Two free tickets to Lotusphere–is IBM's Lotus Notes Out of Touch With Web 2.0 World?

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Next month is the annual Lotusphere conference. IBM is giving two free tickets to TC readers–leave a comment saying why you’d like to go to Lotusphere, and we’ll pick the winners by Monday morning. (Note: Passes cover conference registration only, not travel/hotel.)

Few pieces of software are as polarizing as Lotus Notes. When my last job forced me to use Notes, I found the interface clunky, the graphics Win 95’esqe, and the workflow architecture non-intuitive. Granted,  I was using Version 6.5 (Notes is now on Release 8), but even so I found it frustratingly unproductive. And I’m clearly not alone.

Probably the most famous Notes aficionado is David Allen of Getting Things Done fame. (The eProductivity application–built off the Notes platform–is David’s personal GTD tool.)

When I recently attended David’s GTD seminar, I was struck by the contrast between his fresh ideas, and the outdated nonsense of the Notes 6.5 interface. During this podcast, David directly asked, “Why do end users hate Lotus notes?” And then pointed out that most Notes users have no clue of the power of the tools they are using.

Which leaves me wondering–has IBM’s Lotus Notes lost touch with the user-centric web 2.0 world?

To answer these questions, I interviewed Kevin Cavanaugh, IBM’s VP in charge of the Notes/Domino group. Also joining us was Ed Brill, IBM’s Director of Messaging and Collaboration.
(My conclusions after the interview.)

Most people I talk with think Notes is dead or dying…

Notes has had seventeen straight quarters of growth. This year alone, we experienced 17% growth in Q1, 20% in Q2, and 10% in Q3. Over 60% of IBM business is overseas, and that’s mirrored in Lotus. Currently, out of the approximately 46,000 companies using the Notes/Domino platform, only 30% are US based.

What’s your target customer size?

Traditionally, IBM as a whole has focused on large enterprises. [The Notes group] average customer is a little smaller than the rest of IBM–we’re certainly more active in the small to medium business market.

Are you jumping on board the cloud bandwagon?

Generally, security concerns and the economics of cloud offerings aren’t as appealing to IBM, and larger enterprises. However, we recently released several cloud offerings for Lotus, including the Lotus Foundation, a remotely managed appliance targeting companies smaller than 250 people.

What’s up with the clunky UI?

Until R8, the UI was from 1995 era. We kept renovating under the hood, but not the UI. For R8, we significantly improved the UI, including over 2,000 usability tests.

New UI:

Clearly, you’re marketing to IT managers. Are you reaching out to end users?

Ed: We’re actively reaching out both online (Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, etc) and offline, trying to help people understand the power of Notes. When I was last in London, I met with a blogger to try to understand why he was so frustrated with Notes.

Why do so many people hate on Notes?

Ed: Users live in their messaging environment, and blame everything from network problems to a full inbox on Notes. But in this case, the ease of Notes deployment means many current installations are ten years old or more. They’re functional from an IT perspective, but still using the older UI.

Previously, I suggested that the next wave of knowledge management innovation may come from consumer applications invading the enterprise space. What are you doing to make the enterprise more accessible to users? (How are you avoiding a device-centric model?)

Ed: Notes has an online component–not just e-mail and calendar, but multiple collaborative tools including integrated IM, bookmarking, etc. We support Blackberries, Windows Mobile, and iPhone. RIM, in particular, is a huge partner, not just because they’ve deeply penetrated the enterprise space, but because they’re actively supporting this partnership. We’re also starting to partner with more startups building off the Notes platform–startups who traditionally weren’t in the enterprise space.

It was a fascinating interview–especially because IBM admits there are things that WERE wrong with Notes…

Over the past few years, Notes lost touch with users. David Allen may love the power, but those features are useless if people can’t figure out how to access them. It isn’t just poor training either–a proper UI intuitively guides users. (Note: I haven’t used R8, so can’t comment on current UI.)

What does the future hold for Lotus?

