Usability - Productivity - Business - The web - Singapore & Twins

The AppStore Conundrum

Legend has it, that Alistair, at a certain IBM event, challenged Nathan to saw controversy among the assembled participants. Nathan complied and succeeded by mumbling "We need an AppStore". So far the legend, we will never know, did this happen that way. Nevertheless the question remains:
" Does Notes need an AppStore?"
After all Apple has one for both OS/X and iOS, Microsoft has one for all flavours of Windows 8, Nokia has one for Symbian, as have Amazon and Apple for Android. There are AppStores for Firefox and Chrome. Clearly Notes need one too! There are attempts around already. Not so fast!

When looking at the AppStores one can see a pattern:
  • Applications are installed on local devices (or browsers)
  • If a server component is involved, it is provided in the cloud (outside the enterprises' firewalls)
  • The bulk of applications are for personal and social use
  • There are 10 to 100 thousands of applications
  • Most of them are free or low priced, designed for volume markets
  • AppStores mostly created a market, where there was none before
So how does Notes compare? With a few exceptions Notes applications are for collaborative use inside a corporate firewall and require a server component. A lot of Notes application are bespoke. IBM claims about 140++ M licenses sold, which is a way smaller target market than a whole OS or browser platform, who except the existing players would come along?
So there is no new market to be created. Administrators jealously guard their servers (not discussing the merits of that here). So all things a AppStore does enable more or less doesn't apply to Notes. Case closed! Not so fast!

There is room for improvement how applications are handled on the Notes platform. Two examples:
  1. In the Notes client I can hit Ctrl+N pick a template with a one line explanation, pick a server and arbitrary file name and get greeted with an error: "Bad boy, don't do this - anyway we won't let you"
  2. Have you tried to install the Connections Files Plug-in? Once you found it, download, expand, hack the plugin-customization.ini, install (Yes the admin could do that, but it is a drag
So my simple wishlist would be:
  • A new Notes.ini parameter NewDatabaseDialog=<some notes url here> and an IBM sample implementation for it (yes a more modern implementation of this). It would allow new predefined applications to be deployed more quickly than any manual process. Some accountability and "do you still use this" checks can be build in at gusto of the customer processes. Eventually a sync option with a vendor repository could be build in
  • A default toolbox.nsf created on each server install or upgrade. The database would have the extended functionality to be able to host (as a proxy) entries from remote repositories (e.g. by IBM, OpenNTF or our ISVs) and periodically check for updates (and download them for staging - think a little like RPM or DEB management in Linux)
  • A reliable automated patch management for the Domino server (but that's a slightly different story)
  • A revised home page for browser access, running on top of the application that provides the dialog of my first suggestion. It would provide access to the existing applications and the mechanism to request new ones
So users wouldn't interact with an AppStore in the wild, but the process of getting apps and tools deployed and keeping them current would be much more streamlined. Once all of that is in place and starts to make a difference I would revisit the AppStore question.
What's your take?

Posted by on 28 October 2012 | Comments (2) | categories: IBM Notes Lotus Notes


  1. posted by Axel on Monday 29 October 2012 AD:
    I see there a more general issue at IBM. Am certainly not the only one who thinks that they could make the standard routines like installation, configuration, often deployment a lot more brain friendly in a bunch of corners.

    I talk about things I am more related, too now just as an example. The Ruby-on-Rails did a lot good to Web Java, cause that challenge caused a lot of re-thinking in important and practically very relevant areas. Especially you got this convention-over-configuration thinking into the frameworks, which proved highly succesfull, which means: Standard ways to get the damn component flying without fiddling with xml files, properties-files and what not from the very start. It makes life really easier.

    Your app-store appears to me like something related. A working standard way to get a Domino App running on a Server.

    But there has to be budget for this goodness. At least IBM may reuse the proven "convention over configuration" buzz phrase as a general strategic goal.
  2. posted by Nathan T. Freeman on Tuesday 30 October 2012 AD:
    I can tell you without reservation that the legend is false. When have you ever known me to mumble?

    Alistair challenged the audience as a whole. And he offered a dollar to the first person to get an argument to break out. I wracked my brain for a few minutes, then got up and went to the microphone (this was a few years ago, so the numbers are obviously no longer accurate...)

    "Apple has sold 28 million iPhones. Last week they had the 1 BILLIONTH download from the AppStore. Apple has made over $700 million from the store and paid out over $500 million to its ISVs.

    There are around 100 million Notes clients.

    Why don't we have an AppStore? Even a conservative calculation says it's worth a billion dollars to your ISVs."

    I stepped back from the mic for a moment, and before Alistair could reply, the audience chimed in...

    "I would never let my users install stuff into their Notes client from a store."

    "Then you would be out of a job."

    ...from there the comments erupted.

    So I stepped up to the front of the room with my hand outstretched and said loudly "I'll take my dollar now."

    He took out a dollar and handed it to me. That bill is still in my wallet. Emoticon smile.gif

    Something else happened after that, but it's someone else's story to tell if he chooses.