Engage 2019 Recap

Theo Heselmans and his wife Hilda have once again pulled off a wonderful event in Brussels. The world’s biggest ICS conference attracted attendees from all over the world, from as far away as New Zealand, Japan, the U.S.A and even La Réunion.

HCL continued to impress with its energy and commitment, but in terms of news there was nothing newer than what was divulged at the HCL Milan factory tour.

The sessions which I thought most thought provoking were Knut Herrmanns’ Web-component session, which demonstrated the creation of custom HTML tags (enticingly, he created a new tag <domino-view>). Knut does have a bad habit of saying ‘this is really easy’ at the moment that I am struggling to understand.
Jesse Gallagher suggested compelling ways of recycling skills learned with XPages, since it has become clear, if not officially admitted, that XPages will not receive much investment in the future.

Gab Davis made an enlightening comparison between the on-premise Mail servers Domino and Exchange and I discovered that Microsoft has made a sterling effort at making the local e-mail client experience very configurable, whereas Domino has crafted an experience which is apparently more admin-friendly. This surprised me, as I thought the admin interface for Domino was not first in class. Frank van der Linden made an honest comparison between the currently popular front-end frameworks Angular, React and Vue, and ended up with preferring Angular. There was some huffing and puffing from the back rows from Thilo Volprich (who prefers Vue) and Knut Herrmann (who prefers React)

Daniel Nashed and Thomas Hampel were obviously having fun showing us how to implement a Domino server within a Docker file; they will make the images and the scripts available to us. I imagine this should simply deployment, especially for small contained applications, but I can’t yet see the direct use case for this.

For me it was also a first at Engage as I presented a session on Software Documentation. I must admit that I didn’t really relax until after my session was over. If you’re interested the presentation can be downloaded here:


One point that was reinforced: if you want to really know something, you should
present it. Turns out the risk of being asked a question that one can’t answer
is a powerful motivator. In the case above, there was a certain amount of
voodoo magic in the Makefile syntax, which I had previously just shrugged off
with a ‘well that works anyway’ and which I now understand.

I was impressed that Peter Straxx, of the Belgian GroupWave company (one o SNoUG’s sponsors last year), actually owned a Lotus car and had showcased it at
the venue entry.

As to the venue, Autoworld is certainly impressive and the cars a wonder to look at. It did sometimes feel too big, where even for the first and last keynotes, when we were 440, the place is so spacious that it looked like we were too few.

I learned a lot, ate too much, drunk too much lovely beer, and caught up with
old friends and acquaintances. Wonderful.

HCL Factory Tour 2 – a look into the pipeline for Domino/Notes

The HCL Team, lead by Richard Jefts, was kind enough to invite me to its second Factory Tour, this time in Europe, in the HCL offices in Milan, in Italy. Milan is just a 3.5 hour trip in the train from Zürich, going through the new Gotthard tunnel, so it was an almost leisurely travel, compared to the trip to Boston last year.


There were 140 attendees, the majority coming from German-speaking countries.

We were treated to a wonderful evening, discovering the sights of Milano, and being invited to the Grand Hotel to eat delicious Italian food. Most of my table asked for a second serving of risotto!

Here are my take-home points:

Better Builds

HCL is modernising the build processes. The aim is to have consistent builds where all the software gets simultaneously built and released. In particular, we’re seeing simultaneous builds for the clients (i.e. Mac and Windows at the same time) and for the products (Domino, Notes, Sametime). It’s a most welcome development.

The last release of Domino saw some quality issues with the Language packs. Kudos to HCL’s Russ Holden for acknowledging the quality issue and dealing with it. Building language packs was, in the past, done by a completely independent department, almost as an afterthought. It turned out that the internationalisation process was not completely automated and needed some laborious manual adjustments. The upside of this is that now that the issue has been surfaced, the core Domino Team will be doing the internationalisation internally, automatically, which means that the next releases will see the language packs being simultaneously released with the main build. This is excellent news for European customers whose software won’t be second-class citizens anymore.