Clearly, Lotus is making money, and growing. Few web 2.0 companies can claim seventeen straight quarters of growth!

But refocusing on the international market avoids questions about Notes growth in the US market–a key group of core “small-medium enterprise” customers.

According to eProductivity founder Eric Mack, Lotus must shift focus:

The secret to a renaissance with Lotus Notes will be to focus on what end-users are doing with Notes. Come on, we are living in a web 2.0 world; users expect to have a say and they want to take ownership of the tools that they use. As long as [IBM] perceives Lotus Notes as something pushed down from the top–part of the ‘system’–the tools won’t become personal.

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Update: Originally I’d quoted Kevin as saying 10,000 companies use the Notes/Domino platform. Ed e-mailed me to say it’s actually 46,000.

  • Chris

    I want to go to Lotusphere because I worked on a large IBM account 2 years ago, and I want to meet the people I worked with 2 years ago.

    To protect privacy I won’t list details here, but you can hit me up via email if you want them.

    I also want to find out exactly what IBM did with their purchase of Nitix Blue, which they took of the hands of the BDC. I am almost 100% positive that was complete BS but got shoveled into Lotus to make the Canadian government happy by bailing their bad investment out.

    I also want to find out what’s going on with Metronome and Domino right now.

    • Chris

      Actually, since this is a contest, I may as well give some details to win.

      I worked with IBM devs and IBM India devs through
      Michael Campagna
      IBM Global Services

      On WSDL stuff and EDI data exchange on one of their largest pharmaceuticals account. I met one of the kernel devs at MIT in March of 2007 but would like to talk to them again. They’re pretty interesting.

    • Vertin

      Thanks for information ;)


  • Ed Brill

    Chris, Nitix became Lotus Foundations.

    • Chris

      I’m aware of that. Nitix was funded almost entirely by the BDC and it’s partners.

      Nitix was *not* selling very well as it was simply a Debian Linux distribution on generic hardware with a couple extra non-free packages.

      I had downloaded and inspected the Nitix source code which was not in Debian at different points and times before it was purchased by IBM.

      Nitix was going downhill fast and was gotten rid of by BDC and it’s partners. I question it’s validity as part of Lotus, as it must have been heavily modified for that repurposing. I saw how the government and business interacts in Canada because I was in the public sector of ITAC for a year.

      This was a business deal with govt implications as far as what I think. I don’t think Nitix had any real value.

      But with that said, I would like to attend the conference and not bring this up. I think I can get the day off of work since I have time off built up and TechCrunch has never awarded me anything. So let’s break that cycle and give me a freaking ticket please.

      My email is in these posts, thanks.

      • Ed Wolb

        I’d be interested to know how you inspected the source code of Nitix, since it only ships binaries and the source code it posted was only a reflection of the open source code modified in the process of creating Nitix, and wasn’t Nitix itself which was a proprietary set of code.

    • Chris


      Here is a link to a blog comment conversation I had with Marc Macleod, a Montreal Entrepreneur who is apparently affiliated with Nitix about Nitix.

      I had a conversation about Nitix with Sylvain Savaria of the BDC as well in January of 2007.

      Sylvain had personally told me that Nitix was not doing well and that he was not ready to invest in another Linux based company, calling our company a conflict of interest with Nitix even though we made a widget toolkit based on X and XLib with Glitz and Cairo.

      He could not understand the difference between a desktop GUI and a server. His colleges sat on the board of Nitix and other tech companies with this level of understanding.
      BUT, the BDC is a crown corp mandated by the Queen of England, and that is why we in America fought a revolutionary war. So we could have qualified people rather than preferred servants managing the public trust.

      And with that I stop posting hoping to get a ticket.

      • Ed Brill

        Chris, I would encourage you to look at Foundations and how it fits in our product family today. You say in that link that IBM already had Tivoli — Foundations isn’t about system management as the Tivoli brand is, but rather about an appliance-based acquisition, deployment, and management model for small businesses and departmental solutions. It’s sold as an all-in-one solution.

