Posted by: Benoit Dubuc | 2012/07/12

Domino/Flex interoperability: Let’s brainstorm

It’s been a long while and to be short, it’s very good to be back in business.  The last 3 years have been tough on the personal side, which also affected the professional side as well.  Let’s just say illness in the family is never a cool thing.  Things are getting back to normal and it is time for me to get back on track.

That being said, I am currently working on a little document for a buddy’s company that will look at the various options to integrate Lotus Notes email and calendar into an Adobe Flex application.  I have a good idea how to access the inbox and the calendar for display purposes but I would like some pointers on how to create a new email and a new calendar appointment from Flex.  Let’s call this a social brainstorming session.

I guess it is possible to open up iNotes from the Flex application, in order to make all the possibilities of the iNotes UI available to the user.  But what about other ways of doing this?  I need ways that will not require any changes on the Domino server or the mail template.  How to create a quick email and a quick appointment from Flex?  All ideas are welcomed.

Thanks a lot and be sure to see more content on this blog from now on.

Posted by: Benoit Dubuc | 2011/10/03

My first 10 days with an iPad

I recently bought an iPad and a MacBook so I could start learning what I hope will be my next technical specialty. Ok, the iPad was not totally necessary but hey, why not.

I already have an iPhone, which I use a lot to manage my things: to do list, time tracking, mileage tracking, gps and other various apps. I also have a few ebooks but I always found the screen too small to be a useful reader.

I found out that most of the apps I use on the phone have an iPad version, or play nice with the iPad. Quite useful but the problem of data synchronization showed up quite rapidly. Not all apps offer data sync possibilities…

I bought keynote and pages, as I like to work on the iPad a lot. Less heavy and more portable than my laptop, I manage to do a lot of writing while commenting. My back is quite happy as I have a lot less weight in my back pack. It is also a lot smaller so I am less annoying to my neighbors and my neighbors are less annoying to me as well😉. And with the Dropbox application, I can get my files at the office in a breeze.

I also like the battery life we get with the iPad. I am having a hard time with my laptop battery, getting not more than 50-60 minutes out of it in full power saver mode. I have a 9 cell battery on the way, but it’s still a bummer.

I never thought of watching movies or web tv on my phone. Again, screen size is just too small. But with the iPad though, I found myself converting recorded episodes of Fringe and Supernatural so I could watch them while commuting (I commute 75 minutes twice in a day). Conversion is a pain but I hope I’ll find a decent video player soon (haven’t looked yet).

So overall, it is still a bit expensive for a toy, but I am doing a lot more than expected with it, and it’s not only fun and games. I am moving to iPhone/iPad development as I think it will make it in the corporate world, and I am quite pleased with my ipad experience so far, as it demonstrates that there are a lot of business related things to do with the iPad.

So glad I bought the 32 GB and not the 16 GB one.

Posted by: Benoit Dubuc | 2011/09/30

I forgot about this blog

Well, it has been a while since I have written something. I have to admit I totally forgot about my blog one WordPress. Now that I realized I still had a place to blog, I’ll try to do so a bit more often.

This blog might be a lot more personal for a while. I am still doing Lotus Notes development but I am currently working for a client that still runs 6.5. Nothing new under the sun will come out of this I think.

One of the main reason that I didn’t blog is that there has been a lot of changes in my personal life. I may write a bit on the latest changes in a few posts. I was also quite busy working on my pet project, which involves xpages, and I will write a bit on that.

Last but not least, I have decided that the new technology I will be working with is iOS development. Lotus notes is at the lowest it’s been in my area so I need something new. Dot net just doesn’t want me to work with him so I decided to turn my back on him and go apple all the way.

Now a proud owner of a MacBook pro and an iPad, from which I am writing this post, I have all that I need to start working on my new favorite technology. That will also be the subject of a few posts.

I just can’t wait to see if I still have follower(s)!

I know, this topic has been discussed a lot. I have done a lot of research on the subject and took many different approaches to this problem, but nothing conclusive yet.

Here is the issue: Domino 6.5 server, meaning only Java 1.3 SDK available. Goal is to take a Notes document and send it to a different system in either HTML of PDF format. These files are then integrated to other stuff and will eventually end up on a Blackberry.

Images might be embedded in the Notes document and we need them. No third party tool can be involved as that company is phasing out Notes and the application that I work on has a very limited life (1-2 years top).

