In The Guardian: Lotus Notes vs the end user

In this week’s Technology Guardian, I’ve written about Lotus Notes, and the mystery (raised by the responses on the Technology blog) of how Lotus Notes – specifically, its client side – has become so widely used despite having a terrible, awful user interface.

The piece is called Survival of the unfittest, and I’m sure at least one reader here will be itching to leap to Notes’s defence.

But hold on there. The points made in the piece are these:

  • administrators love Notes. They think it’s unbelievably good. (They might be right, but that’s not the point).
  • End-users find it a frustrating, inconsistent, inexplicable program.

Note: these two statements are not mutually inconsistent. They can both be true. Perfectly easily.

Also, they’re not my points. They’re me reporting what people say. Notes end-users (I hear them all around me every day) say it drives them mad. An instance: why, on the Mac version of v5, which should be pretty advanced, user-interface-wise, since it’s heard of the internet and everything, is there no keyboard shortcut to reply to a message? On Eudora, which has been around since the Year ., you have Cmd-R to Reply, and Cmd-Alt-R to Reply to All.

But what’s the response? Lots of flames from people who administer Lotus Notes saying that I’ve overlooked its flexibility. Hello? No, I haven’t overlooked that. But it’s not germane to the subject. I’ve been writing about user experience. From the article:

But further investigation shows that its proponents tend to be administrators, and its detractors the end users.

The Lotus Notes Sucks site insists its mission is not to put Lotus people out of work. “It’s to embarrass them into fixing the egregious problems. Specifically, the front end. Also, to influence people into not buying Lotus Notes until it works for users.”

People cannot figure Notes out. It does not give them a convenient mind map for what they’re doing. You can say “You should offer user training for Notes.” But a good program, even an enterprise-level one, and certainly an enterprise-level one that has been around for 17 years, should have evolved to show you some sort of mapping of what it does. Do people get user training for Instant Messaging? For Google Mail? For Google Maps? No, because the interface has been developed to be intuitive. Sure, none of those does as many things as Notes. Is Notes perhaps then trying too hard?

This inability to read something online and follow the thread of its argument seems to be an amazingly common failing. I notice it again and again in the grousing emails I get about articles: people don’t seem to twig what they’re reading. They skim a bit, and then reach the bit they disagree with, then leap to their email program to fire off their prejudices. It’s very reminiscent of David Pogue’s “How to be a curmudgeon on the internet” – ah, yeah, it would be No.6:

6. If you find a sentence early in the article that rubs you the wrong way, you are by no means obligated to finish reading. Stop right where you are–express your anger while it’s still good and hot! What are the odds that the writer is going to say anything else relevant to your point later in the piece, anyway?

He was channeling me that day, I just know it.

84 thoughts on “In The Guardian: Lotus Notes vs the end user”

  1. Yeah, having recently watched eye-tracking software follow users on a web page, I can believe that people really don’t read online.

    I thought the article was pretty well-balanced, and made it clear that Notes was great, just not at what most people wanted it to do.

    Not having Cmd-R for replying to e-mails is pretty unforgivable, even if your application “should” make 50% of e-mails unnecessary.

  2. Hi Charles,

    that article was unfortunately based on some rather old versions of Notes, the notes sucks site is pre-2000 and based on Notes 4.6, and I think you were using Notes 5 on the Mac. Notes 5 also came out in the late 90s. Most people are on either version 6.5 or version 7 now, and both are great. At Lotusphere in Orlando last month we saw the next version of Notes, code named “Hannover”. This is based on the Eclipse framework and looks fantastic by all accounts. This version will be released for Windows, Mac and Linux with full feature parity across all platforms, currently the Mac client is indeed not as good as it should be, that will be fixed. Hannover was actually announced over a year ago, but we saw it running live this year. I would really like the opportunity to bring you into this millenium Notes wise and invite you to attend a mini conference called Lotusphere comes to you on the 7th of March at Guoman Tower Hotel, St Katherines Way, London. Register on the website, and make sure you mention you want a press pass.

