We're So Sorry Uncle Albert: The Future of Lotus Notes/Domino

By Nigel Cheshire

Imagine your elderly Uncle Albert being wheeled off into a nursing home. He had a good life; he was the life and soul of the party back in the day, but now he's going to live out his twilight years playing dominos and drinking hot cocoa.

What happened to IBM (Lotus) Notes in September of 2016 felt a bit like that. IBM announced that support for the then-current version of Notes/Domino - 9.0.1 - would be extended through at least 2021. At the very end of that announcement however, they also announced that they were switching from numbered releases to delivering incremental improvements through "feature packs". In other words, there would be no new releases of Notes/Domino. Ever.

Unsurprisingly, many people interpreted that as the announcement of a sort of managed decline of the platform. Yes they would continue to support Notes for the next five years, but don't expect any significant investment in the platform. Like Uncle Albert, Notes would be well cared for, but he won't be bungee jumping or rocking a man bun any time soon. 

But then something happened. Just over a year later, by October 2017, a new strategy was being announced. IBM had cut a deal with Indian IT services company HCL, wherein Notes/Domino would seemingly be given a new lease on life. Responsibility for development of Notes & Domino was being handed over to HCL, along with 300 or so IBM employees. An ambitious program of development was laid out, including Notes apps on iPads and starting with a major new release in 2018. Uncle Albert is suddenly being discharged from the nursing home, dressed up in a fancy new (yellow) suit and taught how to dance the fandango.

So what do we know about the future of Notes/Domino now?

  • Branding
    • The branding has all turned yellow. The word "Notes" seems to have all but disappeared, this is all about "Domino". IBM seems to be anxious to re-engage the faithful "yellow bubblers."
  • Community Input
    • Under the hashtag #Domino2025, IBM and HCL have hosted a number of live and virtual events whose purpose is to gather ideas and input from the community at large.
  • Major Releases are Back
    • The new strategy targets a major new release of Domino - titled V10 - in 2018. More recently, HCL has announced that V11 will ship in 2019.
  • "Domino Rocks Javascript"
    • This appears to imply that Javascript and Node.JS will be the language and framework of choice for building applications on Domino. That may not go over too well with the traditional cadre of Notes developers, so
  • Return to RAD Roots
    • Some people feel that Domino Designer lost its way by trying to be all things to all developers. Supporting Java, JavaScript, LotusScript as well as Formula Language may be a noble goal, but it leads to an overweight, over complex development environment that doesn't do anything well. This is probably one of the fuzziest, least well defined parts of the strategy, but if HCL pulls this off, it could be the most important.
  • Native Notes Apps on Mobile
  • Containerization
    • Is that even a word? Whether it is or is not, the concept is pretty cool - it allows you to bundle up applications (such as the Domino server) with just the bits of the operating system that it needs to run, to make a sort of slimmed down VM that is faster, smaller and more efficient. The long term objective is to carve the massive Domino server up into bite-sized chunks that can be plugged together in a more efficient way. Docker is the technology that's used to do this. 

So is this too little, too late? Or is IBM Notes/Domino poised for a major comeback? Industry commentator and general wise-old-owl Volker Weber recently met the people behind Domino V10 and blogged about it. He was impressed, which is unusual, in my experience. 

On the other hand, London based industry publication The Register was more circumspect, concluding that the planned changes "will bring Notes up to date with modernity, rather than representing a great leap forward."

Meanwhile, Notes/Domino customers will need to make their own decisions. For most organizations who only ever used Notes for mail, I'm sure the horse has already left the stable. But for those who are still supporting applications, you need to decide whether to stick around and see what happens or start planning your escape to a new application platform.

Either way, here at Teamstudio, we have you covered. Our suite of tools for Notes developers is tried and tested, and we continue to update them. In fact we'll soon be ready to start talking about a new release of the Notes development tools, E33.

If you've already decided to move away from Notes, check out our set of migration tools. These help you catalog, analyze and triage your Notes applications, and then archive or migrate the data.

Whether you believe that Uncle Albert can throw away his walking cane and dance like Fred Astaire, or if you think he's just going to make a fool of himself and end up with a broken hip, we're always happy to chat. Click the button below and we'll be in touch in no time!