In today’s Guardian: a Lotus Notes followup

My, was there a lot of reaction to last week’s article on Lotus Notes.

So… in this week’s Guardian Technology I’ve put together a selection of the responses. It’s a selection because there wasn’t room for everything; and because, after last week’s complaints, I only used emails and blogs where the sender gave a post town, or agreed to let their comment be used, or where the blogger’s identity and location could be verified.

There was a moment of insanity where I considered headlining it “The Empire Strikes Back”, but that was only because it was the sequel. Obviously such a title would have been inflammatory, and anyway wrong. If George Lucas’s successful film had been called “The Rebels At The Barricades” I’d surely have considered that too.

But instead the article’s called “We are trying to make it better”, based on the comment from the Notes UI lead.


  1. Charles,

    I can appreciate that you have given the comments in support/complaint of notes that were not published a hearing and I think that it takes some guts to put it up. But the title “we are trying to make it better” simply smells of condescension and denial of the possiblility that, not necessarily the majority of notes users agree with your point of view despite your obvious desire to wanting it be so.

  2. Many of the comments seem to be defending Notes 5 by pointing out that it was written in 1998 as if this is some sort of excuse for poor interface design. What is bad design now was bad design then. For example, how can it ever have been good design for an interface to throw an error when I try to add an attachment and my cursor happens to be in the Subjec t field? As a user, I would far rather have the attachment default to the bottom of the mail (where most other clients put themn by default) than have an error dialog interrupt my flow.

    Other comments have pointed to cross-platform compatibility. How many users regularly switch between platforms and use emails clients on both? I don’t care about cross-platform compatibility. I care that my email client uses the same paradigm as all of my other software. F5 to refresh (not lock me out of the application), for example. I accept that Notes may have defined some keyboard shortcuts ‘first’. Who cares? Everyone else conformed. My suggestion: give us the option: Notes shortcuts or Windows-compatible shortcuts.

    For the record, my company uses Notes 5 and has no firm plans to upgrade. Having a friend in the Notes support taem, I have Notes 6. The difference: cosmetic changes to make it look a bit more like Outlook. Underneath, it seems to be the same.

    (On the subject of bad design, this text box stretches across the full width of the screen, BEHIND the right-hand column which contains the “Search this site”, “categories” and “older posts” links, so I’ve been typing blind part of the time: please excuse any typos.)

  3. Charles

    Friday 17 February 2006 at 1:26 pm

    OK, Guilio – over to you. *You* suggest a headline which sums up all the reaction in that piece and which also has no more than, say, 35 characters (the original is 31). You must include spaces.

    For a bit of the real feeling, try giving yourself just 10 minutes while you’re doing two other things. You can’t use either “Lotus” or “Notes” because that’s already in the “standfirst” – the few words introducing the article in larger type. Off you go.

    And while you’re doing that, consider that the title came directly from an email from a *Lotus* staffer who is working on the product.

  4. Come on Charles. Admit it. That was a crap headline. Go kick the subs where it hurts.

    “Notes on the Lotus position”

    “Notes from Lotus land”

    “Feedback from the Lotus position”

    That was just a first set that came to mind without thinking too hard. And don’t give me any crap about character counts. When the designers demand that you fill all the white space, it is time to answer back.

    The headline isn’t supposed to sum up “all the reaction”. It is supposed to suck in the reader. Mine does better by highlighting the subject and being a teeny bit witty for the 1 per cent of readers who know what it is about.

    Picking a selective quote to make your point is all too easy.

    Before anyone shouts, not being on any corporate network, I neither use nor care about Lotus Notes. (I loved Lotus Agenda.) I say that even though the Notes folks once invited me to a very nice press lunch at Rules, way back when journalists and IT folks were happy to consumer fermented grape juice.

    I must say, though, that I admire you for encouraging the debate, for not bumping out comments that you dislike and, even more, for turning the feedback into a story. Someone who writes for you is currently causing a minor stir in other places because he deleted from his blog comments of a less than flattering nature.

    By the way, keep up with the non-IT tech. Pity the “biofuel” piece was a bit limp. Fine as far as it went. But hardly mould breaking.

  5. Charles

    Sunday 19 February 2006 at 10:16 pm

    Can’t say I prefer your headlines, Mike. Though if I’m reading it right you’ve awarded me, hmm, two out of four? Or maybe three. Ah well.
    Yes, the “non-IT” tech is part of the plan. After all, it is called “Technology”.

  6. Much of the comments Charles received questioned why GMG was still using Notes v5. The implication was that his and his colleagues’ user experience was, as a consequence, outdated and therefore invalid. Charles was invited to upgrade to v7 and see the difference. (Actually I suspect that it’s not his call. He’s a user – as he repeatedly had to reiterate.) To my knowledge a large proportion of users at GMG are using more recent versions than v5. Last time I heard, of the Guardian & Observer Macintosh user base, a good 150 machines are running Notes version 6.5.3 or 6.5.4. These versions are, I believe, the two most recent releases of the client for Macintosh. So I’d argue that those users’ complaints have some validity. I suspect they have little better to say than the v5 users. Version 6 is better than v5, but still lives in a UI world of its own.

    Example: Command/Ctrl N for “new database”, instead of “new message” (in mail mode) or “new entry” (in calendar/to do/etc mode)? How many users need a shortcut to create a new database? Redeploying Command M breaks a standard Macintosh application shortcut (minimise). Mac user or not, Command/Ctrl N means new document in nearly every office application.

    Apologies for the cowardly anonymity. I am not a colleague or acquaintance of Charles.

  7. Putting aside all issues and arguments, isn’t the very fact that Lotus Notes provokes such firey debate proof enough of it’s flaws? Surely it’s enough that so many people complain about it. Right or wrong, these are the end users. Too many defenses of Notes rest on explaining to the users why they’re wrong. That may be true, but the blame still lies with the UI.

    Using the Notes email/calendar interface makes me feel like I’ve travelling back in time to some prehistoric (read Windows 98ic) era. And there is no excuse.

  8. Charles

    Friday 27 October 2006 at 2:09 pm

    The fact that it provokes debate doesn’t mean it’s flawed; people row about operating systems each of which have flaws, for different reasons.

    The thing that marks Notes out to me from so many other apps I’ve come across is that admins are convinced it’s the new post-sliced-bread, while users think it’s the poo in the punchbowl. Barely a day passes – still – where I don’t hear someone cursing Notes at work.

    Personally I avoid it by using the web interface, even when in-house. That way I know what I’ve read, and don’t have to worry much about archiving or odd behaviour; it’s just webmail.

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