      • Chris

        You must have skipped the part where I said I reviewed the 5-7 extremely small source packages that were in addition to the generic Debian distro labeled Nitix Blue when they were provided as mandatory GPL downloads in the Nitix download section before IBM “took Nitix off Canada’s hands”.

        I’m sure IBM has reworked Nitix into something else today than it was(something usable I hope), but that is something I will review when I actually need the product as a solution. Right now I work for a firm which I do not buy software for. I am currently a senior developer in the LA area.

        Let’s just say I’m happy to be back in America where the grease doesn’t flow as freely.

        Good luck with the Lotus product, and I hope to see you at Lotusphere if I get the free ticket.

  • Rajiv Thomas

    When one does an unbiased comparison of Outlook and Notes, the first thing that jumps out is that Outlook is a closed client where you HAVE to work within a prescribed framework, but in the case of the Notes clients its a composite application with no boundries. Running on eclipse your possibilities are endless. Eg you can add a google gadget like a maps gadget into your notes client , but in the case of Outlook you cannot (btw u cant even add Microsoft Live Maps to Outlook)

    So I really do not think its any comparison. What we are comparing is one single exe and a few dlls to a huge massive eclipse based composite application. Its like comparing a bicycle and a car. Both get you from place to place but look at the additional stuff that comes with the car.

    Lets be fair. Outlook is just a mail client, a RSS reader and a New Groups reader.

    Lotus Notes is a complete application platform. It can integrate to numerous other application and mash up infomation from them all into one place.

    So to sum it up , if you want just an email client use Outlook (or even better try Thunderbird) but if you want a real composite application with endless boundries , try Lotus Notes.

    • Strong Bad

      Who cares about this endless boundaries crap?? 99% of the people just want to work with their mail fast, but get shoved this unusable monster down their throat.

      • The

        If you are using Lotus Notes just for email, you’re doing it wrong. That would be like trying to use the Starship Enterprise to cross the street. Or more accurately, an erector set capable of building the Starship Enterprise to cross the street.

        That’s why so many users have a foul taste in their mouth over Domino- it’s being deployed in places it probably shouldn’t. The ideal Notes shop should be a place that needs the ability to rapidly create and deploy business applications. If you just want email, geeze- go open source on the server and use something like thunderbird for the client.

        And from an infrastructure standpoint, show many another off the shelf product that allows me to deploy business apps across Windows, Mac, and Linux clients, with every app automatically web enabled for clientless connections, able to seamlessly replicate data and applications to those local clients back to server back ends that can be anything from a single Windows or Linux machine to a cluster of Windows, Linux, and i5 machines running on things from commodity grade x86 servers to Z series mainframes.

        Full disclosure- I am an the Director of IT at an international technology manufacturing company and we use Domino in ways that have surprised some of the Lotus Developers we’ve run into at Lotusphere.

    • Michael Collier

      Replying to you since I can’t reply to “The” below for some reason.

      The fact that it’s a “composite application with no boundaries” is among the reasons why you still have companies running R5 and hating Notes/Domino. 2/5/10 years ago someone drank the cool-aid and said “Notes for everything!” and converted mail to Notes and started rolling out apps to replace all sorts of business processes being handled in spreadsheets or by some other process.

      The problem comes about when it’s time to upgrade and they don’t have developers on staff or the original developers are gone and didn’t document things well. Notes apps (fat client apps at least) are super easy to build, somewhat hard to build well, and a huge spaghetti nightmare to maintain. It’s often cheaper to move to Exchange for mail (and leave 4.6 or R5 or 6.5 in place for the apps) than to hire devs to pour through hundreds of apps to insure they’ll survive an upgrade, or to clean up after an upgrade.

      That’s not to say that those companies aren’t at fault for not adequately caring and feeding for their environments, however knowing how painful it can be to deal with that, I’ve learned (as have many others) to try to encourage alternatives when someone suggests “let’s use a Notes app” as a solution.

