PermaLink My early days in Notes/Domino04/05/2008 10:00 PM
Since other people have been ruminating about how they got involved in the Notes/Domino world back in the days, I guess I should do it, too...

I came to Maryland in 1990. Initially, I was working with a company I refer to as The Consulting Idiots... a Lancaster, Pennsylvania consulting company started by two former IBM midrange salesmen and brothers. They, of course, focused on clients with IBM midrange gear... their meat-and-potatoes business was converting people from IBM 4341s to System 34/36 back in the days before AS/400. At one point they noticed that there were these things called "LANs" and people were spending money on them. So, they hired me and I moved down from Buffalo.

Problem was, they had absolutely no idea how to do consulting for people who were installing LANs. I tried to explain to them that while a client spending $60,000 to integrate and deploy some System 36es that had cost them half a million bucks or more was common, nobody was going to buy a $10,000 NetWare server and then spend $60,000 to install it. It just... didn't... happen.

They basically had no idea how to sell my time, but that didn't stop them from complaining about my not hitting my billable hours quotas, so eventually told them to bite my touch-hole, and I left. Did some independent consulting, worked for a networked CAD reseller/integrator for a while, and then one day I got a call from a small consulting company in Virginia who had a big federal client. With some reservations, I took the job in the summer of 1992, and ended up doing R&D and prototyping interesting technology for said big federal client.

One of the things they were working on in late 1992 was a way by which they could get medical reports and evidence from hospitals and doctors electronically, in an encrypted and non-refutable form. Martin-Marietta (now Lockheed-Martin) had had that task before me, and after writing a buttload of abortive command-line encryption/archiving routines that could be invoked from cc:Mail, they gave up. I looked at the code, and it was horsecrap of the finest quality. It was my first experience with LM's ability to produce fecal matter, and wouldn't be my last.

We proposed this new thing for the task: Lotus Development had released Notes 2.0. It ran on OS/2 for a server, had a Windows client, and while it was expensive-ish (around $300 a seat at the time), it seemed like it could do what they want and was eminently programmable.

The client didn't end up going for it, feeling that the software wasn't sufficiently powerful for what they wanted to do, but there were rumors of a new release of Notes that would be out in late 1993. That release was Notes 3.0.

In 1994, the contract was ending, and Lockheed-Martin had won the rebid for the contract. There was no way in hell I was going to follow some of my cow-orkers and move to the Lockheed contract, but fortunately, the client's longtime hiring freeze lifted that spring, and I knew that there was some activity with Notes 3 over at the client site. Due to an unfortunate tragedy wherein the guy (a federal worker) who had been assigned the task of being "the Notes guy" had died in a freak cave-diving accident, his job became available. I put in for it and got it. In the late summer of 1994, I took my present job, and I've been The Notes Guy ever since.

I had to physically reassemble the first Notes server I had there. It was a 386-20 with 16 meg of RAM and an 80-meg hard drive, and I installed OS/2 on it, then Notes 3.0c. I put up the client on my Windows 3.11 machine, and set up the certification hierarchy that's still in use today. They didn't really know what they wanted to do with Notes, but a mid-level executive was sure we could do something with it, and that's where it all started.

The next server I set up was a Compaq Proliant. Note that that was its whole name: it was the very first ProLiant, it had a now-rare Intel Pentium 60 CPU in it (Intel moved on to the Pentium/75 very soon after the Compaq was introduced) and a pair of one-gig SCSI drives in it. I installed Netware 3.12 on it, and the Notes server for NetWare NLM, now long-discontinued but still a fond memory for me. You have to love the stability of a server OS that doesn't have Minesweeper or any other graphic crap on it. It was dedicated to being... a server.

With that server, we started to show what could be done. In my department, we outfitted about 150 people with Notes client software (again, mostly Windows 3.1x, since few people had Windows NT 3.1 or 3.51) and started setting up simple apps. Document libraries, discussion databases. One of our clerks went to two days of AppDev 1 class and came back and wrote a While-You-Were-Out app in about three days, an app it later took a team of Microsoft Exchange jocks a couple of months to duplicate. We also got contractor resources from the original Solutions By Design (hi there, Kit Davis) and started writing a pretty damn good Notes-based project resource tracking system.

Eventually the servers (I had three) moved to Windows NT 3.51. I still say 3.51SP6 is probably the most stable version of Windows that will have ever existed, a trait they screwed up with NT 4.0, when they moved the GDI way too close to the kernel, with the result that a two-bit video driver could (and did) blow your entire server out of the water. All so people could play Pinball. On the server. Yeah.

Politically, things changed in 1995 and 1996 and the executive who liked Notes was replaced by one who hated it. All development in the department on Notes ended, and I basically sat there for a year waiting to do nothing. But I didn't just sit there... I wandered around the agency, scoping out people who might have a use for Notes and its strengths. I found small projects... a department that needed to track comments submitted by the public got a Notes server, the Watermark Image Server and a fleet of small HP scanners to store everything away. The group installing a massive new network and furniture infrastructure got a Notes server to keep track of the LAN and workstation furniture installs for hundreds of field offices. And most importantly, a group trying to streamline the way we produced internal policies and procedures got a server to use during their re-engineering process, and unsurprisingly liked it so much that they recommended Notes as a way to implement their recommended changes.

By this time, the Domino add-in was available for Notes 4, and by 4.5 the server became Domino. During 1997 and 1998 I built the guts of the system that would eventually render the whole massive publication process paperless and a ton more efficient. It's still in use today, more than nine years and three billion hits later. We jumped from Windows and Domino 4.61d to Solaris and Domino 5, and then went straight from 5.08 to 6.51, and recently, straight from 6.54 to 8.00.

There were lots of fun things I got to play with over the years. Remember InterNotes Web Publisher? The Pager Gateway for Notes? The CompuServe Lotus Notes Information Service? AT&T Network Notes? Notes Express? Remember when there was a Notes server for Windows 3.11? We even had a newsfeed from Reuters that came in via satellite and got dumped onto a Notes server for consumption by Important People.

And, of course, somewhere in late 1994 somebody dropped a brochure on my desk.

"Wanna go to this?"

It was the brochure for Lotusphere 1995.

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