Now iText is almost out of question as I have to use some pretty old versions and the ones with HTML and RTF support are not giving good results.

I also tried exporting the document as DXL but the issue I have with this approach is that all the 6.5 examples about using XSLT to convert DXL to a standard HTML page are in the Sandbox, and of course, I don’t have a copy of the sandbox (deleted my replica thinking it would NEVER go offline… bummer). Edit: I now have a link to the Sandbox but didn’find anything helpful…

I also used Julian Robichaux’s RT2HTML ( http://www.nsftools.com/tips/NotesTips.htm#richtexttohtml ) , which works wonders, but I have no clue what to do to convert the MIME/HTML that is generated by this app: it is basically the content of the email that would be sent. I need an HTML page with related images created for this approach to work. I have to admit, I know zip about MIME.

I also tried converting to RTF but the rendering has some issues that make this solution unusable.

If you have any hints or help for one of the above approaches, please let me know. I don’t need info on third party products, or know that the Notes document could be opened through the browser, just focus on what I have described here. There are lots of missing small details, but the essential parts are there.

Remember that the output I need is a PDF or and HTML representation of Notes document that contains rich text fields. All that has to be done on a Domino 6.5 server.

If you need more info, you can drop me a note at dubuc_benoit at hotmail.com

Your help is greatly appreciated.

Thanks a lot,
Ben

In my last post, I talked about the fact that I would miss the type-ahead functionality and the partial update capability of XPages in my current project by using “traditional” Notes web development.  Of course I knew Dojo was offering the same capabilities but I would have to do a bit of digging to check how they work and how to build the technical aspects of these functionalities.  Not a big deal.

After posting my article, I decided that because I will need to dig a bit more whether I was using XPages or Dojo, I decided to give XPages an extra day of my time to see if I could achieve some respectable results in a day.  If it wasn’t conclusive after one day then Dojo would take over.  After all, I have 2-3 books on Dojo and non on XPages (just because it is not out yet!).  Both technologies have a dedicated community that I can count but books are a bit privileged as they usually have answers a bit faster (no offense to the communities: I understand you all have day jobs).

The fact that my application is not a really complex thing helped a bit in deciding to give XPages a try.  The data model is pretty close to a CRM application: Companies, contacts, activities.  The highlight of this project is the way users will be able to search for the information they need.  Not all great applications are complex – see IdeaJam, not very complex but SO useful and a great idea – and mine fits well in that category.  The searches being done in LotusScript anyway, why not go with the easy way of doing type-ahead and partial updates!

Of course I am struggling with little annoying issues, like how to pass the company value to a new contact document on creation: should I use session scope variables, a parameter in the URL or is there a very easy way to do this that I’m not aware of?  How to get the “computed when composed” Unique ID field to get computed when creating a new document (although I think I found it but not sure what are the impacts of having validation run on open besides that computation)?  So yes, I will struggle a bit to piece it all together but I know that with all the help available, I’ll do it and it won’t take much longer than going with Dojo, where I would have struggled a bit anyway but make it on time as well.

I’ve always been a guy that likes playing with the latest technologies around so why not go with XPages right now instead of pushing back the “real life” experience of building a real business application versus some internal applications that are not quite how I want them but it doesn’t matter as they are internally used.  This time it’s for real and XPages will have to make the application work according to specs.

They say only fools don’t change their minds.  In my case, I’m not if the fool isn’t the guy that decided to finally go with XPages but we’ll see how it goes.  Worst case scenario:  go back to pre-XPages web development and with everything that was done bby me and other yellow bleeders on the web, this will be a fast and easy route.  Too easy maybe, so why not add some challenge to it and add some XPages bumps here and there!

 

 

Posted by: Benoit Dubuc | 2011/01/17

Why I chose not to go with xpages for my current project

I am working on a web site that will be, I hope, a reference for a specific business domain.  Since the data model and the web functionality required by that site are somewhat basic, I decided to go with XPages development.  Things that made me go the “traditional” way: time to market is important, fast reaction time to correct bugs as they show up and “known” server behaviour.

