January 22, 2013
I used it extensively at several companies I worked with. Initially, it was mysterious and powerful. Like most end-users of Lotus Notes, I used it primarily as an email program. It had its quirks, but it worked. But there was another dimension to Notes, a powerful, programmable backend that let you create databases and workspaces for collaborative work, contact management, information sharing, and communication.
Today, we’d call it a collaboration tool or a corporate social-media tool, and it would be web-based and standards-compliant, like Yammer, Jive, and Huddle. In the absence of standards, Notes’ engineers had to invent everything themselves, making it a clever but proprietary solution.
But long before those web-based startups came along, Notes was already losing its cool. The client software became huge and bloated. It was expensive to implement and difficult to customize.
I think I’m legally not supposed to remember that in about 1995, a company I worked for — Open Text — ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming “Notes is dead.” ‘Twas the Web that killed it, the ad claimed. I was Marketing VP at Open Text at the time, but the ad was conceived and placed by a different VP. I didn’t hear about it until the morning it appeared; Open Text was that sort of place. And, yes, a lawyer did call us rather promptly.
Anyway, 18 years later, it seems like that bold headline might be coming true.
To be fair, it was true enough at the time. Notes has hung on primarily as an email tool, not living up to its promise as an enterprise collaboration system. And that was indeed because the Web came along with more open solutions that ran in browsers. Eventually. It took a visionary to think that the crappy browsers of that era would someday host fullscale apps — I floated the phrase “client/surfer architecture” but it never took off — but Netscape had such visionaries, and so did Open Text in the form of its CEO, Tom Jenkins.
Lotus Notes was noble software. Brilliant idea. Immensely powerful. But once the Web happened, the jig was up. It took about a decade for enterprises to be willing to trust their mainstream collaborative processes to the Web and its browsers. But eventually Web clients scaled up in power, functionality, and robustness…enabling systems far beyond what the old proprietary backend systems could manage.
Conclusion: There is no escaping Ozymandias.