Better Processes

HCL is intent on having a closer relationship with its customers and its business partners, and we were shown many improvements that made me, as a small business partner, smile with barely concealed excitement.

The processes that are being now replaced were unwieldy and frustrating. These were tailored for large enterprises and not to small, nimble companies, and it’s very rewarding to see how HCL is revamping this:

Better support:

We’ve been treated to exceptionally fast support over the past year coming from HCL. The presence on Twitter is remarkable, and the speed with which issues are cleared is a real relief, and a real surprise compared to the previous, glacial pace. Kudos to Michael Fiorentino for the sterling work here.

Previously, business partners were not able to register issues and bugs directly, this will now change.

Better interaction with the customers:

HCL introduced their customer advocacy program, which will give you as a customer direct access to someone within the development team. This is such a good idea.

If you are a customer, register yourself on:


Closer relationship with the business partners

Speaking as a small provider, IBM’s process for obtaining licenses was so complicated, slow and heavy that it was not commercially viable to resell licenses, or to bundle services with installations. HCL’s processes are far more direct and the licensing model for new licenses will be far simpler. This opens opportunities for SMB clients (and the smaller, local providers which these favour).

If you are a business partner, be sure to register on:


Better Software

HCL Nomad (Notes Apps on Tablets)

We were shown a very polished, very quick demo of HCL Nomad (a Notes Client working within a tablet) on an Android device. The delicious side-effect of porting the code to Android is that HCL used OpenGL, which means that the codebase can be compiled as WebGL, which means it can be compiled for browsers! Yay.

There is still some work to be done as to the distribution mechanism, but I would say this is coming close to a shipping date.

Verse on Premise

Verse is also getting a makeover, including a much-expected revamp of the calendar view.

Better clarity on the future of the clients.

I was confused about was how to square backwards compatibility with a smaller, quicker client. As far as I have understood (the following here are my opinions):

The thick client based on Eclipse is going to stay on with minimal improvements so as to ensure backwards compatibility for customers that depend on the full range of the thick client’s capabilities.

HCL Places is still a work in progress and will include some Low-Code options, apparently with an engine based on Node-Red. This seems to imply that HCL Places will try to integrate into cloud-based solutions with microservices.

The new kid on the block (for me) was the upcoming lightweight client. As I’ve understood, this will integrate the HCL Nomad code for interacting with applications, and Verse for the Mail experience. This is reassuring, both components seem well on their way and conceptually seems something which will be relatively straightforward to implement.

Search and DQL – security model will be seamless

The security model of Notes is the single biggest advantage the platform has over all others. As a developer, not having to worry about who has access to what data, once this has been determined on the record/document level, gives me great speed in development.

The demos we saw of DQL and of searching with Elastic Search were using Anonymous access. I was worried that we would lose our edge if the security model was not respected at a low-level, but HCL assured us that they are very aware of this. I’m hoping that the next demonstrations will include authorization and authentication.

Focus on application development.


We had a surprise final keynote delivered by Volker Weber of vowe.net fame. I was delighted to see that Volker’s skills in stripping down things to the essentials was reflected in his presentation’s format – a series of pictures with no text, and the presentation’s content – which was to recognise that the core feature of Domino is cheap, robust app development. I couldn’t agree more, and I’m convinced that HCL agrees wholeheartedly too.
These are exciting times ahead for our community.

Engage 2018 recap

Engage 2018 was the best Engage I’ve ever attended. Not only was the organisation and venue superlative, but the recent energy of the new HCL team was infectious.

IBM’s Bob Schulz delivered a soporific and uninspired Keynote speech, in sharp contradistinction to Richard Jeft’s and Andrew Manby’s energetic, and funny, presentation. Their enthusiasm was infectious.


New announcements:

HCL Nomad

Most promising was the presentation by Andrew Davis showcasing Nomad, which is a Notes Client running on an iPad. He demoed the current version, which only works online. They are working on improving the controls (dropdowns, checklists etc.) to work on a touchscreen, and that seemed to be working well. Links (doclinks, database links) are working.

