Saturday, November 28, 2009

About recording user database activity tracking in IBM Lotus Notes/Domino 8.x

Who did what to the important contents of my database, when, and where? All good questions if you own, sponsor, administer or make design changes to that database.

This post was inspired by reading Vincenzo Capponcelli’s article in his blog, at Database-User Activity: da domino 8.x maggior dettaglio per inserimenti, cancellazioni, aggiornamenti where he says he’s just noticed extended capability of Notes 8.x databases, those with on-disk structure (ODS) version 51, to separately record database Adds, Updates and Deletes where in previous ODS versions only “Writes” were recorded.

I tried to post a comment on the blog but, at the moment anyhow, it rejecting attempted comments with error message “Comment has been disallowed by the Spam Filter” – so, Vincenzo, you need to fix this.

Luckily, I had saved my comments offline (I’ve been caught before by bugs and annoyances like this, on various web sites that should work far better than they do).
So instead of losing them when the error page returned me to a blank comments section, below is the knowledge contribution that I tried to make at Vincenzo’s blog.

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Ciao Vincenzo, da Down Under!
Yes, it is definitely an improvement to record the Adds, Updates and Deletes separately. However, when you say it answers the question "chi ha rubato la marmellata?" [who stole the jam?]

I don’t think it really helps a great deal. All that it answers, unfortunately, is "who MIGHT have stolen the jam?" and not "who ACTUALLY stole the jam?"

This is better than before, but not the complete story, since it still doesn't tell you what was deleted or changed, exactly when each event occurred, and so on. You might get the desired information from the Statlog server task, but this doesn't help for database actions performed while the user is disconnected from any server.

If you want a full audit trail, you need to write some code, perhaps using examples and tips from various web sites and blogs, or a couple of the tools available from OpenNTF.org to save you some effort.

There are some commercial offerings that go much further. For example, over the last ten years or so, I developed and enhanced a commercial developer toolkit (SDK) that I call NotesTracker, which records a lot of details about users who perform CRUD actions (Create, Read, Update, Delete).

And a range of other things, too. Continuing along the lines of Vincenzo’s question, this is sort of like whether the jam was marmalade, raspberry, strawberry, plum …

The tracking of document deletions proved the hardest, because of the way that deletion works in Notes/Domino, and this is explained in the NotesTracker Guide (free to download, from http://asiapac.com.au/UsageTracker_Download.htm#Documentation or http://notestracker.com/UsageTracker_Download.htm#Documentation ).


I've had some people ask me questions like "Can I determine who deleted certain important documents from my database right back in 2007?" (or quite a few months ago, anyway).

But they become very disappointed when I have to give them the bad news. That is, you must have previously switched on either the built-in Notes tracking (the "Record activity" option in the database properties) or in your roll-your-own tracking tool or a commercial one like NotesTracker.

And it must be configured properly to track deletions. For example, this is a user-definable setting in NotesTracker. See the snapshots here or here to understand what I mean.

Usage_V5_by_Action_by_Date[1]
(Click to view a larger image)

Naturally enough, they will not be able to discover the culprit before any such tracking was activated. Certainly not three or four years back, as one person asked me about, for sure!

According to the Admin Help database (under the topic "Managing database activity recording in databases") apparently only 64K is allocated to the native activity tracking, so you cannot even rely on it to keep more than a smallish amount of history. I would guess the built-in history that must fit into this 64K space will go back at most only a few weeks or months, depending on how busy that particular database is. The roll-your-own or commercial tools should enable you to retain tracking history as far back as you like, limited only by available disk space (certainly NotesTracker works this way).

But you'll get this storing of user activity only while the tracking was activated, of course. … Just like one of those crime movies where police find they can’t see who stole the Crown Jewels or the Mona Lisa because the video recording was switched off at the time the event happened!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lotus Software product branding – a tittle too far?

This diatribe of mine was inspired by Kevin Hansen's post earlier today: Lotus is a “tarnished” brand? Ouch!

For me, it's hard to know as far as branding is concerned. I don't think anybody can be sure what the end result of branding changes is going to be. Let me relate two brief stories.

Example (1) is the once-iconic Aussie airline that spent a small fortune changing their corporate name from "Ansett" to "Ansett." Did you notice it? That added period, or full stop if you prefer?

Apparently it was supposed to signify an increased sureness or definiteness to the brand, but I doubt if many people ever noticed the change, even when spelled out in large letters on the sides of their aircraft. Anyway, the airline went bankrupt during the hard economic times of the late 1980s, so adding that  period  surely was money down the drain.

Example (2) is the long-established and very famous Arthur Andersen (AA) accounting/consulting firm, who must have spent an even bigger fortune changing their corporate look during the mid-to-late 1990s. They did so by implementing with what was (to me) a rather subtle color change towards the orange/ochre part of the color spectrum. Did their clients really care about this, did it make or break any deals?

