It’s a little over a week now since ICON UK and a couple of weeks until the Domino V10 launch, so it’s a good time for a review. ICON UK was a very busy time for me. This year as well as speaking and being involved with Intec as Platinum Sponsor, I was also Development track manager so helping out with the setup.

The event was not as large as Engage, but the timing always makes it a key event in the Domino calendar. That was even more true with the Domino V10 launch date announced shortly before the event. The OGS from IBM cemented the message on Domino with a focus on the launch of V10 and the build-up to Domino V11. There is already work happening on V11 and a clear theme around what I’ve seen. The jams that will be coming later this year (November, I believe) will double down on that. But I fully expect that new areas in V10 will be matured during that timeframe as well.

Some of those new areas that got prominence in the conference were the new HTTP methods for LotusScript, DQL and the DominoDB npm module. What we’re getting is going to be very interesting, but there is a clear understanding – as there was at the HCL Factory Tour in July – that this is a first release of those and there are key requirements to make it more powerful. DQL is great and extremely performant, but the ability to run a single query over multiple NSFs will make it really powerful. Obviously there will be additional work around what index behind the scenes is used. The DominoDB npm module will open up JavaScript development with a more secure, easier to build API layer than DAS allowed. But more work is required for handling rich text and images. Currently showing an image requires URL access to the NSF itself. That’s not a desirable approach for Node.js apps, so we need some way to stream the image over gRPC. Plus there will be more work around handling security and design. After all, there’s no point allowing JavaScript developers to create an application in e.g. VS Code while requiring them to use Domino Designer to create the views (basically indexes) required to optimise DQL and set database properties. Obviously that kind of work will continue during the life of Domino V10.

The Intec sponsor session was an interesting one to be involved with. As a services company we don’t have a product to push per se. So it was good to discuss concepts around the customer journey. Whether it’s analytics, applications or chatbots, I personally favour a bespoke approach. Domino has benefited from being able to build custom applications to fit bespoke business processes. There are some business processes that can be more off-the-shelf. But the ones tied to your business’s raison d’etre will typically be bespoke because it’s your bespoke processes that give you your competitive edge. With chatbots, your business language and tone is specific to your business. So for all of this, the RADD benefits of Domino for pro-code development and low-code development, make a lot of sense.

The other key session was the HCL keynote with Red Pill Now on HCL Places. It’s great to see this has evolved even further than what was shown at the HCL Factory Tour. It was also amusing to see the functionality in the context of ODA (OpenNTF Domino API). There were a lot of aspects that were familiar, like use of the message queue, server-wide indexing and graph database concepts with likes, shares, comments etc. Yes, there’s a lot of work yet to go, after all it’s still currently Java behind the scenes. And currently there’s no way with the message queue system, AFAIK, to get an event for a document modified on a different server – the save events (yes, there are two!) only trigger on the server the save occurs on and the replication events don’t seem to pick up updates pushed from another server. That I’m sure is something the server guys can fix at a micro level with macro impacts. But the product is making good progress. The commercials and admin aspects are still unclear, but as a client (as I said in the Ask The IBM Champions session) it offers strong benefits as a client to customers. It will be good to see how it develops alongside parallel work on the Notes Client user interface. It was also interesting to get a deeper understanding of the way HCL want to work with the community on the products.

The “Ask the IBM Champions” session was also very interesting. I do get a little self-conscious in these sessions that I give opinions on a lot of questions and hopefully other Champions feel they also have a chance to have their say. But it’s always interesting to see the questions raised. And I’ll always look for an opportunity to say “We’ll take that back”.

