top of the page, the other in the right column beside the banner image)

Well, there you have it.  So far we have examined the pages leading up to the main page of the Passport Advantage site and the main page itself.  What do you think?  Is this analysis off the mark?  If you regularly navigate this site, what has your experience been with it?

Up next if I have the time and patience:  Stepping through the website  to download software – no trivial task.

Before you pass final judgement on this website, check out what truly BAD websites look like at WebPagesThatSuck

Footnote: After writing this article, I noticed there is now a tutorial for Passport advantage on the landing page (you do not need to log in to view it.)
http://download.boulder.ibm.com/ibmdl/pub/software/passportadvantage/demos/English_Tutorial/english_pa.html

After a few minutes of frustration I had to quit viewing it.  The wizard was     tiny.   The navigators to advance the slides are so small I had trouble getting my mouse in just the right spot to click it.  There are pages and pages of blah, blah, blah.  It isn’t a tutorial about USING the website.  It’s about 45 minutes of reading all about WHY you should BUY it.

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