The business I’m dealing with is most active in a specific period of the year and I need to be up and running before we get to that time of the year.  This is actually a key marketing issue: if you want a gift eStore, you need to be there before the Christmas period, right?  As for fast reaction time, any professional site or application needs to have a quick reaction time to correct bugs and I don’t feel confident enough with XPages right now to offer a decent reaction time.  I am still figuring out how to do some intermediate things in XPages.  The last thing is that I don’t have real life experience on how a server running XPages applications reacts.  On the other hand, I know my way around server settings and the nhttp task.

I will miss a few cool and needed XPages features though: the easy type-ahead text boxes and mostly the partial update feature.  I need that partial update in several places in my site, and I will have a bit of digging to do in order to see how I will replace that XPage feature with traditional web development.

It’s too bad I won’t be using XPages as I really wanted to dive deep into this new technology.  I’m sure that once comfortable, it will be a lot quicker and easier to develop web applications this way.  But for now, I just don’t have time to “learn on the job” without an available coach to guide me when issues come up (and they seem to come up quite often).

Don’t get me wrong: I do believe in XPages, but my current project is just too big and too time sensitive for my first “real” XPages project.  I’ll need tools to administer parts of the site and I am planning to build those on XPages.  Maybe I’ll be able to convert the whole application to XPages eventually.

 

Have a nice Sphere to all the lucky people who will be there (it is currently -20 Celsius in Quebec so I would really really like to be in Florida right now!!!)

Now that I have completed my client’s new web site, with lots of nice little Flash components used for image galleries, he now wants his site to work and look nice on his iPhone.  We talked about this issue between Flash and iPhones when deciding what he wanted on his site but he said he wanted animations, cool image galleries and he showed me the FlashXML website as this is what he wanted.

So, now that we’re live with the new site, he called back saying the site needs to work with iPhones, and ASAP.  That reminded me of a Dreamweaver extension I saw a couple of weeks ago that uses Flash animations for supported browsers and HTML5 image galleries when Flash is not supported.  With my very bad short term memory and a recent clean up in my browser’s history, I couldn’t find it.

Anyone knows such a DW extension?  No need to be free, money is (almost) no object for my client!

Thanks a bunch.

Posted by: Benoit Dubuc | 2010/12/05

Follow up on MS Access-Notes post

Well, it seems I made a mistake in my previous post: the MS Access Bible was not written by Teresa Henning, but it’s rather the Access VBA Programmer’s reference.

I wanted to make that correction for the following reason: publish the correct information AND also mention that this book is actually more useful to me than the MS Access Bible right now.  Not that the Bible is not good, what I’ve said about it in my previous post still stands, but the Access VBA Programmer’s reference is so useful that even if it’s not very old, it already looks like a book I had and used for 4-5 years.  VBA is to MS Access what Lotuscript is to Notes.  You can’t really build a “real” application without it.  It also covers both DAO (initial MS Access Data Objects) as well as ADO (same ADO as .Net).

And to add a bit more on must have MS Access books, Teresa also participated in writing Microsoft Access Small Business Solutions, which is a walk through of many data models currently used in SMBs and bigger corporations: CRM, Inventory, Marketing and more.  This one is really great as it gives a lot of details on why the tables are built the way they are and they also provide a solid base for almost any type of application.  In my case, I used the CRM part as well as part of the customers, sales and accounting.  That book proved a real time saver.

So here I stand corrected.  Yes, the MS Access Bible is a great book, and it does contain quite advanced topics for a “Bible”, but for hardcore developers and advanced VBA coding, the Access VBA Programmer’s Reference is a must.  You will probably go through each chapter, not only the last few from the Bible.

 

Posted by: Benoit Dubuc | 2010/12/05

Funny how Notes and MS Access development are similar

Sometimes, projects and ideas don’t always show up where you think they would.  I just got back into MS Access development for an “off the shelf” application that just popped like that.

I have been developing in MS Access since version 1.2.  Regardless of what some may say, I think MS Access is a pretty good platform for small to medium sized applications.  Of course, multi user and large databases are better off into a more scalable platform but for 90% of personnal and SMBs needs, I feel it’s a great tool for the job.

I realized that both Lotus Notes and MS Access have a lot in common.  Both platforms contain all the data and the presentation in one file.  In MS Access though, it is good practice to split the data in a completely separate file, so you end up with 2 files.  There is no “replace design” in MS Access so updates are easier when data is separated from the presentation and business logic (isn’t that always the way it should be?).