And where AA now? Indeed, some of you might not even recognize the firm's name, so quickly have they been forgotten by the masses. Bad practices by a few in the USA brought down the entire worldwide partnership. Luckily for some of the partners, who several years earlier had split off into the Andersen Consulting firm, the rebranding to Accenture turned out to be much more successful.

Moving on to the IBM side of the block... As an Australian employee, I was associated for quite a few years with the products from the IBM Rochester, Minnesota, line of products, which were designed specifically for use by small to medium-sized organizations.

From 1969 onwards there was the IBM System/3, the System32, the System/34, the extremely successful System/36 (S/36), and (introduced in 1978) the System/38. The S/38 had a fantastic system architecture, conceived in the early 1970s and living on strongly decades later in the current IBM i product range.

The IBM Application System/400 (or AS/400), announced in 1988, was  built by wedding the marvellously-advanced architecture of the S/38 to  the fabulous user-friendliness of the S/36, then adding in a whole raft of new capabilities. This has been continuously improved upon over the ensuing two decades.

Ten years or do after the AS/400 was announced, IBM decided to rebrand all of its hardware platforms with the "Series" moniker. The IBM PC became the x Series, the let-me-call-them AIX (or maybe Linux) range became the p Series,  the mainframe range became the z Series, and the AS/400 range became the i Series.

I suppose that the "series" concept  is somewhat logical from an overall IBM perspective, but I was taken aback when the "application system" connotation was removed from the Rochester product line and replaced with the "i" designation (which is not at all self-evident in terms of design intent, compared with the original AS/400 notion of being "application-oriented").

Then a few years later on the "Series" moniker was replaced with "System", for what reason I have no idea. So what once was the AS/400 became the "System i" and this still doesn't make much sense to me. But then, I'm essentially a techie type (running a nano-enterprise, so having to do sales/marketing and every other corporate activity only out of evil necessity), so who am I to raise such an objection against the determinations of the "MAD men" of IBM! ... Are   they as glamorous, I wonder, as the ones in the award-winning TV series?)

Now IBM has moved on a stage further, with the Rochester products rebranded  to just "IBM i" which certainly is short and catchy. What really worries me is that, in another wild flush of rebranding frenzy, the same "MAD" men or their replacements will decide to remove the vertical part of the letter "i" leaving behind only the dot , or what is called (by those in the know) a "tittle" -- which would certainly save some ink but may not be too good for brand recognition!

Let's give a thought now to branding for the Lotus Software part of IBM.

As for myself, I reckon that there's an strong and vigorous lease of life still left in the "Lotus" brand. AN I think that good comes from the slightly longer conjunction "IBM Lotus" -- as long as it doesn't gent any longer than that.

With or with the IBM prefix, I'm most happy to be associated with short product names like "Lotus Notes" (as well as “Lotus Domino” for the server side of things, yet another branding exercise), plus the others like "Lotus Sametime" and "Lotus Quickr" (but not with some of those ridiculously long, hard to remember product name mouthfuls that IBM has come up with from time to time).

Now that, with Notes 8.5.1, IBM has at last started delivering significant enhancement to the application-building side of Notes, I feel that all IBM needs to do now to really rejuvenate Notes is get a few more of its top executives to do the IBM version of the famous "developers, developers, developers, developers" dance by Microsoft's Steve Ballmer. Is there somebody Brill-iant enough at IBM who would be prepared to start off such a dance craze?

The executives need to keep stressing, stressing, and keep on stressing that Notes is a powerful and flexible delivery vehicle for all sorts of collaborative applications (and not just a mere mail platform like Microsoft Exchange essentially seems to be). And to keep stressing that there has been a major reinvigoration, a renaissance, with Lotus Notes versions 8.0, 8.5 and 8.5.1 -- with more to come --  a rapid application development (RAD) platform par excellence,

Because IBM has such a vast range of software, hardware and services offerings, I suppose that IBM executives have a hard time coping with the massiveness of it all. So any Ballmer focussed and enthusiastic “developer dance” behavior is is a bit too much to expect from Sam Palmisano and his executive team! … Sigh :-(

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Google aims to go “speedy” with HTML – let’s all support them


I sincerely hope that Google’s draft SPDY Protocol will be supported by all the big players in the Internetosphere -- my term, feel free to spread it --  since it has the admirable aim of significantly speeding up the Internet for all of us.

“In a nutshell,” they say, “SPDY adds a framing layer for multiplexing multiple, concurrent streams across a single TCP connection.  The framing layer is optimized for HTTP-like request-response streams.”

If the draft protocol page is a little too intimidating for you, you’ll find a nice overview of SPDY by Abel Avram here: Google Works on a Protocol Intended to Replace HTTP

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rearrange items in Domino Designer 8.5 working set?