  3. Nice one Steve :-)
    Actually I spent pretty much an entire working day recently, knowing that using Notes is obligatory, trying absolutely every key combination to find out whether there were any keyboard shortcuts. There are – though they don’t show in the menu items. (Uh?)

    I didn’t feel an obligation to write the article, except Jack had asked the question on the Technology blog, and people had replied. Had it been something else, I’d have written about that.

    Alan: the Notes Sucks site is being continually updated – it’s current. Yes, we have Notes 5 at GMG. On what basis do you say that “most” people are using 6 or 7? Where is that market data? Post a link.

    I’m afraid I can’t make the 7th March – Tuesdays are our section press day, and so I have to be in the office. Else I’d have come. Under the name of, I dunno, Salman Rushdie or something.

  4. I would have to agree with your complaints about poor user interface. I am obligated to use Notes (I don’t know which version, but knowing the organization I work for, it’s not terribly out of date), and I’m pretty fluent in navigating multiple programs both Windows and Mac, and it took me a month to figure out how to add an attachment (I gave up after a week before retrying again for another week a month later). There was nothing in any of the menus or even in help. I just happened to stumble upon it by chance when I was dragging a file on the desktop and noticed that there was a “+” when I dragged it over an open Notes window. Now, that is what I call an undocumented feature!!!!! It took me that long to realize that because like most organizations, my screen is a 15″ (if that) CRT, so the program is maximized in order to be able use it…

    Just ranting…

  5. I don’t think it’s just online. People don’t read that closely, period. You get complaints about “the story”, whether it’s in print or online, when all they’ve read is the headline or picked up on one stray sentence. I had one PR bitch about doing his client down when the story was about a completely different company. He didn’t get further than the headline. It provided some entertainment for the news team that day, especially the bit about cancelling advertising. This one was a print piece.

    Maybe Jacques Derrida was right all along: the writer’s intentions are irrelevant, it’s what the reader comprehends that carries the meaning. Or, at least, I think that’s what he meant. It’s hard to tell with Derrida.

    I suspect the volume of complaints in this instance has more to do with the quantity of online reading time available to sysadmins, in between tweaking Notes settings.

  6. @6
    I just don’t get that comment at all! yes you can drag and drop attachments into Notes documents, but this is hardly undocumented, come to think of it the keyboard shortcuts for windows and Mac are not undocumented secrets either. [Edited link to remove missing hyperlink closures - Charles A]

    other ways to attach files to a rich text field are by selecting “Attach. . .” from the file menu, (from the keyboard alt-f-a) or just pressing the paperclip icon in the toolbar.
    One critisism some people make of this is that it attaches the file at the cursor position, this means that if the cursor is in a field which can’t accomodate an attachment (e.g. the subject field of an email) then Notes will disable the menu option and toolbar icon for attaching files. It used not to do this and give you an error message if you tried to attach something into a text field.

  7. let me try those links again . . .

    I just don’t get that comment at all! yes you can drag and drop attachments into Notes documents, but this is>hardly undocumented, come to think of it the keyboard shortcuts for windows and Mac are not undocumented secrets either.
    other ways to attach files to a rich text field are by selecting “Attach. . .” from the file menu, (from the keyboard alt-f-a) or just pressing the paperclip icon in the toolbar.
    One critisism some people make of this is that it attaches the file at the cursor position, this means that if the cursor is in a field which can’t accomodate an attachment (e.g. the subject field of an email) then Notes will disable the menu option and toolbar icon for attaching files. It used not to do this and give you an error message if you
    tried to attach something into a text field.

  8. Charles,

    No need to repeat my opinion, it’s been stated pretty clearly elsewhere. Instead, I thought I’d address some of your concerns.

