back to article Lotus Notes refuses to die, again, as HCL debuts Domino 12

HCL has launched version 12 of Domino, the groupware server it inherited from IBM, which in turn acquired it along with Lotus Software in 1995. “Notes and Domino have been transformed”, HCL proclaimed in a launch video. That’s strictly true, even if many of the “transformations” are, in truth, merely attempts at catching up. …

  1. sebacoustic


    ...from the dim and distant past when i started an "IT career" as a data analyst with a sideline in making hopefully-useful apps for my co-workers with my new plaything Notes/Domino 5.

    But then i get those every morning when i online-clock in on the virtual punch clock web app our outsorce-happy HR department bought from an obvious low-code peddler with the telltale .nsf URL extension and requiring 5 mouse clicks where 2 at most would do.

  2. AMBxx Silver badge

    allows business users to create apps and forms

    >> allows business users to create apps and forms

    Nuke it, now.

    1. LDS Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: allows business users to create apps and forms

      When CASE became "low-code"? IT has been using Newspeak for a while now, and it worries me....

  3. Ikoth


    Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time...

    From what I recall of my Lotus Notes days, it was a mediocre email server mated with an even more mediocre database. Maybe things have improved in the intervening, ummm, decades? I do love these Reg stories that remind me how bloody old I am. As if the aching joints and increasingly fuzzy memory aren't enough. Now, where are my glasses?

    1. Piro Silver badge

      Re: Domino

      Well, it could be used as a business application platform, too

      1. John Riddoch

        Re: Domino

        I think that was generally the whole point of it - a decent database/application platform with email tagged on as an afterthought, probably as part of Zawinski's Law - "Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can."

        1. Allonymous Coward

          Re: Domino

          I used Notes for a few years in the early 00’s. That was always my take. I quite liked it, except as an email platform.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Domino

          I found Domino/Notes great in theory, but as implemented (at least for our company), lacking.

    2. Philip Storry

      Re: Domino

      I'd dispute your first statement on a technicality - Domino was an excellent mail server. It was a mediocre mail client, true - but the mail server was excellent. It had good routing controls (including least-cost routing across multiple paths), it was robust, and it was fast.

      But the one I want to really take up is that it was a mediocre database. By what measure? What other non-relational database are we comparing it to? Does that database engine have transaction logging for integrity & performance? Does it have a cluster replication engine capable of syncing a database across up to six servers? Does it have 64Gb and later effectively unlimited database sizes? Does it have a replication engine capable of field-level replication? Does it have robust security that allows access control down to the field level? Does it allow encryption of the database? Or field-level encryption? Does it allow single-object storage of attachments across multiple databases? Compression of objects within the database? Honestly, I could go on for quite a while here.

      The Domino database engine is far from mediocre. It was one of the first non-relational databases to get widespread deployment, and it did exceptionally well. If there's one thing that Notes should be remembered for getting right, it's that database engine. Modern NoSQL databases are only just beginning to catch up to what it could do.

      1. wayneinuk

        Re: Domino

        I totally agree, it was an excellent email platform and NoSQL DB and I still support a couple of sites running it, sites that never give me issues. The security was also excellent! The largest implementation I was involved in amounted to 45,000 users across 80 countries and it worked like a dream.

        1. Philip Storry

          Re: Domino

          Yep, it's very reliable.

          I can't say I've never seen corrupt Notes databases. When you work with a product for over fifteen years you see a lot of things. But the corrupt Notes databases I have seen were usually client-side, and caused by crashes - mostly on laptops, not always even Notes itself crashing.

          The server-side corruptions were exceptionally rare - the only ones that spring to mind were databases. That's the mail queue that the router uses, and as you can imagine with every single email being written into it and then deleted it takes a pounding, especially in larger environments. Even then, these were rare and were usually caused when a third party tool like McAfee crashed.

          Our solution was to move them elsewhere and let Domino generate new file(s) - then to run the database fixup tools and manually copy any unprocessed mails into the new queue DB(s). On at least one memorable occasion that proved that it was indeed McAfee dying whilst scanning something, and I can't blame the Domino database engine for that failure!

          (Plurals in parenthesis because most of our servers actually had more than one mailbox queue DB for performance reasons. This doesn't change the story.)

