Why Nomad Will Fail

My very first “computer” was an Atari 2600. At the time it was quite revolutionary, allowing me to play a range of games at home on my TV instead of having to pay out a small fortune playing similar games in video game parlors and the like. Today it is possible to play those same games on a modern computer using one of a number of Atari 2600 Emulators. The availability of those emulators didn’t bring back the golden era of Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Asteroids, or Frogger. Not because those weren’t great games in their time. It’s just that by modern gaming standards they are pre-historic. Great for a few moments of nostalgia, but not the type of game that is going to attract a modern audience of gamers.

And so it is with Lotus Notes applications. Many Lotus Notes applications have gone untouched for the past 10-20 years.  Many are as old school as my Atari 2600 games. Taking an application that was designed to run on an 1024 x 768 XGA monitor with a 3.5″ floppy disk drive for storage and a laser printer for output and getting it to run on an Apple iPad Pro or a Samsung Galaxy Tab doesn’t solve a problem, it exacerbates one! Users that may not have had access to Notes applications before suddenly encounter the product for the first time on their tablet. First impressions can be lasting ones!

Nomad allows Notes client applications to run on devices such as tablets and smartphones. There are some limitations such as not being able to run XPages, Java code and Web Services (i.e. pretty much everything added to the product since Notes 7). Nomad was originally release for the iPad as part of Notes 10. With Notes 11, support has been added for Android devices. It is also rumoured that a browser version of Nomad is being considered for Notes 12.

Two years ago at IBM Think, HCL demonstrated Nomad for the first time. I cringed when I saw they chose to take the aging Notes Discussion database and demonstrate it running on an iPad. It was like using Breakout to sell an XBox or Oculus Go. It was a painful reminder of my experiences working at GBS eight years ago on a product called Transformer. The goal of Transformer was to take existing Lotus Notes applications and convert them to XPages so they could run in a browser without the needs for the Notes Client. It was a major technical accomplishment — with one huge flaw. When the application ran inside a browser, the users where expecting an application that looked and behaved like a web application. They were not expecting a Notes client experience in a browser. It was like we had given them a copy of Pac-Man to run on a Nintendo Switch. IBM later released the Notes browser plug-in and then ICAA as alternative ways of running Notes application in a web browser. All of these failed to generate significant interest from existing users for the same reason — putting an old ugly application on a new device or browser is akin to painting dog do-do with gold paint.

Nomad will get adopted in some companies. Mainly those that have Lotus Notes applications still in use, and for which there is a strong need to gain access to those applications from a mobile device. I doubt many of these companies are going to build new applications for which mobile access is an important part. To do so would be like building a new video game that runs on the Atari 2600 just so that we could then use the Emulator software to get it to work on a Windows computer. It just doesn’t’ make sense. Nor would it make sense for any company not yet using Lotus Notes to consider adopting the product on the basis that delivering on any modern device (smartphone, tablet, or browser) would require building an application using an IDE designed for the Lotus Notes Client. HCL Nomad is a defensive ploy to keep a few existing customers on the Notes/Domino platform a little longer. It will do nothing to grow the Notes/Domino platform and make it appealing to a new audience. Something that is desperately needed if the platform itself is to have a future.

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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