      As to Outlook being just an e-mail client, that’s both ridiculous and it misses the point. Outlook is both the groupware client that Notes is supposed to be AND the user experience keeps improving noticeably and positively with each release (at least since I’ve been using it, 2000 or XP.) I run Linux on my laptop and even dealing with running Outlook through WINE, I’d still rather use that than Notes for mail, calendaring and contacts. I remember when the Notes 7 roadshow came around and after the presentation I asked about whether they would be addressing some of the basic UI things that drive users crazy and the speaker pointed me back to the circles in the new template that tell you if you were on the To: line or CC: line and spoke a bunch of gibberish about “empowering knowledge workers” or the like and it was clear that they just didn’t get it.

      Thunderbird (and Lightning for calendar) is a great IMAP client but it hardly qualifies as an Outlook equivalent. Even with something like Zimbra as the back-end (and using the Zindus plugin to sync contacts) It’s no where near as polished or supportable.

      I’ve been working with Notes/Domino for 10 years and it will always be a system I love and hate. At this point however I don’t see how it’s even in the running when it comes to collaborative software, at least for environments that aren’t horribly tied to their legacy Notes/Domino infrastructure. Heaven help Lotus if Microsoft ever figures out how to make Sharepoint easy to deal with.

  • George

    I want to go because I have suffered long enough using Notes 7. If anyone deserves to go, it’s the ones who have suffered the longest. I want to see whats in the pipeline and see if things are getting better first hand.

  • Don McNally

    I’m joining a company that is completely on Notes from one where we were the only department that used it. I want to learn how to use the newest features of the software to be able to contribute in my new environment. And it would be a bonus to continue to show Steve Gillmor that Notes is still not dead!

  • mtzrox

    Im not aware of many web2.0 solutions that has had “real” impact on the business world.

  • Paul Sizemore

    I want to go so I can figure out what this ‘Lotus’ thing is, and why people use it if it’s so bad.

    PS I’ve suffered through it, too.

  • J

    I want to go to Lotusphere because I’m one of those lost souls who actually likes the Lotus Product family and can see the potential power and flexibility of it.

    Granted, it doesn’t come with a Web 2.0 user interface but then that would actually demean the powerful featureset that it provides. Simple, but quite clever.

  • Scott

    I work at IBM and use Lotus Notes. I’m currently running the latest beta version and I have to say, it’s WAY better than the versions they’ve had out over the years, even the current stable version. That being said, I don’t really love Notes and would prefer a much more open platform. Nothing comes in or out of Notes easily. Therefore, my calendar for work and personal has to be separate since Notes won’t sync with Google Calendar. Tasks are stuck since it won’t integrate with any other task managers (I use RTM which sync with just about everything, but Notes). The power of Notes is HUGE if it is used properly, I’ve seen it. I just wish it would have more integration possibilities with other services.

    • Ed Brill

      Scott, if you are running the latest beta version, you should take a look at the calendar federation capabilities, including iCalendar subscriptions and overlays.

  • francois

    I’ve been stuck with POS Notes 6.5 at work for 3 years now. It’s the bane of my work day.
    Now my 60.000 employees company is moving everyone to Gmail. I can die happy…

    • Djilali Tabbouche

      This is the future my friend, the inevitable future.
      Enterprise world won’t be able to ignore the power of simplicity and usability brought by Gmail and (to a certain extend) Apple stuffs any longer.

      I’m a 10 years Lotus Domino Architect, running my business on Google Cloud, and I don’t want to go to Lotusphere…

  • Steve Krzysiak

    I want to go because I like free things. Also, I have never encountered notes in the workplace. I am a young I.T. director who has many years left in I.T., so who better to pitch Lotus Notes to than a young unadulterated D.o.I.T. who may or may not opt for Notes one day?

  • tom

    I would like to go to Lotusphere again in 2009. I went for the first time in 2008 (after working with Lotus products for 8+ years) and I left energized and ready to share what I had learned.

    I was greatly humbled at Lotusphere 2008 by developers like Julian Robichaux and Viktor Krantz. I want to see what new ideas they bring to the “dead and dying” product family.