The next necessary step is making Nomad work offline, which would imply implementing the replication engine, but also implementing a local full text indexing. I imagine that that will be challenging. Promising, also, is the extension of LotusScript to be able to access the mobile devices’ goodies such as cameras, location.

I can see a good use case for field service workers who need a fully offline machine, and I can also imagine this would be a very easy way to surface pure Notes Client applications to the iPad with very little cost (since the codebase must not be modified).

I’m not convinced with the attempt to make Notes applications work on the iPhone, the format is just not compatible with the existing application layouts.


Andrew Davis showing how Node.js will be integrated into the Domino stack – architecturally elegant, methinks.

HCL Places

A surprise was Jason Gary’s prototype demonstration of ‘HCL Places’, an universal integrated chatclient/Notes Client which would run in a single application, with data storage on the Domino server. It’s one of those products that HCL can market independently. Looks promising, but probably needs a lot of work for it to fly.


Notes Client:

Ram Krishnamurthy showed some of the new changes in the Notes Client. I found most of them small incremental UI changes. The Workspace is getting a makeover, and I hope that what was shown is not the latest offering – the spacing of the tiles was all wrong in my opinion.

The real improvements was the decision to merge both mac and Windows codebases for the client (presumably as a result of high mac usage within IBM) and the simultaneous release of all codebases (including Sametime, which caused much of the headaches of Domino 9.01FP10). Both these changes should improve the quality of the delivery.

As a side note, it’s interesting that both HCL Places and Nomad are integrating the ‘pure’ C++ Notes client. This reinforces my feeling that there is true beauty and robustness in the ‘small’, ‘basic’ client, and that the 2008 revamp using Eclipse RCP is just a flaky, clumsy abomination whose costs (slowness, size, difficulty to configure, architecture breaks) are not compensated by its advantages. HCL announced they would sunset unused functionalities, and that is welcome. Hogne B. Pettersen suggested to ditch the RCP implementation entirely, and I  secretly cheered.


some small improvements announced, but I think it’s clear XPages are a dead end.

New interesting technologies and skills:

Of particular interest was Knut Herrmann and Paul Harrison’s session on Progressive Web applications, an easy way to adapt a web application so that it behaves like a native mobile app, without the hassle of passing it through the testing of an app store.

ENGAGE_2018 - 2

Also fascinating was Paul Withers’ and John Jardin’s session ‘Domino and Javascript Development Master Class’. Node.RED is definitely a technology I’d like to look in. As a tip, Paul suggested making REST Tests directly with Node.RED, and not with Postman, for instance. And Node.RED is an easy way to deliver scheduled actions.

ENGAGE_2018 - 1


Most enjoyable is that Engage is meeting the community. Probably because of the long history of the platform, real ties of friendship make this community special, much more than any of the other gatherings I’ve attended over the past years. There is always somebody who can help!


IBM Champions on stage

Can HCL deliver?

That’s the crucial question. Whereas I am impressed by the new team’s vision and obvious energy, my gut feeling is that they are overambitious and risk underdelivering. Jason Gary mentioned ‘we’re just like a startup’, which made me wince since in this space, with a large legacy codebase, you don’t have the luxury of a green field. The risk I see is V10 breaking existing functionality, which would be fatal.

During questions and answers I asked Richard Jefts: ‘who was responsible for the Notes 9.01FP10 release?’, as the quality assurance on that release was sub-par. Richard took it on the chin, to his credit, assumed responsibility, and told us that a separate QA post had been created to avoid this happening again. There again, the risk here is delivering under time pressure a software product that isn’t sufficiently tested.

Thanks to the Engage Team and the sponsors

Theo Heselmans made a sterling job of organising the event, as usual, and the venue was particularly well suited. The venue was the spectacular SS Rotterdam, a permanently moored cruise ship. The sessions were in the ship, we slept and ate in the ship. Many thanks to the sponsors which makes this event possible, and free!