          I can honestly say I've lost more work to Word crashing or corrupting its files than I ever lost to Notes doing the same.

        2. Wilco

          Re: Domino

          "... it worked like a dream" - for you, the IT support person, but not, I suspect for the poor souls who have to try and get some work done with Notes as an email client, or some half baked Notes forms thing that was hacked together by Brian in accounts, who left 3 years ago.

          It was a bad idea in 1989, and it's a bad idea now. HCL and Notes - made for each other.

          1. Philip Storry

            Re: Domino

            Out of genuine curiosity - do you really think that this person had a smart host and an Exchange Server in the corner? That they'd deployed Notes to 45,000 people across 80 countries, but that they kept their own little shadow mail service just for themselves?

            Whether sysadmins or developers, pretty much everyone I know that worked with Notes also used it themselves. Alternatives were available - DAMO (for the short while it was available), IMAP/POP3, but nobody really used them because there's value in using the same platform that your colleagues outside of IT are using.

            You seem to think that the users are poor tortured souls, but that the staff in IT are somehow unaffected by the very same platform.

            So the question arises - why do so many in IT have a more positive view of Notes? My belief is that it's training. IT staff are better trained, even if just self-trained. But that's a discussion for some other day. (Short version: Training is key, we stopped doing it around the mid-2000's, it was a huge mistake for our industry. A hammer is easy to use, you still don't let people loose with them without clear directions on what you want them to hit with it...)

            1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

              Re: Training is key, we stopped doing it ..., it was a huge mistake for our industry.

              I agree entirely.

            2. DocNo

              Re: Domino

              "So the question arises - why do so many in IT have a more positive view of Notes? "

              For me it came over time - grudging respect. I **hated** Notes when it was thrust on me as an admin. We had an external partner that used it for an application we shared with them. This was also Notes 3 in the mid 90's, so yeah - it was pretty raw as a Windows app.

              But over time as I got more familiar with the system and started playing with it, the sheer power that was available - and not just to programmers but mere mortals - slowly started to reveal itself. Notes 4 and 4.5 went a HUGE way into making the client more palatable, and Notes 5 continued.

              The real problem with Notes is the cc:Mail and Notes groups competed inside of Lotus. If Lotus had forced the Notes team to adopt the cc:Mail email user interface Exchange would have gone the way of Novell.

              I think your comments on training are spot on. Once we got people familiar with it, and showed them how to unlock the collaborative power in Notes, we couldn't pry users away from it. It took me four years to get some of the most vocal opponents of Notes to be fans of it, and a few years later when another IT group won the political battles and got the org I was at to change to Exchange, I was amused (and a bit proud) that the people who years before had given me the most crap about Notes were now the biggest opponents to the Exchange migration.

              Oh yeah, that org is still running both Notes and Exchange since they have Domino apps that they haven't been able to reasonably port to something else.

              If someone knows of something that can do workflows as elegantly and powerfully as Notes/Domino, with tight integration with email and granular, role based security down to the field level that doesn't take a PHD to code - I'm all ears!

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Domino

        One thing I liked about Notes as an email client: when you were reading a message and scrolled with PgDn (or PgUp), it put a little tick mark in the margin to show the former bottom (or top) of the page. When scrolling to the final partial page, this made it really easy to find your reading position again.

        I don't think I've ever seen another GUI application do that. It seems so obvious.

        1. CarlT

          Re: Domino

          That doesn’t sound like Notes, I’ve never seen that whilst reading a document in over 25 years of usage. Unless you are referring to unread marks for documents in views.

          1. chuckamok

            Re: Domino

            Actually, I do think there is a "move to next marked document" action in Notes views, similar to "next unread" and I liked using that very much, but I never can find the icon to put it in my view toolbar. Another UI fail, those dodgy "smart icons" that hide and show in random context.

        2. CarlT

          Re: Domino

          I don’t think that was Notes. I’ve been using it since v1 and never seen that.

      3. DocNo

        Re: Domino

        "Modern NoSQL databases are only just beginning to catch up to what it could do."

        No, they aren't. Not even close. And Notes/Domino is still doing it. HCL has done way more than I expected - it's time for me to look more closely at it and start knocking heads where I am - we just wasted two years and still don't have functioning product that I know I could have had one of our mid experience Domino developers knock out in six months.