In terms of the dev track sessions, it was a hectic schedule with some key topics. One session I particularly wanted was Theo Heselman’s session on modernising Notes Client apps. Theo and those who helped him did a great job on giving a facelift to his wine app at the HCL Factory Tour and afterwards, and it’s great that he’s also going to open source it on OpenNTF. The work he’s done is great. It’s a big deal that HCL Nomad will allow Notes Client applications to run on an iPad and in the future we’ll have support too for Android tablets, plus Theo also demoed the app on his wife Hilde’s Microsoft tablet. It means those applications can be used on new devices with zero additional cost. But I’ve been very vocal that companies should take some of that unexpected and massive cost saving and invest in modernising the look and feel of their Notes Client applications before deploying them to iPads. An application that is five years old on a desktop looks five years old, but it’s also working alongside applications that only work in Internet Explorer in compatibility mode. But put those same applications on an iPad alongside what else only works on an iPad, and it will feel a lot more than five years old. Spending nothing will mean they’ll work for the cheapest possible cost, but there’s a reason the word “cheap” is often paired with “nasty”. Learn from the kinds of things Theo’s done, use some imagination and make your apps shine!

Beyond this session, and the HCL / IBM sessions, it will have become apparent that most dev sessions covered JavaScript frameworks. The same occurred was the case at Engage. This was deliberate. In order to be ready to take advantage of what HCL and IBM are delivering, there is a huge learning curve for developers and a significant amount of investigation to choose the right framework for you and find the right approach. User groups are a key part of that education, as are other fora like the webinar John Jardin and I did a few months ago and the blog series Tim Davis has been doing on Node.js. It’s a shame more developers from UK didn’t attend because obviously focuses change from year to year, so it’s not appropriate to repeat all those sessions again next year. I know there is work that has already been happening on finding other educational routes, and it is even more important that those opportunities aren’t missed. IBM, HCL and the community can only do so much to modernise developers. There needs to be a willingness from developers and managers to take those opportunities.

I know there has been a lot of discussion in the community about XPages and some may wonder why there were no XPages sessions at ICON UK. But there were other topics that were more timely and which speakers have been investigating. Node.js, React, Vue.js and progressive web apps are what we’ve been looking at to prepare for the new functionality being provided. There is a huge corpus of XPages sessions already available, covering everything from the basics to advanced concepts that few may be covering like plugin development. That’s not to mention the blog posts and videos, even covering tangential things like Java development using frameworks like Vaadin. I’ve said all year that XPages is very mature and it’s right to focus on JavaScript development. I still firmly believe that. I’m done work on JavaScript frameworks and I’m very impressed by Node-RED as a companion to a Domino environment (I’ll be speaking on Node-RED at Social Connections and at IBM Think next year). But that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned XPages or have any plans to abandon XPages. I’ve planned for a while to write a blog post on my experiences of investigating React vs XPages.  The “tl;dr” is that I still believe XPages is quicker for me and based on the understanding I’ve gained and tried to share. It’s a framework I very much enjoy working with and don’t have a massive list of critical requirements. And it’s a technology that still generates modern-looking applications that my users are very happy with. Where the future of XPages lies, I’m not sure. But from private conversations with people at both IBM and HCL throughout this year, I know there have been discussions, I know there have been ideas, and a variety of potential approaches. A decision will come when feasible, which I don’t expect to be before the V10 launch and don’t expect to be at the V10 launch – that event after all is about V10, not what’s out of scope for the initial V10 delivery. I’m not hearing a clear overwhelming consensus – some want upgrading of JSF (though the idea on the Domino ideas forum gives no background on what benefits this would add and I can’t shed any light on that either), some want to upgrade Dojo, some want to remove Dojo, some may want to a tool that migrates to other Java frameworks, some want open sourcing. Open sourcing all the components and datasources is a popular idea and one I’d like, because things like view handling, document handling, attachment and image handling would benefit from us all being able to better understand what’s happening and it could also be leveraged by Java developers. For open sourcing to develop XPages it still requires a committed, knowledgeable community to support XPages as a community project. So if it happens, hopefully there will be people keen to get involved – and because of other focuses where my community time is best spent, I’ll openly say right now that I may not have the time to get involved.

All-in-all it was another very enjoyable, very interesting conference from which I got a lot of information, had some very useful strategic discussions and had the chance to re-connect with a lot of friends. These are interesting and busy times. Next up is Social Connections in a few weeks, and hopefully that will equally give good news on the products.

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