Lotus Lives

By any measure last Friday was a very notable day in the History of Notes/Domino. Not only was it the 29th anniversary of the first release of Notes but we heard the news that HCL had acquired (or is acquiring) the full rights to Notes/Domino along with a number of products in the IBM portfolio. Perhaps the most notable of these being Connections.

Lotus Lives

Lotus Notes was developed by Iris Associates and sold by Lotus Development between 1989 and 1995. From 1995 to 2017 Lotus Notes was owned and developed by IBM. During this time, IBM acquired and developed additional products under the Lotus brand such as Lotus Domino, Lotus SameTime, Lotus QuickPlace, and Lotus Connections. Lotus Notes officially became IBM Notes as part of a rebranding of the Lotus Division to ICS. But within the customer base and much of the partner community it continued to be known as Lotus Notes.

In October 2017, HCL acquired rights to Notes/Domino, Sametime, and Verse that saw HCL responsible for the development and support of the platform while IBM remained responsible for sales and marketing. The sale was part of a gradual de-emphasis by IBM of collaboration software, especially on-premise, as the IBM strategy moved from Social Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud (SMAC) to eventually focus on Analytics (Watson) and Cloud (IBM Cloud).

Which brings us to last week, when it was decided to completely transfer ownership of these and other products to HCL. This included the sale of (Lotus) Connections and Websphere Portal DX, bringing together the entire Lotusphere family of products as part of the newly formed HCL CWP (Collaboration Workflow Platforms) unit that is operating under the leadership of Richard Jefts (aka Marty McFly).

Note: What Notes will be called next year is not clear, “IBM Notes” does seem unlikely!

Lotus Notes Lives

If you had asked me 18 months ago what would it take to breathe new life back into Lotus Notes I would have said one of two things… either IBM places Jason Roy Gary in charge of Notes development or they sell the product to another company that is motivated to invest in its development. How fortunate (IMHO) that both those things have now happened!

IBM and HCL have announced plans to invest in the Lotus Notes platform under the #domino2025/#dominoforever initiative that has seen a Notes/Domino 10.0 release on October 10 and plans for Notes/Domino 11 at some stage in 2019. Based upon many conversations I have had with both IBM and HCL it was clear that both companies had very different visions for where the product should go next. There is no doubt in my mind that a single vision is much better than a compromise between two.

After 39 years the DNA of Lotus Notes is pretty much established. It continues to serve a great many companies well, while there is also a growing base of customers who are looking for something different. Moving forward (for applications) I would expect HCL to place less emphasis on Eclipse as a platform for both Notes and Domino Designer clients. We will most likely see HCL Nomad expand to include other mobile devices along with (eventually) an Electron client for the desktop.

For mail I would expect the many options such as iNotes to be simplified under Verse. A separate mail client with a distinctly different name should help in reducing the confusion about Notes as an application platform versus being just a mail client. That frustrating and ongoing conversation can finally come to an end. Verse onPremise is likely to receive most of the attention as HCL pivots away from IBM’s cloud-first strategy to one that is more supportive of on-premise solutions.

On the development front, I am expecting XPages to remain in maintenance mode, addressing minor issues and low-hanging fruit only. I would also be hoping to see a significant expansion of the Notes API available via LotusScript and Java covering many of the things currently only accessible via the C API. The Node.js API should also be filled out to be comparable to LotusScript/Java.

Lotus Domino Lives

One of the big winners out of this acquisition is likely to be the Domino server. Despite being a document database even before the term NOSQL being established, IBM opted against using Domino for anything outside of Notes and Verse. The opportunity does exist for Domino to be used as a database server as part of the entire CWP portfolio

Future releases of Domino are likely to open up the platform to other (non-Lotus) platforms. We have already seen the announcement of the Domino Query Language (DQL). The current roadmap for Domino 11 suggests we could see Domino becoming a calendar server (CalDAV) and a contacts server (CardDAV). There are also likely to be improvements in access to the Domino event model and the native REST APIs – a pet peeve at Red Pill Now.

Lotus Sametime lives

Sametime has not gotten a lot of attention lately. When it was first acquired by IBM it was largely considered to be one of the leading chat clients in the market-place. I would expect HCL to invest in restoring Sametime as a modern chat client that can not only compete with Slack, and Skype but perhaps show those products a thing or two about meaningful collaboration in conjunction with other Lotus products.

Lotus Connections Lives

This sounds like a sequel (or NOSQL) to a movie that has already played before. After the departure of Jason Roy Gary from IBM to HCL it seemed that IBM had decided to move away from the level of investment it had promoted under Connections Pink. It would make sense for HCL to continue to adopt many of the ideas developed as part of Connections Pink. In saying that I am sure there were a whole bunch of ideas that Jason had for Connections which IBM had said no, that might get a yes from HCL. So I would be prepared for a few new twists to that roadmap Jason had shown for Connections less than 2 years ago.

And a new PLACE for Lotus

Given Red Pill Now’s involvement as an innovation partner with HCL on the development of HCL Places I should share a few thoughts on what I think will be a very exciting addition to the Lotus family….

For Places we are going back to where Lotus Notes was around the time of Lotus 3. A low-code platform for developing collaborative applications that can store unstructured data in a non-relational format.  I like to think of Places as the product that Iris Associates would have developed in 2018 if it had access to all the technologies and devices that were not even thought of back in 1989.

Last week’s acquisition makes it almost certain that Places will be built as an extension of the Domino platform. Not as a replacement for the Notes client, but something distinctly different in its look and feel, functionality, an architecture. Part of our goal will be to surface existing Notes applications as well as to provide a path for migrating Notes applications across into Places.

Lotusphere Lives

Finally there is the important issues of community events. A community that has remained strong over the years. With all the products that once formed the core of the Lotusphere event under new management it would make sense that an event similar to Lotusphere be conducted. I know prior to the latest acquisition that Richard Jefts was contemplating an annual event in Orlando, so the odds of that happening can only have gone up. Having visited Boston in February this year I can understand the attraction of a week in the Florida sun for all the HCL staff. Perhaps in January 2020 some of those traditions will return. It is not clear if the acquisition includes rights to brand names such as Lotus or LotusSphere. Given Engage now offers more technical sessions on Lotus products than IBM Think, it’s definitely time for the return of a big annual event for the platform.

Just exactly what we will do at an event like this is not clear. Bitching about IBM seemed to be a favorite past-time for many over the last 10 years of Lotusphere. Perhaps we can get back to good old days when we ridiculed the attempts by the competition to reproduce the Notes magic….

For partners there is also the announcement of a new partner program call HCL PartnerConnect which will kick off early in the new year.


2019 promises to be an interesting year. There will be a lot of changes and with that comes opportunity. Stay tuned to the Red Pill Now podcasts for our latest thoughts as more news becomes available.

Peter Presnell
Peter Presnell
CEO at Red Pill NOW. Strategist, technologist, blogger, presenter, and IBM Champion 2011/12. For years many companies have invested heavily in the Notes/Domino platform and I see my role as helping to find paths forward for that investment.

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