Open Sourcing The Notes Client

After my experience at JavaOne, I now see the different types of revenue streams that can be generated off of open source software. Sun has certainly managed to increase their profits by doing so. Solaris adoption is increasing rapidly, especially now that there are forks of Solaris such as Nexenta (which is basically Ubuntu with a Solaris kernel). Sun learned a valuable lesson a few years ago, and they are catching up. Their products are now relevant again.

I’ve also been evaluating IBM’s Lotus Notes Linux client for the past couple of months. Its been a key reason why I’ve been able to use a Linux desktop about 80% of the time. While its been a huge benefit to have this client, its been buggy as hell. Yes, I know its a beta, but there are many features that could have been fixed by the community by now (such as creating a default debian package rather than the RPM package). While the Domino server is a truly superior product, the client is still lacking. I don’t think its going to be enough to catch up to Outlook. Its fat – it takes up lots of disk, while being a memory hog. Its currently using about 226MB on Linux.

This is my suggestion. IBM would be wise to open source the Notes client. We, the community would be better able to fix the bugs and stabilize the platform, quicker and faster than IBM can. IBM needs adoption. They are facing increased competition from Microsoft – which has a superior albeit closed client. On the other side of the spectrum are the open source messaging platforms Zimbra and Scalix. These clients, while not having the robustness of a fat client, are beautifully done Ajax/web based email clients. They simply blow DWA and OWA away.

The OpenNTF site is a great example of how the community has responded to fixing their own bugs and improving the product.I’m sure IBM has fostered it as such. IBM is a huge contributor to open source (i.e. Eclipse, Derby, etc). Now its time to open up, at the very least, the lesser profitable products. IBM does not make much on each Notes client. I think full client with collaboration (Sametime instant messaging) costs about 100 bucks, less without collaboration. I simply do not see how they can break even on development costs when they do all the development – even with the Notes client being built on top of Lotus Expeditor (IBM’s version of Equinox). IBM could open source the client, while still selling support and maintenance on the client. IBM would then reap the benefit of having the development community participate in the client’s evolution, thus reducing their development cost. Any software vendor’s bread and butter is in maintenance anyway, not up front licensing. That has become more and more a break even business, and now sometimes a losing business.

Now is the time. Open up IBM….

One Response to “Open Sourcing The Notes Client

  • Hi Kenny —

    I’m the worldwide sales leader for Notes/Domino. While IBM doesn’t break out per-product revenues, I assure you that your assertions on revenue and profitability are incorrect.

    There are many challenges to placing a product like Lotus Notes into open source. Some parts of the Notes code are elderly, since the product first shipped in 1989 and has always had a strong commitment to backward compatibility. Some of that code is licensed from other vendors. Then there are the testing and supportability issues of producing a client that runs on three different operating systems and in 26 different languages.

    Those aren’t insurmountable issues, but I disagree that the open source community could be fixing issues faster. There will be another beta build of Notes 8 shortly, and I think you’ll be pleased to see the progress. I also hope you have been submitting bug reports for the issues you have encountered.