Calling all Lotus Notes/Domino developers. Vote for this ideajam suggestion of mine requesting the ability to drag’n’drop items in the Domino Designer 8.5 applications list, as indicated by the green arrow:

Drag'n'drop to shift items in Domino Designer 8.5 working set

You could rearrange apps by doing this in the old Domino Designer, and frankly I find it a big pain not to be able to do the same in the new Designer.

The new working set feature is fantastic, the inability to rearrange apps by dragging them around definitely is not!

Technorati Tags: ,,,

UPDATE:
Just to make my point crystal clear, here's an explanatory video...



video

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shame! Webshots.com still doesn’t support Windows 7 (updated)

I’ve been using webshots.com to download glorious Windows wallpaper background images for years.

Well, I had been, but as stated still as of today (10 November 2009, several weeks after the general release of Windows 7) on the Webshots FAQs page:

What platforms are supported for the Webshots Desktop?
The Webshots Desktop is supported for Windows 2000, XP and Vista.

Well, that’s not good enough, not by a long shot!

I’ve paid my Premium membership dues over a number of years, in order to be able to download Windows desktop wallpapers in high resolution, and now you’re telling me that I can’t view them under the latest, brightest and whitest Windows version?

But now that I’ve upgraded to Windows 7, several months ago, all of my download time and effort not to mention the monies spent have gone to waste.

In my opinion, it’s rather pathetic and shameful that a large organization like AG Interactive, Inc. (the corporation behind Webshots) did not ensure that it had upgraded its desktop software and had it ready for release on the same day that Windows 7 was launched (22 October). What’s your lame excuse, AG Interactive?

I mean, really now… Windows 7 was in beta testing for a very long time.

Does anybody have insights on all this?


UPDATE [16 November 2009]:
I found out how to migrate all my 16,000 or so Webshots images into the appropriate form and location in Windows 7. They're now cycling every minute, to inspire me and lift my spirits!

I used a free migration tool, so all it took was some time and a bit of sweat. If anybody's interested, I'll outline out how to go about it (but not unless asked) ...

UPDATE #2 [19 December 2009]:
I checked the Webshots web site again today, to see if they had updated their statement of which Windows platforms are supported and it still only mentions Windows 2000, XP and Vista

Despite the fact that they don’t state their official support for Windows 7, I decided anyway to download and install the latest version of Webshots Desktop. The good news is that it seems to work fine under 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate.

My main reason for doing this is because, over the years, I’ve downloaded so many high-resolution images -- nearly 16,000 of them -- that I needed the picture title to be displayed else I have no hope of knowing what some of the images are.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Simple Signer Version 1.1 for IBM Lotus Notes released

When a Lotus Notes application is developed, it is a quite common requirement that it must be "signed" by an appropriate Lotus Notes user ID or Lotus Domino server ID before it will operate correctly in a production environment.

The developer (or developers) who over time created the various design elements in the database (forms, views, agents, etc) will have placed their own "signature" against each design element every time that they save it.

The situation commonly arises that the developer(s) who coded the database have  signatures that do not provide sufficient or appropriate authority for agents that are to run on a Domino server, for formulae to be executed in a form, etc).

This is especially the case for “alien” Notes applications that come to you from outside organizations such IBM Business Partners and Independent Software Vendors, but can be true even internally in your organization when there are multiple developers over time or for a specific release of the application..

Therefore a given version of a database application is put into production, its design elements need to be signed by a Notes ID with the appropriate authority. (Refer to the IBM Lotus Notes documentation for full details about the concept of signing Notes databases.)

Although signing is not all that difficult to do, it can be a somewhat circumspect process for the uninitiated!

Hence a few years ago I released the “Simple Signer” for IBM Lotus notes. This is a single-purpose database that was developed to make life a little easier for everybody (including myself) who at some time or other, frequently or only occasionally, has to sign Lotus Notes databases.

Its one an only design goal is to make it extremely quick and easy to sign each and every design element in a given database.

Just switch the Notes ID (if necessary), select the database to be signed, and click on the big pink button.

image

Note that it works only in Notes 6.0 and later versions (because it relies on the LotusScript  "Sign" method introduced in Release 6.0), but this is not much of nowadays.

Also note that the database’s design is not hidden, so by modifying a few lines of  LotusScript you can alter the way that signing is carried out, to sign only agents for example.

Version 1.1 has no functional changes, it’s still as easy to use as always, but the “Help Using This Database” built-in documentation has been enhanced to show you how add a toolbar button to make it faster to launch Simple Signer.

Download version 1.1 of the Simple Signer from either of our mirrors at notestracker.com or asiapac.com.au.

Golly, gosh, it’s nearly quarter past 1 AM here Down Under so I’m heading off to the cot right away after submitting this post.