If you were a Mac user in the 90s and early 2000s, life could be tough. Though you loved your platform of choice and could see its advantages plain as day, you were in a distinct minority. The world was full of people ready to line up to explain why you're an idiot on a sinking ship. And the part that stung was that they weren't always wrong: for every person talking out of their ass about how great having a menu bar in every window was or the joys of running ancient line-of-business DOS apps, someone else pointed out the very real stability and performance issues that plagued classic Mac OS and OS X respectively, the fifth-class-citizen status among game developers, or the very-real possibility that Apple would join Netscape and Be under the treads of Microsoft's then-indomitable war machine.
The recourse for users was reflexive defensiveness. Mac market share is down to 2%? Well, that's the good 2%. Windows 2000 is actually stable and fast now? Well, the UI is still second-rate. Schools are switching en masse to PCs? Boy, they'll regret that when their cheap Dells give out! Much like the slings and arrows thrown at the Mac community, these defenses contained just enough truth to soothe the wounds, but it didn't matter. Maybe the community circling the wagons staunched the bleeding a bit, but the thing that really mattered was Apple breaking its own malaise and making great products again.
Unsurprisingly, what has me thinking about this is Domino. Specifically, the popularity of a post on Chris Miller's blog about Denny's apparently switching away from Notes. Now, I don't have a gripe with the post or the specifics of the situation - for all I know, Denny's is making the worst decision of its corporate-IT life. What bothered me is the paint-by-numbers way the story echoes through the Domino community. We've seen these things go around before, and the components are familiar when Company X decides to ditch Notes/Domino for Competitor Y:
- "Just wait until they see the REAL cost of Y! Then they'll be sorry!"
- "They must not be thinking about all their crucial apps! Y doesn't do that!"
- "Their stated reasons are wrong! They said Domino doesn't do Feature Z, but Domino is actually the BEST at Feature Z!" (nowadays, replace with "Use some other IBM product to get Feature Z!")
- "This is the work of some clueless IT manager who's just following the trends!"
- "They must be using an ancient version of Notes! Modern Notes clients are exemplars of memory efficiency and clean design!" (alternative for server admins: "They must not have configured their mail environment properly!")
- "I betcha they'll still be using Notes for their crucial apps in ten years, 'migration' or no!"
Much like the defenses of classic Mac OS, these all contain kernels of truth, and maybe Company X would indeed be better off sticking with Domino. But are these really claims you want to hang your hat on? The last one in particular is telling. Does it really fill your heart with pride that companies are going to be saddled with ancient, un-migratable code until the sun goes nova? There's a reason why "modernization" is such a big topic for Domino developers: the unfathomable mass of legacy Notes client apps is a severe issue. Whether you attempt to deal with it via clever en-masse approaches, by using remote-desktop workarounds, or by dragging apps one-by-one into the present, there's no getting around the fact that depending on Notes client apps is now an undesirable condition for a company.
So what's to be done about it? Well, for the most part, that's IBM's job. But for an individual developer, it's better to focus on why you should build a Domino app today, not decades ago. It builds on the past, sure - an XPages app I've been building for a client brings together data from dozens of their existing apps built over years in ways that would be much more difficult on other platforms. But even better is to acknowledge reality with clear eyes. Google Apps are really good, and they work on everything! Exchange provides a better mail/contacts/calendar experience for varied clients than Domino does. Non-XPages web-dev environments are brimming with surprising features and deployment has gotten good in recent years. The advantages of other platforms are not necessarily enough to be worth a switch, but they still exist.
Personally, yes, I care whether Domino ends up flourishing, but I profit more from addressing reality as it is rather than immediately dismissing bad news as illegitimate.