    Keyboard shortcuts – The ‘Help’ key in all Windows application is F1, I’m sure there’s a Mac equivalent but last time I used a Mac I played my favourite music CD in it and then realised there was no eject on the cd-rom drive. By the time I came back with the school lab technician, my album was gone. I’ve not used a Mac since. To summise, I don’t not how to call up help on a Mac, but there is also a Help menu. When in Notes help, use the search feature to looks for ‘keyboard shortcuts’. As if by magic you’ll see documents listing them all. Some of them may appear to be non-standard to you but you must recognise that Notes/Domino attempts to be platform agnostic and be consistent across those platforms. It’s also attempts to be consistent across versions so, for example, the F9 key is still the old faithful refresh key it always was in earlier Lotus Notes versions and in Netscape. This frustrate many MS users as for some reason they re-invented refresh to be F5 in Internet Explorer and Outlook.

    The main response to your article has indeed been flames, comments and criticism from Notes/Domino Admins & Developers. This is unsurprising as you write your column in an IT news weekly. Be realistic here, how many ‘Joe User’ readers are you likely to have. The majority of users hate IT and want little to do with it aside from doing their job. As a journalist you can be an exception as you’re in the industry without the need to be in any way a geek.

    Lotusphere events – To follow-up Alan’s comment, it would be great to see you at one of them, there’s a lot to be seen.

    – Ben

  9. As well as running a PR company I’m an elected councillor on Leeds City Council and unfortunately we are stuck with using Lotus Notes (5.06 from 2000) and from a user perspective it is terrible. One of many irritations is what happens when you right-click on an email – wouldn’t you expect options to reply, forward, assign a task/appointment, add sender to address book? Not one of these options appears. Drag an email on to the to-do icon – zip, nothing. At this point I give up and simply forward everything to OfficeTalk where I can actually manage my activity (DISCLAIMER: OfficeTalk is a client, although only for the last six months and I’ve been using it for years before that!).

  10. it is indeed unfortunate that you are using Notes 5.0.6. Please take a look at some of the new features in the current release for example:

    The Notes 7 mail database right-click menu has been expanded to include many new actions. These include blocking mail from a sender, setting quick flags for Follow Up, initiating a chat conversation, adding a sender to your address book, copying your message to a new memo, calendar entry, or To do item document, moving a message to a particular folder, and creating a QuickRule.

  11. Ben wrote: last time I used a Mac I played my favourite music CD in it and then realised there was no eject on the cd-rom drive. By the time I came back with the school lab technician, my album was gone.

    Seems like someone figured out the UI, then..

    The main response to your article has indeed been flames, comments and criticism from Notes/Domino Admins & Developers. This is unsurprising as you write your column in an IT news weekly. Be realistic here, how many ‘Joe User’ readers are you likely to have.

    No. No, no, no, no, NO. Guardian Technology is NOT an “IT news weekly”. It is a supplement in the Guardian which is specifically intended to be accessible to the ordinary reader whose interest in technology is perhaps greater than the average, or wants to find out more than they already do about topics they’ve heard about. It is not just IT; it is all of technology. If we wanted to be an “IT news weekly” then we’d call it something like “Guardian IT Weekly”.

    And my piece was not a column, it was a feature.

    I meanwhile find it amusing that the comments on this thread from Notes end-users exactly match the article’s point. As do those of the dev/admins. (Steve gets bonus points because (1) he’s a nice bloke (2) he knows this stuff all ends up (3) perhaps unusually for a dev/admin, he can see both sides of an argument.) Alan, I love your comment about it being “unfortunate” that Leeds CC is using Notes 5. Any time those version stats show up…

  12. OK, I don’t have and have not seen stats which are independant and gathered from a statisically unbiased population. I have seen at Lotusphere graphs based on support calls to IBM showing the speed of the takeup of R7 compared to prior versions. Yes you could take a cheap shot at this and attribute it to some kind of increased support requirement of the new version, but the overall volume of calls does not back this up. Ed Brill has published some figures in comment 52 of this blog entry I am still trying to find a published copy of the graphs, but they might not be publicly available. A show of hands from the audience in some sessions at Lotusphere pointed to about half on version 7 and half on version 6.5 with maybe 2 or 3 people from a room of 500 or so on prior versions. This I will acknowledge is a very unscientific group on which to draw conclusions, so I think the support call data is the best available right now.

