R5 bookmarksThis week, I think, marks the 10th birthday of Lotus Notes R5. I say “think” because I can’t remember the exact date, but I know that it shipped very late in Q1 of 1999.

I remember Lotus Notes R5 very well for a number of reasons. The first is that I spent two weeks working in Cambridge, Massachusetts (across the Charles River from what is officially Boston) in October 1998 (crumbs, last century). Myself and a team of a few other Lotus colleagues, including Jean Nelson and Craig Iffert, worked on some pre-release collateral for the product. And it was during those two weeks that I made my one and only trip to Westford, where I sat in on a Product Management meeting with the then-Notes client Product Manager – a young man by the name of Ed Brill. I wonder what happened to him…

In April 1999 we held a big launch event for Notes R5 at the London Arena. At the time it was the biggest ever Lotus event in the UK, although it’s now been surpassed by Lotusphere Comes To You. I remember a number of things very clearly…

  • It was held the day after Jill Dando was murdered… sounds morbid but it’s one of the things you do remember. I came home at lunch time to put some things together before heading up to London for the overnight stay and the incident was naturally being covered on the news.
  • We used to have loads of people in Marketing – they all stayed overnight at the hotel near the London Arena and a huge party of us had dinner. I remember wondering why we needed so many people – indeed, no offence to anyone, many of them were barely involved. The Technical Sales team were, of course, doing all the presentations.
  • Cliff Reeves, at that time the head of Product Management, went over-time on his keynote presentation… by at least 30 minutes. The producer Nikki was tearing her hair out.
  • The podium which was used for presentations didn’t have a ridge on the bottom edge, so to stop the laptops from slipping off an enterprising roadie gaffer-taped a Mars bar into position. That Mars bar was still stuck in place when the podium arrived in Manchester.
  • Attendees asked about Linux and XML. Yes, 10 years ago people were asking when Notes and Domino would be available on Linux. When people asked me about Domino supporting XML, I’d ask “well, what do you want to achieve?” – the resulting confused look told me they didn’t really know why they were asking, it was just one of those things they thought they should be asking. No-one gave me a sensible answer (although in the years since people have done, and Domino supports XML in a number of ways).

Superhuman Software

It probably won’t amaze you to hear that we do occasionally talk to customers who are still using Notes R5. I met one a couple of weeks ago, and I’m going to see another in April. It amused me and annoyed me when last year I met with people from an organisation who told me “Notes is so unattractive and clunky”. I asked if they knew how old their Notes client version was, and I saw a look of realisation on their faces when I said it was over 9 years old, and I think put it into context for the person who said that Outlook 2007 was much nicer. 8 years on you’d hope a product would look better.

Occasionally I see people in IBM still using Notes 7 (why, I do not know). Having used Notes 8.x for over 2 years I couldn’t imagine using version 7 now and I can’t believe how far the client has come since. Currently I’m using a beta of 8.5.1 and despite being a minor point release upgrade it has a few nice little improvements over 8.5.

Anyway, I’ll close by saying “happy 10th birthday, Notes R5” and let the nostalgia begin.