A Renaissance for Domino

IT Infrastructure - Other
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IBM bought Lotus Corporation in 1995, but the synergy many hoped for hasn't done as much as it could have for IBM Notes/Domino. With finalization of IBM's sale of Notes/Domino to HCL Software June 30 and release of Domino V10.01, this venerable workflow app suite is starting to bloom anew.

At the end of June, IBM completed purchase of the suite by HCL Software, a division of India-based HCL Technologies (formerly Hindustan Computing, Ltd.). (The company also has a major office in Chelmsford, Mass.) Given the reported sale price of $1.8 billion, HCL has a big stake in making Domino more successful than IBM did.

A Change of Direction

Early signs of a sea change were evident as early as last year to those paying attention. Rather than let some high-level executives decide what features would be included in V10, HCL held user conferences, called Domino Jams, at a number of major cities around the world. HCL invited Domino users from major companies in those geographic areas to attend and say what new features and fixes they'd like to see. Then HCL and IBM shaped V10 to conform with many of those suggestions. Others were deferred for future releases.

With HCL now fully in charge, there's a new sheriff in town. The company plans to continue holding these Domino Jams to help plan future release modifications. In addition, HCL holds periodic "factory tours," at which they invite select users and consultants to their Chelmsford office to discuss what future modifications are in the pipeline. The company has inaugurated the HCL Advocacy Program, under which every customer is assigned a representative at HCL who is charged with letting customers know they're valued and with seeking feedback on issues the customers are having and suggestions they might offer for future enhancements.

Unpacking the Domino V10.01 release (which we'll refer to here as V10, the .01 release having handled some bug fixes before the product was widely adopted) shows how comprehensive this change in philosophy might actually become. V10 adds significant functionality to Domino in a number of key areas. There are too many to cover in a single article, but some high points are worth mentioning.

What's in V10 for Developers

Leading off the enhancements is the Domino App Dev Pack, a free add-on that lets developers build apps using the JavaScript language and the Node.js runtime environment that's built on Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine. This lets programmers modify, integrate, and construct apps that use Domino databases and Domino Query Language (DQL), a syntax for finding Domino documents. DQL lets user and administrators query any data in any downloaded application.

A second important change is the Domino Mobile Apps feature, which automates many aspects of modifying Domino apps to be accessible via the Apple iPad, with plans to extend that to Android devices in the near future. Given Domino's existing ability to replicate data between the Domino server and local nodes, this enhancement lets developers work with apps and data even in offline situations.

A third significant change is addition of support for Swagger, an open-source framework for creating and using Representational State Transfer (REST) web services. This lets Domino apps call any REST API, increasing their versatility. Swagger's built-in version controls and its ability to represent an Open API document in software code gives developers significant new tools for building apps that can draw data from many sources. A final addition is support for CentOS, the Linux-based distribution system, which lets developers deploy new apps to a wide variety of environments via Domino containers that are compatible with Red Hat Linux.

Administrators Get Some Goodies, Too

Administrators will be happy with a number of helpful new features that automate some functions that used to be manual. A major example is improvements to Domino Attachment Object Services (DAOS). Although originally added in V8, DAOS has been streamlined in V10. Let's say you send an email with five attachments to 10 people. It used to be that the five attachments became 50 because each attachment sent to each recipient would be saved to disk separately.

Over time many messages with such attachments add up, and in situations where the enterprise has a cluster of servers and is using high availability, all of those attachments potentially have to be replicated even though they're actually just duplicates of each other.

However, V10 includes an automatic cluster database symmetry feature. Among other functions, it saves one copy of the attachment and simply has a pointer to that copy for the other nine recipients' messages that had the same attachment. The feature can also be configured to let the administrator state simply which folders are to be synchronized between servers, and the feature then also checks to be sure the replicas are truly synchronized.

Another feature administrators will like is V10's automatic database repair capability. The system will try to repair the database automatically via a fixup utility in V10, but if it can't, the system will automatically look for another replica on a different server in the cluster.

Domino database sizes have been parked at 64 MB for years. In V10, the sizes have been quadrupled to 256 MB. The number of folders that users can have in their email files has been expanded by 50 times. The summary data and file-name lengths have been doubled for application files, and the ID tables have been expanded tenfold.