    3. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Domino

      It was a great benchmarking and stress testing tool for servers and clients alike.

    4. DocNo

      Re: Domino

      lol - IBM so completely bungled Notes I'm glad they no longer own it. Yeah, it had a wonky, non Windows GUI - but under that ugly skin was an amazingly powerful platform. Still drives me bonkers just how poorly IBM handled Notes.

      Notes had and still has WAY more functionality than Exchange ever thought of, even with email. Email was just another Notes application. If you didn't like the way it worked, you could customize/augment it. IBM had some amazing modifications to the email template that handled lots of corporate things like ediscovery and electronic filing years before whole cottage industries cropped up around that kind of stuff - but they never told anyone about them or showed them off. It was nuts!

      The tight integration with Notes applications and emails meant that with two clicks I could like someone to a notes database/application, a view within that application, a particular document or hell even a field within a document. That was bananas powerful and I still don't know of many systems that let you do it with the ease and fool proof "it always just works" way that it worked with Notes.

      Never mind built in encryption - down to the field level - again with a click of a checkbox.

      Workflows, which are the VAST majority of business processes - were and still are drop dead simple to create with Notes. I created dozens of Notes applications in a fraction of the time that any other tool - many of them are still in use today because they proved either too costly to recreate or getting the right mix of tech just wasn't practical. I'm at an organization now where we spent 2 years trying to code up some workflows to gather and aggregate information from various groups and I know if I had been able to pick Domino as the foundation I would have been done in six months. With tight integration with email to boot.

      Sounds like it's time to see what HCL is doing with the old Notes codebase. Maybe with the rebranding I can get it slipped back in and actually get some work done instead of focusing how to pile a bunch of open source and quasi open source products (and competing flavor of the moment frameworks) together that delver a fraction of what Domino provided out of the box.

  4. AndrueC Silver badge

    Wow, a blast from the past. That was the platform a previous employer used. Wasn't it Notes that displayed those odd hieroglyphics as you typed your credentials?

    Mind you for a while I managed to avoid it. I and a colleague were using OS/2 Warp so we got to enjoy ccMail instead. To be fair the integration with WPS could be quite awesome at times (I still think WPS was the best graphical shell I've ever used) but unfortunately ccMail would occasionally barf and lock the WPS message queue.

    That would require us to ask someone to Telnet into our machine and kill the WPS process. It was solved eventually when IBM relented and gave WPS multiple message queues.

    Happy days :)

    1. Allonymous Coward

      It was Notes that displayed the odd hieroglyphs, yes.

      In a piece of software not known for its usability touches, I thought that was quite a nice one. Made it easy to see if you’d typed your password correctly without actually giving it away.

      I seem to recall it was actually somewhat secure too. I forget the exact details but it was a little more sophisticated than a simple “A = bird, B = wavy line, C = head, etc” substitution.

      1. logicalextreme Silver badge

        not known for its usability touches

        I still remember the day I discovered that F5 was the "delete email" key.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge

          We used to joke that because it was a cross-platform application they wanted to avoid appearing biased by ensuring that their UI didn't meet any recognised standard :)

          1. logicalextreme Silver badge

            And now we have VS Code.

            1. AndrueC Silver badge

              I prefer VS itself. Well, 'prefer' is such a loaded word.

              I'm sick and tired of the crap, bug ridden UI that is VS. But VS at least does everything I need it to. Eventually. It often crashes but when restarted you can usually get it to do what you need.

    2. CarlT

      So you were the one using the ccMail WPS version. It was pretty much the only commercial product that made use of the true object oriented approach of Os/2 workplace she’ll.

  5. Philip Storry

    It wasn't all bad

    I do think that Notes' time has passed. Just as Outlook's time is running out.

    But sometimes when I'm trying to get things to work in this wonderful web-based world, I realise I could have done whatever it is I'm doing both more easily and faster in Lotus Notes. It was a remarkable platform.

    And the knots Microsoft tied itself into to compete with it would have been amusing, if they weren't so damned awful for us all to implement and administer. Even when delivered via Microsoft 365, SharePoint is something of a rushed dog's dinner by comparison. I know which one I'd rather have to use!

