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IBM Connect 2016 Review

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It’s been a week now since IBM Connect, so time for my review.

A Great Feel

As many others, I went with a degree of trepidation. Verse was released to a fanfare earlier this year, when the promise was still of Notes Next and on premises Verse by the end of 2015. The focus during the rest of the year seemed to be on migrating IBM to Verse and getting XPages to Bluemix. Notes Next didn’t come. And apart from regular releases of Extension Library on OpenNTF, there was very little for customers not jumping onto the cloud, apart from IBM Connections 5.5. So there needed to be real deliverables (and more than the feature set announced over the preceding 18 months) in 2016 to appeal to the many on premises Domino and XPages customers.

But an OGS that mentioned OpenNTF, XPages and Domino before either Verse or Connections gave the right message that Domino application development – and not on Bluemix – was still very important to IBM.

The stress on the word “easy” when announcing Verse on premises and the comparison to Traveler were very welcome. They show IBM has listened to concerns from the community. Don’t get me wrong, the proof of the pudding will be in the installing and adoption, but all the right noises are being made after the (quite frankly) failures of Files and Profiles entitlements and Embedded Experiences. Adoption rates of those two have been very low from what I’ve seen, and IBM and business partners can’t afford similar adoption rates from Verse on premises. “Easy” installation of Verse is what’s needed which, as Gab Davis pointed out in a discussion, means a high quality and simple installer. It also means high quality and simple documentation on any configuration required, if possible via a wizard in the installer. Because the simple fact is that on premises administration is done by fewer and fewer people, with less and less time. And where outsourcing of administration is done, days to install and configure will not get sanctioned.

Extensibility has gone from drawing board to reality, and the extension points in Verse and ability to migrate Live Text configuration from Notes Client are very exciting. Again, there is still work to do: ability to process .ics files has to be prioritised, in my opinion, because that is the only way to allow people to automatically add something to their calendars for an event they choose to subscribe to. If the event is for a fixed group of invitees, a normal meeting invite works. But a normal meeting invite can’t work for a public event people subscribe to.

The Domino server showed a more proactive approach than last year to security. Again, that seemed a positive step following on last year needing to work on security to get the Domino server back to a modern standard.

For Domino Designer and XPages, the new features were not major new functionality, but showed IBM were listening to pain points of developers – being able to default to source pane, typeahead against beans, reducing metadata noise in source control. And open sourcing all XPages components follows on from accepting fixes and enhancements to the XPages Extension Library, to give developers greater co-ownership of the platform and ability to take it still further in new directions.

As others have said, the message was less about cloud only and XPages on Bluemix, more about choice – choice of where components are installed, choice of the technology for the components, more a message of use what you want, with something IBM.

The venue worked very well, with refreshments in the EXPO making it a central hub for the conference. That couldn’t have been done at the Swan and Dolphin, because of the logistics of the space.

The overall feel was very positive and I’m hope IBM are acting quickly to book a venue – the same one if possible – for the same time next year. The only downside was so many good sessions at the same time and no repeats, which meant difficult decisions and missing something. I hope I’ll get to see the sessions I missed at Engage.

My big takeaways were:

  • My session: It took a lot of preparation, wasn’t easy to write, but had a good feel. And the very experimental companion app (Vaadin + Domino OSGi + graph on Domino) worked well though development was completed only a few days before going.
  • Bluemix: I’ve not yet used XPages on Bluemix, because I don’t see the benefit in spending time writing Java to call a REST service to get Domino data, when there’s a perfectly good Java API available that gives native access. So I don’t see a use case for XPages on Bluemix or the XPages NoSQL Data Service on Bluemix until there’s native Java access to the data. UPDATE: thanks, Martin Donnelly, for correcting my foolish misremembering of the Java-related request I had had for Bluemix. Obviously Java access has to be possible for XPages runtime, Java access is just not yet possible for other runtimes, like Vaadin. So I really need to get started with Bluemix. But one of the big takeaways, from John Jardin’s session on Sunday, was using microservices on Bluemix against an on premises XPages application.
  • Choice: Last year the conference was about how Notes developers have become web developers, using different frameworks. This year IBM and best practice sessions endorsed using whatever technologies you wish, but against Domino data. I’m very much in favouor of that, because there is a huge amount of Domino data that companies have invested in, as well as Domino servers (which are still needed for the data of a Bluemix XPages application).
  • Darwino: I had great discussions with Phil Riand and Jesse Gallagher about Darwino. I’m very excited about some opportunities to play with it and the licensing model works well for the customers I work with.
  • OpenNTF: It was useful to meet up with other board members face-to-face. I look forward to some exciting work over the coming months, already starting with XPages Knowledge Base.
  • OpenNTF Domino API: It was also useful to meet up with the rest of the team. It will be good to have another release out soon, including the graph and REST functionality.
  • The community: It was great to see so many familiar community members, as well as some new developers. It shows that XPages is still attracting new developers.
  • The IBMers: As ever, the conference is a great opportunity to meet up with and discuss desires with IBMers. I have some hopes for the year to come, based on my discussions, some of which are requests that have been there for some time. We’ll see what happens.

The Year Ahead

So to the coming year. There will be a lot of interesting initiatives I’ll be working on, both here and on OpenNTF. On my blog I intend to complete the XPages to Web App series. On OpenNTF, we have a great team, both on the board and outside the board like Per Henrik Lausten, John Jardin and John Oldenburger. There will be more opportunities for other community members to get involved and we’re already looking at ideas to encourage and reward involvement. Plus, I’m expecting to do more with Vaadin during the year, but I hasten to add I have no plans to move away from XPages. Here’s to an interesting year.

AUTHOR - Paul Withers

Paul Withers has been an IBM Champion since 2011, has been an OpenNTF Board Member since 2013, has worked with XPages since 2009, co-authored XPages Extension Library and was technical editor for Mastering XPages 2nd Edition. He is one of the developers on OpenNTF Domino API as well as contributor to a variety of other OpenNTF projects.

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