On a personal note, the gods of luck were with me and I won two the two prizes that tickled my fancy: a LEGO set from OnTime and a Raspberry Pi housed in a BBC Micro B housing from LDC Via. Awesome!


Matt White from LDC Via presenting me with their awesome giveaway – a Raspberry Pi housed in a BBC Micro B

Back from ICON UK with some goodies.

Another year gone and ICON UK did not disappoint. Tim Clark made a wonderful job of continuing on the success of last year’s performance, bringing back the event to two full days. IBM graciously hosted us in its stanley kubrik-esque Client Center, with stunning Thames views, lovely food, good infrastructure. Wonderful.

René Winkelmeyer held a wonderful session on gradle and I was very impressed by his mastery of his computer. He was actually using vim to edit text files, and I must admit that I was so impressed that I am actually writing this blog on vim, learning the hard way. Really fast, configurable, powerful text editors that are done for programmers seem to be more and more the norm. Beside vim, there’s sublime text, Matt White mentioned Atom as being his favourite, and I must admit that it is really a refreshing break after Eclipse, which is slow and ponderous in comparison. I’m not even making the comparison to DDE.

Here are the slides: http://www.slideshare.net/muenzpraeger/iconuk-2015-gradle-up

Speaking of gradle, that’s another trend which I can see happening in parallel in several different systems. I’ve been discovering the joys of Linux and scripting because of a small raspberry pi project I am doing on the side, and there is a common theme of self-updating, self-building systems, be it apt-get (for linus os x updates), or bower (for javascript libraries), or homebrew formac os libraries, or maven for building up the dependencies for a java project. The skillset needed to build a modern project is getting to be more and more to know which great big building blocks are needed and mastering the building tool. I’ve been trying to get my head around Maven right now, but since I heard some dark mutterings by Paul Withers about the documentation of Maven, I think I’m going to just jump over Maven and go to gradle directly.

I had the pleasure attending the session by Bill Malchisky and I’m proud to say that I understood at least half of what he said. He speaks surprisingly fast and surprisingly exactly; it’s an uncommon combination but one really needs to listen hard. He is also a script master, and again, eerily, a nudge in the direction of ‘invest in your text-editor and typing skill’.

Matt White showed the magic of node.js, which is used extensively in their solution LDC Via, and there again I was seduced by the simple structure, and the promise of only a single thread working very very fast.

I spent a thoroughly enjoyable hour with Serdar, and I discovered that we share many opinions as ‘convinced skeptics’. It was a pleasure to bash on pseudoscientific nonsense with him. Next time I’ll bring woowar in and we’ll do a bigger skeptics session.

On the second day Andrew Grill showed the advantages of Connections, his style was entertaining and persuasive. His colleague Harriet explained to us rather condescendingly what it was to be a millenial. I didn’t understand why being impatient and having a short attention span is somehow good, and I took exception to the comment that millenials don’t read instruction manuals but just expect things to work immediately out of the box. Surely that is a result of extraordinarily good product development (I am thinking in particular of the Apple products), and it’s not because the millenials are this super-brainy generation. Making things simple is extraordinarily difficult. Just try it.

Engage 2015 as engaging as ever

Engage is the most successful LUG in Europe, and as usual I am slightly bewildered by how Theo Heselmans, our gracious host, manages to pull it off. The venue was lovely, the opening session room stunning, and the content was very high quality. I really enjoyed meeting many community members whom I had only seen online, including a couple of my Stackoverflow saviours (Per, nice to have met you!)

The city of Ghent itself was a nice surprise. The inner city is full of history, with many old buildings harking back to a more prosperous past, and a surprising number of churches. I had a little walk to the north of the city, though, and it’s obvious that the city went through an industrial phase which it got out of and has not really recuperated from.

Here are my technical take homes from the whole two day session:

Both Ulrich Krause and Frank van den Linden independently confirmed that they didn’t like the new ‘Java’ element and found the oldskool WEB-INF folder stabler.