    1. chuckamok

      Re: It wasn't all bad

      As a Notes consultant, I went to a MS Sponsored Sharepoint Training in 2000. What a shitshow! I noticed you needed 4 servers stood up running handfuls of apps to do what 1 Notes server does. And how to build an app? That's another 4 day course. Building Notes apps was a lot like using HyperPad.

      Of course Microsoft just plowed them under with slick GUI and marketing efforts.

      One of the downfalls was that Anybody could build an app, and they did! What horrors.

      Replication of a single database all over is genius.

  6. Piro Silver badge

    Notes was the past.. and the future!

    Microsoft have said Exchange 2019 is the last version they'll sell for on-premise customers.

    After support runs out for that, what will companies that want all the e-mail in house do?

    It's time to dust off your old Notes skills, boys!!

    1. gryphon

      Re: Notes was the past.. and the future!

      Nah, there is a vNext coming which unlike all previous versions can be done as an in-place upgrade from Exchange 2019.

      Changing to a subscription model though.

      1. Philip Storry

        Re: Notes was the past.. and the future!

        Bloody hell!

        Are you telling me that after 26 years Microsoft have finally figured out how to copy files over existing files and how to upgrade a database?

        Took them long enough!

    2. FozzyBear

      Re: Notes was the past.. and the future!

      Personally go back to hand typed office memos. Stop all the pointless emails that flood the inbox.

  7. s. pam

    Scrotus Bloats

    1/2 an application for 1/2 a brain cell.

    Nothing sucks like Notes does - been there, had to sysadmin it at one point. On Solaris

    1. Ken G Silver badge

      Re: Scrotus Bloats

      Notes Server on Solaris? And you insult others intelligence. OS/2 for ultimate reliability.

  8. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Told this story before, but IMO, it's worth retelling..

    Back in the early 00s, I shared an office with our then DBA. We were in the process of changing email from our existing Imap/SMTP servers, and were evaluating both Exchange and Notes.

    As such, we had servers for both, and had a few users on each.

    Our DBA, somehow, ended up with the job of administering the Lotus Notes server. Not sure he understood how he ended up with it either, but he set up a perfectly workable system.

    A couple of years later, we were talking about that project,which had ended with the bulk of users staying on Imap, with a few using Exchange. Not sure why the boss didn't decide to change everyone, but he didn't. Anyhow, I asked our DBA what happened to the Notes server (which was bought specifically for the project, and was extremely powerful for the time), and whether we should use it for anything else. He emphatically said no, as it had been his footrest for the previous year, and he didn't want to give it up.

  9. big_D Silver badge

    HCL Advertising to Cloud Providers:

    Stress test your cloud today, install Domino on it!

    Mine is the one with the Lotus Notes Survivor badge on the lapel.

  10. Jay 2

    Too little, too late

    We're currently in the middle of a Notes -> Outlook migration. So the other week my ~20 odd years of Notes came to an end. It started back with Notes 4 which was good for security as it was so stupid that it wouldn't know what to do with an infected attachment even if you gave it a training video. Then I think we jumped via 6, 8 and 9. To be honest I think I had Stockholm syndrome in the end, I didn't mind it much. For many, many years we'd get new higher ups who would always complain about having to use Notes and would make noises about moving.

    Mind you the one thing they all overlooked (and still do) is that Notes isn't just email and so where do you think all those applications/databases are going to be now? Yes that's right, one of my underlings now has to go into Notes to use the holiday booking system, which then sends me an email (in Outlook) and for reasons I can't click on the link to get things to work, so I have to open up Notes to approve, which then sends them an email in Outlook.

  11. Corinth

    This does make me feel old, but...

    From what I see of 28 years of Admin, Development and using Notes it's a very good tool. Bad workpeople blame their tool! Most of the bashing is based around thinking Notes is an email client, it's not.

    After having to administer Exchange and Sharepoint a few times, I'd much rather the consistancy and ease of use of Notes/Domino than the MS debacle of producing the same workflows. Neither is perfect but I've yet to experience a business system that can adapt from the early 90s to Today with the ease of upgrade path that we have experienced using Notes/Domino.

  12. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge


    I suspect a lot of Value Added Resellers became familiar with Notes through Frontline Distribution, who put their entire catalogue on it.