Besides having tables in MS Access, the content of both files is very similar: forms in both, views in Notes and queries in MS Access, a macro language and a mode advanced language – both similar to Basic – and reports that could be mapped to views in Notes I guess.  Also, both platform can let you lock down the design of your application so no one gets to it.

I’m now using MS Access 201 and it’s my first real development with it.  In order to know what is new and what is gone, I grabbed a copy of the MS Access Bible.  I have to admit that I’ve always been afraid of buying “Bibles” as they often don’t cover what I am looking for and they are often an overview of each feature of the product.  They don’t go deep enough for my liking.  It is not the case with this book though, as I found everything I wanted to know about the new features and I also found a fair amount of advanced topics.  It definitely isn’t a book for an end user looking to build a small application.  There even is a chapter on object oriented programming with VBA.  Wow…

Of course, no books cover everything you want to know.  In my case, it is the first time I will create an application that will be sold.  I always developed for people having a copy of Access on their machines and source code was always their property.  This time, it’s a completely different story and even if the book talks a bit about using the MS Access run time environment, I still had question regarding how things are usually done when creating a “commercial” application.

So I contacted one of the book authors, Teresa Henning from Data Dynamics Northwest. She was really kind and answered a few questions and pointed me to good MS Access resources to get more information on the topics I am looking for.  This was really appreciated and, not sure if the MS Access community is as “tight” as the Lotus Notes one,  but I sure got that first impression.  Thank you very much Teresa for such a good book and such kindness for a fellow developer.

So here I go, in a somewhat very familiar environment and with a good “Bible”, off to build my first commercial product.  That doesn’t mean I won’t do Notes development anymore.  Already tried to move to .Net but Notes pulled me back.  In fact, that commercial product will eventually finance another big potential project and that one will be done in Notes/Domino.  You can’t get that yellow blood out of my system  : )

Posted by: Benoit Dubuc | 2010/11/04

New TLCC Xpage course 2: my impressions

Yep, the course just came out and I already can comment on it.  The reason is quite simple: the guys at TLCC asked me to be part of the review team before the course went public.  It was a great honor for me to be part of that team.

So the new course is really a great follow up to the previous xpage course TLCC has.  It goes a lot deeper into xpages with topics such as these:

  • XPage architecture and events
  • Specific uses for Custom Controls
  • How to use Dojo to add Web 2.0 features
  • Creating different types of charts and graphs using Domino data
  • The OneUI theme
  • Displaying reports using the Dojo DataGrid widget
  • Creating “XAgents” to output Domino data in XML and JSON data formats
  • Using XML and relational data as data sources
  • Creating a great user interface with Dojo dialog boxes
  • Allow users to expand and collapse all categories in a view
  • How to use third party CSS frameworks like Blueprint on your XPage
  • Fix display issues with categories in a View Control
  • Return the user back to the correct starting view page from where they opened a document
  • Localizing your XPages for different languages

I am quite pleased with the content as these are topics I faced when I started building more complex xpages applications.  Some of the topics I was really happy to see in there are communication between custom controls and all that has to do with Dojo.  I always though t IBM could have done a better job at making our life easier when they integrated Dojo and with 8.5.2 and the TLCC information in that course, it is a lot easier to take advantage of the Dojo features.

Other topics of great interest were running agents from server side JavaScript, using data from an external RDBMS system (it was easy with standards forms and DECS, but how the heck is it done in xpages???) and, although many articles were done on that topic, there is a great section on using OneUI and even Blueprint CSS frameworks.

I wish they would have covered themes though, as I think this is a topic that needs to be understood as I’m pretty sure not all of us will want to Lotus look and feel of OneUI for our applications.  But they do cover localization and this is one fairly important topic as well being from Canada, a bilingual country.

So, fellow yellow bleeders, for those who already have the previous xpages course from TLCC or for those that want to move their knowledge to the next level, this is a really great course.  As I already mentioned, I’m a “hands on learner” and the TLCC format suits me very well: being in Notes learning Notes develpment, you can’t be wrong!

Great job again TLCC!

-note: TLCC did give me a copy of the course (after all, I had to review it) but never asked for anything else than reviewing the course.  This blog entry is my initiative alone and apart from asking when would I be able to publish, TLCC has nothing to do with it.  We all blog about things we like and I have been a TLCC fan since my R5 to R6 update course.

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