Theo Heselmans presented some of the Javascript frameworks he’s been using; I knew Bootstrap and Backbone; he recommended Ratchet and Knockout as well. Also, if you want to store local stuff, the way to go nowadays is no longer cookies but the manifest or local storage.

John Daalsgard had a good session explaining the Domino REST API; I learned lots of stuff but was sort of disappointed that authentication was not really talked about. Most of the examples were using anonymous access, and authentication is still not really an easy thing to do. Paul Harrisson, who did the local web application for engage, pointed me to his blog entry about authentication. I’ve been working with Julian Buss’ framework DominoToGo and I was initially under the impression that the REST Services introduced in 9.0.1 would mitigate its usefulness but I’m coming to the conclusion that as soon as you get out of the demo-cases ‘simple text’ and ‘anonymous access’ things start getting complicated using REST, i.e. one has got to start coding things oneself.

One of the most interesting sessions was the one on GIT done by Martin Jinoch and Jan Krejcarek. Martin was very stern and he endeavoured to persuade us to abandon the idea that the source code resides within the NSF and that the Git repository is the backup. Rather, the source code is in GIT and the NSF is just a throwaway, last-minute build construct. I almost broke in tears. Martin also admonished us to turn everything off that automatically builds, including the nsf to on-disk-project sync.

I was also relieved to hear that other fellow developers were irritated by ‘false positives’, i.e. files that have been touched, and therefore appear in the staging area of git, but whose code has not been practically modified, and therefore are really cluttering. There is a project called DORA which alleviates this, but it only works if one starts the project with it. Implementing it midway is bad, apparently (thanks to Serdar).

The London Developer Co-op was there in force, with a stand even, and showed us a very polished product for data exporting. I can see use cases if customers just want to store their data somewhere else, to finally kill off the remnants of their Domino infrastructure, but the fact that the business logic does not get exported will still represent a large exit barrier.

Mark Leuksink and Frank van den Linden introduced me also independently to bower, a package manager that manages the javascript library dependencies automatically for you. The idea here, if you’re doing an XPages project, to have bower point at your ods structure and do the updates here. You’ll need to press F9 in the package explorer before syncing the project.

In the mindblowing categories, Nathan Freeman showed the Graph construct he has made available within the OpenNTF Domino API. Documents stored in nsf without views? That’s just weird. Possibly illegal. And whereas I can see obvious advantages in terms of speed when the data structure is already known in advance, especially for transversal, multi-layered searches like ‘show me the persons who know the persons I know’, I’m not sure how the Graph concept would deal with ad-hoc requests, or with a change in the underlying data structure. I would really like to see what sort of measurements one can make as to the performance of data writing and reading, especially in large numbers. The demonstrations as well were built from scratch, and worked well, and I’d be very interested to see what happens when one takes an existing data landscape and ‘graphs’ it.

The final session I attended was from Paul Withers and Daniele Vistalli. Paul presented the newest possibilities of the next version of OpenNTF Domino API. They are introducing a concept of metaversalID which is a combination of database replicaID and Document Universal ID, and apparently the code has been made Maven-compatible. It looks like we will have, in conjunction with Christian Güdemann’s work on an eclipse builder, soon a system where we can start thinking of continuous builds. We’ll be big boys, then, finally.

Daniele introduced the Websphere Liberty Server. I had dismissed the Websphere server as a huge, lumbering IBM monster but apparently the Liberty Server is small and lightweight. And then, doing some magic, Paul and Daniels made the Liberty Server behave just like a Domino server. The demonstration was still very much in beta stage, and I’m not clear as to the implications of this tour de force. But it might be a game-changer.

my non-technical take homes:

When travelling, bring two phone chargers. With the iPhones losing juice so quickly, losing your charger leaves you strangely vulnerable and incommunicado. Thanks to Ben Poole for letting me load up at the LDC Via stand.

It is unwise to start debating with Nathan Freeman at 2.30 in the morning after everyone else has been kicked out of the hotel bar, and Nathan has a bottle of tequila in an ice bucket.