  13. To say what Alan said differently — almost 90% of the market is on Notes versions 6.0, 6.5, or 7.0. So Charles, that’s why I don’t accept the Notes Sucks site as authoritative — that author isn’t on the latest, and even on the back-level version, a lot of their gripes are more than nitpicky (and could be found in any software). Did you know that until 2003, Outlook did NOT list the “inbox” as the first folder in its mailbox navigation? Why in the world wouldn’t the inbox be the primary container? It was listed -alphabetically-. So every programme has its faults.

    “why, on the Mac version of v5, which should be pretty advanced, user-interface-wise, since it’s heard of the internet and everything, is there no keyboard shortcut to reply to a message” Well, so the point is, V5 is advanced, but not exactly the state-of-the-art. It was built in 1998. Why doesn’t my 1998 cellphone know anything about SMS (state-side, remember), multi-band GSM roaming, 3G GPRS, etc.? Technology moves forward.

  14. To be honest, I don’t think the support call data indicates anything except how many people made support calls who were using that version. Support calls tend to come from those using a new version. But it tells you nothing about the population as a whole. I’d wager there aren’t many support calls about Windows 2000 compared to, I dunno, Windows Server 2003? Doesn’t mean there aren’t a shedload of users on W2K.

    I’ve seen Ed Brill’s data. It mentions number of companies, not number of users. We still await the latter…

  15. yes, I agree with you fully that support data isn’t the ideal reference point. I stand by my claim that most people are on 6.5 or 7, but I don’t have conclusive data to back that up. I do know that I have not come across people using 5 or earlier for quite a while, but then as I am a Notes application developer I might not be seeing a random cross section of the userbase. To be frank I don’t think the distribution of the installed versions is important to the point I am trying to make about your feature. The article was based on experiences of software released in 1998, now I don’t think you would write an article in 2006 saying “most users hate Windows” based on a personal experience of Windows 98. By all means you could write an article saying that windows XP sucks compared to Mac OSX, or Linux, just like you could write an article today comparing Notes 7 against current versions of competetive products. In order to make your followup article much better I would really like to help you to understand the current version of Notes and the developments coming soon. Maybe GMG would like some help with their upgrade to 7? Why not get along to the event in Manchester and drag with you some folk from your IT department. You need to get upgraded.

  16. Charles, in the interest of fairness, can you explain why you want to debate the usability of Notes R5 (1998! It’s 2006 now!)? Seriously, *should* we expect to see an article complaining about Windows 98? Do you still use OS 8 (9 came after Notes R5) at work?

    I won’t argue the usability of Notes R5 on the Mac vs Notes R5 on Windows, because IBM released it and their intent was for it to be a usable application – and there is no question among Notes geeks – they did *not* release a usable Mac product with R5. But for all your insistence on hearing from real end users, you seem to be unaware that the Mac users of Notes make up a tiny minority when compared to the Windows users.

    Why do you also insist that most users are using R5? Where is your evidence for that? You ask for evidence that people have upgraded to a more current release as though the proper expectation would be that most people would not, while simultaneously maintaining that Notes is forced on users by their IT staff. Speaking for the IT staff, there’s no way in Hades that we leave outdated versions of Notes around unless we have absolutely no other choice. It’s too critical to too many of our business processes, and the updated features are too powerful and effective. Yes, from OUR perspective, but we’re the ones forcing the updates out. Or so you maintain. Consistency of logic, please?

    The final question is almost to obvious to type, but in which parallel universe do people who *don’t* hate a product leap to its defense? Surely you’re aware of the inherent bias in every surver, where you only garner extreme responses. Oh, sure, people who *love* a product will respond, but those people tend to be power users. In the Notes world, when you’re a power user, you quickly become a developer because it’s so easy to build a Notes application.