    My company is actually looking at Lotus Web 2.0 products to help with a younger “subset” of employees that currently don’t get to use even email. I really hope we get to implement Connections to to these users.

    • Luis Benitez

      Hi Tom,

      If you need my help convincing your organization to deploy Lotus Connections, let me know!

  • Kevin Mort

    I’ve been in the IBM Business Partner community for around 9 and a half years, most all of that working with Lotus products.

    I found out the weekend before Thanksgiving that I was effected by some recent layoffs at my now previous employer.

    While I have a few opportunities beginning to reveal themselves, needless to say, my LS 09 reg had to be canceled.

    This will be the first one I’ve missed in quite a while and obviously is disappointing.

  • bob

    As someone who worked for IBM for a little over 2 years (due to company acquisition) and had to use Notes day in and day out, I can tell you that not having to use Notes in and of itself is a good reason to leave IBM. I have never, ever worked with a piece of software that was so counter-intuitive and had such a horrible user interface. Changing configuration settings is done in at least 3 different places, you need to “replicate” in order to receive your email because setting the client to work in real time slows your machine to a crawl, the group calendaring is so buggy that employees have to turn to tricks like setting meeting times for one minute past the hour in order to ensure that updates are received by all recipients…I can go on and on. A few years back Lotus came out with a new web-based messaging system based on WebSphere Portal, but it lacked any sort of interoperability with Notes. Needless to say, it didn’t sell. Who the heck came up with that brilliant idea?

    Despite what they are saying I find it hard to believe that Lotus is experiencing revenue growth, although it is very typical for IBM to inflate numbers within one of their software pillars by including revenue from some acquisitions and/or moving products between pillars in order to look good.

    • Ed Brill

      Bob, in July, we issued a press release specifically around Notes/Domino product revenue and wins. SEC disclosure etc. require us to be accurate, especially when talking about the financials of a particular product.

    • Wesley Williams

      I work at IBM too and will freely admit that when our company was bought by them, I dreaded having to use Notes. Those first few years on pre-8.x Notes were awful, but now we have version 8.0 and up I’m much more satisfied.

      p.s. I never replicate, I point Lotus directly to the server.

    • Petetm

      Clearly your frustrations lies in your lack of knowledge about the product (Notes) not Notes itself. Yes, there are many different ways you CAN
      change config setting but you don’t have to do it
      in all 3. Please be clear in your assesment.

  • Strong Bad

    Notes 8 front end is still crappy, slooow and unusable, starting with preventing users from going straight to their mailbox. Which usability expert came up with that “feature”?

    It’s probably much better from the IT perspective or whatever, but the end users surely don’t see it.

    • Tom

      Strong bad: You can set your starting screen in Lotus Notes to be your inbox and have been able to do this since the 6xx releases. Right click on the bookmark icon and choose set bookmark as home page.

    • Alan

      @Strongbad – “Which usability expert came up with that “feature”?”
      Talk to your Notes Admins – sounds like a policy has been put in place to use Local Mail replicas. The default is to use Server based mail . . . . .

  • Peter

    I am a R5 Principal Certified Lotus Professionnel (PCLP) gone astray. Hell they don’t even call the certification the same anymore. Will need to get back in touch because of a new job. Pick me because it’s christmas in a one hour :)

  • Rurik Bradbury

    Lotus does have a much better architecture for large enterprises than Microsoft. More open, standards-compliant and extensible by far.

    One reason why all the Gmail-loving Techcrunchies do not like it, however, is that it is not simple. It is overcomplicated both for users and IT staff, because IBM wants to throw in too much flexibility and too many features — which works at the expense of simplicity for users. Gmail was made for consumers, which makes it simple, but no good for large enterprises.

    We designed Unison for SMBs, not consumers or enterprises, because one size does not fit all. Unison does unified communications on a single server and desktop without being over-simplistic like Gmail or over-complicated like Lotus:

  • Gregory Micher

    I would love to go as I missed last year and want to update myself and clients on Quickr, Notes, Portal, etc.

