IBM Lotus Notes has been enabling large companies to provide a collaborative environment for their employees since 1989. Since then, it goes without saying that it has received many updates, one of which enables its use from a mobile device. YouAtNotes, one of the few members of the IBM Design Partner program, has released a platform for Appcelerator Titanium that allows developers to integrate their apps with IBM Lotus Notes. Their solution, Domino to Go, allows developers to synchronize and work with Lotus Notes data. They have also recently put out their own application, NotesBook, which utilizes Lotus Notes via the Domino to Go platform. Recently, Tony Lukasavage of Appcelerator had the chance to sit down with Julian Buss of YouAtNotes, and speak about both Domino To Go and NotesBook.
Interview with Julian Buss of YouAtNotes
So tell us a little bit about NotesBook and Domino To Go
YouAtNotes Domino To Go is a framework for Titanium that enables IBM Lotus Domino and XPages developers to synchronize and work with Lotus Notes data to the mobile App. Without Domino To Go, a Domino developer would have to implement much more code in order to get data out of Lotus Notes via HTTP, or to push data back to Lotus Notes. Furthermore, it’s hard to find a good way to store and work with Lotus Notes data on the mobile device, since Lotus Notes is a NoSQL database and the mobile device uses an SQL database, which is a combination that generally does not fit well.
Finally, Domino To Go is designed for offline usage from the ground up. So a developer can use Domino To Go to synchronize Lotus Notes data to the mobile device and work with it on the device when it’s offline. New and changed data will be uploaded back to Lotus Notes automatically when the device is online again.
We feel that offline usage is very important for business Apps, since there are so many situations where you don’t have a network (underway, in buildings, in foreign countries and so on).
So in short: when you want to mobilize an IBM Lotus Notes or XPages application so that it works offline and has the look & feel of a native App, the best solution is Appcelerator’s Titanium and YouAtNotes Domino To Go.
NotesBook is one App that I built with our Domino To Go framework. It solves a huge problem for many IBM Lotus Notes users: the journal (notebook), which is built in Lotus Notes, is not synchronized to the iPhone and iPad by IBM’s standard synchronization software, Lotus Traveler. So there are many users out there who have important information stored in their Lotus Notes Journal that they cannot access from their iPhone or iPad. NotesBook not only synchronizes the content of the Lotus Notes Journal to the iPhone and iPad, it even allows mobile users to create new entries, edit existing ones and download images and attachments.
Technically that was kind of a challenge because Lotus Notes Journal entries are not plain text but RichText, which means text formatting, tables, embedded images, attachments and so on. The Lotus Notes RichText format is old and does not follow any known standards; as an additional difficulty, there was no way to change any code in the Lotus Notes journal applications on the user’s side. This means I had to use the standard HTTP JSON and XML services that are build in the IBM Lotus Domino server.
But Titanium and our Domino To Go framework provided me with all the tools I needed to solve these issues and now NotesBook is live in the Appstore with many happy users.
Why did you pick Titanium for your app development?
I was not satisfied with the possibilities of a web app on a mobile device. It’s hard to make web apps look like a native app and the device would always need to be online and web apps do not have access to the device sensors and so on. I tried hybrid solutions like Phonegap that solve the sensor issues, but the look & feel is still far from that of a real native app. Further, I didn’t like the method of coding in Phonegap with all the callbacks.
So I quickly came to the conclusion that native Apps are the way to go. For me, Objective C for the iOS platform has a huge learning curve, since I lost contact to the C language long ago. And coding Objective C for iOS and Java for Android would prevent any code sharing between the platforms. All of this lead to the only logical solution: Appcelerator Titanium.
What were some of the highlights of Titanium development for you?
The Titanium API is logical and easy to follow, and since Titanium 2.0 it’s well documented, too. Working in Titanium Studio is very easy, since it’s Eclipse based and follows all the familiar conventions.
Furthermore, I like the Q&A section of Appcelerator’s website, I found a lot of good answers there.
How many people worked on it? How long did it take to design, implement, and test?
I created the core of Domino To Go and NotesBook. Now we’re in the process of leading other developers to Titanium and Domino To Go.
What resources did you use to learn and develop with Titanium?
I learned a lot from the Q&A section of the Appcelerator website and the kitchen sink example.
In the early days of Titanium the API documentation was not very helpful most of the time. But, as of today, it’s a very good reference that I’m using often. Furthermore, I read a lot of articles in the Titanium Wiki.
Was your app built with the Community edition of Titanium?
Do you have plans for updates to NotesBook or future Titanium apps? Care to share some details?
Sure! The more customers are using Domino To Go, the more feedback we get and the more improvements and new features are built into the framework.
Regarding NotesBook, I plan to add a feature to synchronize multiple Lotus Notes Journals to the mobile device, which enables companies to distribute any kind of Lotus Notes documents to mobile devices simply by using the free Lotus Notes Journal application and NotesBook.
Any additional thoughts or notes on Titanium development?
I love it. And I can highly recommend Titanium for every developer that wants to write great native Apps.
What’s your background as a developer, particularly mobile development?
I studied computer science and made my degree back in 2000. Currently, I’m in the IBM Lotus Notes and Domino business for which I founded my company, YouAtNotes, with two partners.
Working for YouAtNotes, I developed various sophisticated software products, such as a workflow and CRM solution for the Lotus Notes client. More recently, I engaged in the web application business with IBM Domino XPages.
I played with multiple platforms to create mobile web apps (IBM XPages has a lot of cool built-in support for that), but I missed offline functionality and the native look and feel. After some research, I stumbled upon Titanium. I tried it and fell in love.
My company’s head office is the beautiful city of Hamburg, North Germany.
In my spare time and during vacations, I’m a captain cruising the Baltic Sea with my family (wife and two kids). In that role, I’m diving into marine electronic and computer technology, which is fascinating, too.
1.) Domino To Go, the Titanium framework to mobilize IBM Lotus Notes and XPages Apps: http://youatnotes.com/dominotogo
2.) NotesBook App for iPhone and iPad, to bring the Lotus Notes Journal to the iPhone and iPad: http://youatnotes.com/notesbook
3.) Like us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/YouAtNotes
4.) Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/107818550355220576809/posts
5.) My blog: http://julianbuss.net
Big thanks to YouAtNotes for taking the time to give us some insight into their experience and success with Titanium app development. We know the rest of the community, as well as the Appcelerator team ourselves, get excited when we see beyond what is possible with Titanium to what is now reality.
Do you think that you and your Titanium app should be highlighted on the Appcelerator Developer Blog? Send us an email at email@example.com and we’ll see if you have what it takes to join the ranks of our other featured developers. We hope to hear from you soon!