A few blogs and emails have asked in the last few days, "is Domino Designer really free?"  I realize it's hard to answer that without the benefit of the license agreement and other details that will become visible on Monday, but the answer is unequivocally "yes".

Here's the way it works -- starting Monday, you'll be able to download Domino Designer directly from ibm.com/developerworks/lotus.  The license agreement says what you can or cannot do -- namely, that you can use the Domino Designer for application development on a local machine at no charge.  If you want to use, deploy that application or otherwise distribute it, you need to have a Domino Enterprise Client Access License.  

Some have said that the latter restriction makes it sound like free isn't free.  I don't really get that.  Anyone, anywhere, can download the Designer and use it to learn and experience Domino application development.  We're doing this to try to appeal to novice Domino developers, people who haven't been able to pay the US$864 price of Designer in the past.  We're also looking to appeal to those in existing Domino shops who have not yet experienced Designer 8.5.1, and see the free download as a way to accelerate their use of the new version.  For those use cases, a free stand-alone license to build and test Domino applications makes sense.  There's no limit to what you can do from a developer tools perspective under this scenario.

The CAL is an activation -- it entitles the user to connect to a Domino server for deployment, to redistribute the apps they build with the Designer, and to access technical support (assuming that the CAL is covered by active maintenance).  The CAL also opens up the use of that free Designer as a full Notes client -- the ability to use applications (from a server or even locally) and connect to Domino.  That user then also gets all the other benefits of the CAL -- being able to use any Domino application or email, through any client, and also the right to use tools like Lotus Mobile Connect and Symphony.

We recognize that a stand-alone developer tool only goes so far.  There are discussions underway with partners and others in the community about building a "sandbox" Domino server environment where those who are unlicensed would be able to do some experimentation on the server side.  That will actually require some kind of license distinction from what is in the downloadable Designer 8.5.1.

I expected this next wave of questions around both the free Designer and the simplified CAL model.  Most of my email volume has been related to these.  Hopefully things will be much clearer next week, when the code is posted and also the conversion announcement for how today's Notes/iNotes products convert to the new CALs.  The web content on ibm.com/lotus is up-to-date with these changes, though, so hopefully many questions are answered there.  If not, let me know.

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