  • Totally confused

    “…out of the approximately 10,000 companies using the Notes/Domino platform…”

    Strange. I’ve seen Ed Brill publicly place the number of Notes/Domino customers at about 44,000 companies worldwide. And I listened to an interview just this morning in which Bob Picciano, the General Manager of Lotus Software, claimed that there were 12,000 NEW customers of Notes/Domino in 2008 alone.

    So clearly someone is pulling numbers our of their nether regions.

    • Jeff Widman

      My apologies–Ed also e-mailed me to point out that it’s currently around 46,000.

      Either that 10,000 referred to US companies, or I got the number totally wrong in my notes from the interview.

      I’ve updated it in the post.

  • David

    Lessons learned as Notes/Domino Developer (R5 PCLP):
    The issue with Lotus/Domino is not that it is not good enough, the issue is that it is TOO GOOD.
    Where else can you get the following in one:
    1). Rapid Application Development Platform
    2). Email/Communication/Calendaring/Groupware 3). Web Server
    4). Database Engine
    5). File / Document Security
    Quite frankly, for non transactional apps, I can’t think of a way to quickly develop and deploy apps like you can with Notes/Domino. This is based on experience up to 2001. It must be better now, right? I miss Lotus/Domino.

  • Ray Bilyk

    Please send me to Lotusphere! I’ve been certified in Lotus Notes since version 3 in both application development and system administration. I used to work for a training company where I was one of their award-winning instructors. The economy hit this company, so I ended up out of work.

    While laid off, I had an opportunity to switch careers, but I stuck with Lotus Notes and Domino because I know what the product can do, and I knew that the UI would catch up… and turn heads! In my blog, The Pridelands ( ), I mentioned how I wanted and needed to stay with the winning team of IBM Lotus Notes/Domino…

    The good news is that I now get to work for a great company that uses Lotus Notes/Domino, a product I love. (Really! Just ask my wife!) The bad news is that my organization is running release 6.5. My goal for 2009 is to bring the entire organization (over 10,000 seats of Lotus Notes) kicking and screaming to release 8.5 (which will be out very, very soon, right Ed?). I will not be able to do this alone, and I won’t be able to do it unless I have ammunition… which I will get by going to Lotusphere 2009. Once I have the tools and skillsets I need, I know that I can persuade minds and win hearts.

    My organization has been hit very hard by the economy, so much so that they’ve eliminated all funding for conferences in 2009. I will pay for my own way for travel, food and lodging, but I need a ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory… Lotusphere 2009! TechCrunchIT, you have a Golden Ticket, and I pray that you’ll give it to me. (Don’t believe me? Do a search on Twitter for my handle, TheLionKing… I’ve been ‘praying’ and begging about it for a while!!!)

    I’m even willing to provide TechCrunchIT with an article, a report, a podcast, whatever… I have a blog and I’ve been a podcaster, so I’m familiar with what to do. It would be a win-win for both of us! Because of my background as an IBM Certified Instructor, a blogger and a podcaster, I also know quite a few people that are already there, so it would not be hard to get interviews and comments from attendees.

    Lotusphere 2009 is the best way to see the vision that IBM has for the Lotus brand. Kevin and Ed are great representatives for IBM/Lotus. Please select me so I can be that great representative for you! I very much look forward to hearing from you.

  • therandomguy

    I worked for this company for a year where they used Notes. Everyday I wished they would switch to Outlook. I quit and my current company uses Outlook.

    I want to go to this event to give hope to all those stuck with this piece of crap. I want them to know that someday they will use Outlook.

  • mfba

    Wow, evidently people who use Notes are prone to writing long winded and boring comments.

    I don’t want the lame tickets. This post may have been interesting if you were actually familial with R8. This post read like a high school news article. Weak effort.

  • cuothiseo

    Great, but how to get them?

  • Jim Casale

    It’s obvious some people don’t know what they are talking about because I go right to my mailbox when i open Lotus Notes 8.

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