Performance monitoring is also improved. V10 gathers a number of new statistics, such as a cluster environment monitor to support the cluster symmetry feature. There's a new ability to publish performance statistics via an HTTP post to support realtime monitoring, and an interface with software from a company called New Relic that automatically collects statistics and sends them to New Relic's portal for analysis. Accounts with New Relic, and analysis for single servers, is free. There is a fee schedule for analyzing multiple-server clusters.

Finally, there's a Notes Version Logging feature that assigns version numbers to documents and mail messages. A related feature called Notes Deletion Logging also tracks deletions of files, which can help considerably when something disappears and the administrator has to become a detective to figure out who or what deleted that something. This feature records all those actions without an overwatch feature being set in advance on a specific database as was previously necessary.

Security Enhancements

Early versions of Domino let users incorporate ciphers in their documents, but as time went on, ciphers gradually became more difficult to use. V10 simplifies the process again so users can use ciphers more cleanly.

ID Vault has been upgraded to automatically recover IDs that are no longer accessible and aren't synchronizing properly. Prior to V10, a situation might arise in which a user is using an old ID that maybe has a different password than the user ID that's in ID Vault, which would cause Domino to stop synchronizing that user's ID. In V10, there's a process called “harvesting” that will, after seven days, automatically rename the ID file so it can synchronize again.

User ID information has been moved to the Main view, so users can more easily see what vault they're in and the last time they successfully synchronized, which makes it much easier for administrators to resolve ID Vault–related problems. A new tool called QVault also lets administrators work more directly with ID Vault and do operations against ID Vault to recover information about users.

V10 now has a single sign-on (SSO) capability that gives users access to cross-environment resources without having to authenticate themselves more than once. When users authenticate to their PC, they don't have to enter their password again, whether they're coming in through a browser, or phone-enabled apps, or other sources.

Finally, there are tools for automating the configuration of whole environments. For example, the system automatically populates certain data fields to cut down on administrators having to enter that by hand or with a cut-and-paste operation.

Let's Not Forget the End Users

End users will find their share of useful enhancements in V10.

Now there's delayed mail delivery. Let's say you're working at home over the weekend and send a colleague a message, but you don't want it to get lost in the ocean of spam that might come in before Monday morning. With this feature, users can specify a date and time to send the message rather than sending it immediately.

A Microsoft Enable function lets users coordinate their calendars from MS Office 365 with their Notes team calendars.

Users can now overlay a personal calendar with their team calendars to, for example, see where an activity like picking up the kids from soccer practice might interfere with a business activity, but without letting other team members see the personal calendar.

When users schedule a meeting, in V10 it's possible for people to whom the meeting invitation was sent to nominate other people who didn't get an invitation but for some reason maybe should attend. The original sender has veto power over extending an invitation to the additional person, but it simplifies correcting the guest list if someone was, for instance, accidentally left out of the original invitation list.

Meetings that are cancelled, instead of disappearing into the ether, have a record retained so that users can look back and see all the information about the cancelled meeting if they need to.

Users can now delegate their calendars to another user, such as a personal assistant, without having to also share information about all the people on the user's contact list, as they did before V10.

A "View by Sender" feature lets users group their incoming mail—even mail received under previous versions of Domino—by who sent it. Users simply start typing in a first or last name and Domino will start listing all messages received from anyone with that combination of letters in their name.

Users can now create rules that will, for example, determine the folder in which a received message is to be filed. This rule-making ability also can be applied to messages received by a user prior to installing V10.

For the first time, the Notes client now works on a Windows tablet touchscreen. Also new is the ability to preview a whole document in a different font before deciding to actually change the document to that new font.

Finally, V10 Notes clients will provide a faster startup time (under four seconds according to some documentation) and optional feature installations.

V11 Is Really RAD

Modifications mooted for V11 will make Domino even more of a Rapid Application Development (RAD) tool, will possibly integrate new support for XPages, and will enable integration with outside apps such as Zoom and Jitsi.

What doesn't appear to be in doubt is that HCL plans to support Domino on the IBM i platform for the foreseeable future. HCL wants to maximize the audience for its new investment, and that definitely includes the i.