  13. Ken G Silver badge

    Rise of the Machine

    Now Domino is migrating to cloud it will be even harder to kill. If Skynet declares war on humanity, there will be nsf files replicating in every terminator.

  14. Dagg

    It worked and did what was needed

    When I first used Notes in the 90s it was a one stop shop. Email, database and project workflow etc.

    I'm now using outlook, slack, Atlassian JIRA and Confluence to provide the same level of functionality.

    The once other feature that notes had that was extremely useful in the days of dialup and Slooow links was it could replicate.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: it could replicate.

      Adding to the scariness of Ken G's "Rise of the Machine" comment.

  15. Greybeard_ITGuy

    I definitely feel old now

    This harkens me back to the days when I administered cc:Mail on a token ring network with NetWare 3.12 for file servers. Oh glorious days!

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: I definitely feel old now

      Haha. I have this picture in my mind of a group of us Oldies talking about the Good-Old-Days in a pub whilst playing Dominos.

      And then I thought, how appropriate.

      I wonder if Retired Civil Engineers play Bridge whilst reminiscing.

  16. CarlT

    If you're primarily comparing Domino to Exchange, then you don’t get it and you’re doing your readers a disservice. Also domino apps have been able to run on the web since most people accessed the internet via AOL dialup, nomad brings the ability for customers to run Notes client apps in a web browser on mobile devices etc with all the security Domino/Notes offers without having to spend a fortune buying licenses for another product and paying consults $$$$ to migrate the apps to new platforms. So the company can save the $$$$ for their core business.

  17. NeilT

    Lotus Notes (server), with the Domino plug in, was able to support web apps with an interactive back end database back in 1996.

    Notes and Domino is a PKI based system for which every user has a certificate and can sign or encrypt messages to any user in the system. Yes they dropped the ball on extending this to the Internet and that their certs were not compatible with the internet standards. But whilst Microsoft apps were exchanging clear text passwords, Notes and Domino were exchanging encrypted tokens.

    The fact that companies cheapskated on hardware, or didn't understand how to build disk arrays to support Domino, meant that they wound up turning off Full Text search, leaving users believing Notes had no search capabilities. When, in fact, it had by far the best search capabilities and that same search syntax was extended to Notes apps and also to Domino Web apps.

    Even then the awareness of users as to creating a local replica and enabling Full Text searching was never there and never taught. Users just wanted to whine and companies didn't want to train users.

    In 98 we were building mail systems with 1GB mailboxes and multiple replicated mailboxes to ensure failover and continuity. When other mail systems were offering 50mbytes storage to ensure stability.

    The client was immensely powerful but created by a team who thought it was their way or the highway. Witness the battle royal over NOT making F5 locking the client as opposed to refresh of the view as in almost every other system. YET, even today, when I want to copy a meeting owned by someone else, in my O365 mailbox, into a new meeting of my own, keeping attendees and subject, I have to completely rebuild it. Notes is and was, right click and copy into new (calendar entry or mail or task).

    In Notes you could write your own automation including the command language in the toolbars and script in database agents. You could also have extremely powerful toolbar icons by using them to call agents in your local address book, over which you had full control. In Outlook this is a nightmare from hell which gets worse as companies lock out code due to the incredibly insecure nature of Outlook code. Notes has an Execution Control list with extensive controls on what agents can do, based on a 7 layer security model.

    The back end server stuff for mail routing and database have already been covered.

    Notes and Domino are littered with bad choices and bad attitudes from IBM and the Dev teams. The product, itself, was transitional and still is.

  18. Habz

    Java, Windows, Linux refuse to die. Enough already!

    It's as if people write this into their headlines in the hopes of making it a reality.

    Not only is Notes and Domino still a product, it is doing well and thriving after IBM's horrible understanding of marketing.

    For comparison, Java and Linux are both older than Notes and Windows is nearly as old. Do you still use those?

    In software, the longer it exists, the more stable and tested it is. Well... maybe not so true for Microsoft Windows. That's why "patch Tuesday" was created.

    So put the death threats to rest and start investigating and reporting for us what makes this product so revolutionary that it survived 20 years at one of the worst-performing brands in the tech industry (IBM) before being acquired by HCL.

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