  17. Charles, here and on Ed Brill’s blog I have seen some of your readers make the point that your research is based on a version of Notes from the last millenium. You say you are using R5 which I think shipped in 1998. Sorry if I missed it, but I haven’t seen you respond to this important point. (I have seen you compare Notes R5 with this week’s version of Gmail. Do you think that is a fair comparison?)

    Please answer the question. Why was it necessary to report on acknowledged weaknesses in an eight-year-old product, but not worth your time to research and report on improvements in versions 6, 6.5 and 7.0? In my opinion, that is a fatal flaw in your feature.

  18. Charles, I invite you, your company, and all other Notes users to my site to learn more about how to use Lotus Notes. Please take a look at the navigator on the left, there are links to the older content which you can access by date or by category. For example if you’d like to learn more about mail or about calendar and scheduling, there are plenty of topics on both. If there is a specific area of the product that bothers you, please let me know and I will see if I know any hints or tricks to help you out. Alan

  19. Charles, another perspective if I may.

    It was clear at the time of the last General Election that the average man on the street thought we had the ‘worst Government in the World’. We’d supported the Yanks in the Gulf War…fuel prices were through the roof…house prices unattainable by first time buyers…we’d let too many immigrants into the country etc. etc.

    So, we came to the election and man on the street expressed his views…”i ain’t gonna vote for them…they’re the worst in the world, I’ve had them forced on me for 8years”.

    So when it came to result time, who won? Labour got re-elected.

    The reason? Man on the street was right, he didn’t vote for them…but he didn’t vote for anyone at all. He fails to understand democracy or how the system works. It’s the thinkers that did the real voting. Those that recognised that whilst petrol wasn’t cheap, their mortgage was at a record low and half that under the last goverment. Inflation had also halved and unemployment also at a record low.

    The fact is man on the street just doesn’t understand and never will, just as Joe User doesn’t understand why people buy that Lotus Notes thing. But underneath, the men and women who are casting their vote and not standing on a soapbox are the real winners and get the product that best fits the requirements…regardless of what it looks like on the outside.

    There’s one phrase that fits here…”never judge a book by it’s cover”.

  20. Charles, please accept an invitation to our ‘Lotusphere Comes To You’ event in London. You can register here…

    This will give you the opportunity to view the latest in the Lotus portfolio and also hear about the things that are in development – in particular the next generation of Notes (codenamed ‘Hannover’) which focuses on ease-of-use and an updated user inteface… but not forgetting the productivity tools, security and collaboration which are so important to millions of users.

    Seriously, come along to the event – I’d be glad to welcome you there.

  21. Darren, I explained above why that date is impossible for me.
    The issues about version seem to have validity; except I’ve so far heard from one user who was a part-time admin who likes Notes. Or maybe two.

    By contrast, were one to say the same things about an Apple product, you’d never hear the end of it.

    Ben, your comments ignore, once again, the points made above. It does not matter how fantastic the backend is if users (and I’m not going “only” on what I hear in the Gdn offices) can’t figure out the front end. Plenty of people have chimed in on blogs around the world who are users or ex-users.

  22. @Charles
    “Steve gets bonus points”
    Yay! Bonus Points!

    I notice that doesn’t exist. Your argument is baseless – if you’re so keen on proving Charles wrong and you want to spend half an hour getting quotes, get some quotes from people who have said things like “I wish my software had an interface as intuitive as the interface on Lotus Notes” and “Switching to Lotus Notes was a painless exercise not just for my IT literate staff but also for my non-IT staff who didn’t want to spend 5 days working out where everything was” because my experience is that those quotes are really thin on the ground. Quotes from people like “director of IT infrastructure” and “IT Director” don’t count. As soon as one of your USERS pipes up, they’re wrong.

  23. Hi there Charles

    Just after reading your article on Notes & am greatly disappointed in the Guardian for putting out something which is so down-on-Notes. I’m a Notes admin & developer (& therefore an end-user too!) so Notes is very much close to my heart. And I’m sure you know, after the torrent that has rained down on you, that I’m not alone in this ;o)

    What I think people have taken umbrage to & I’m not sure if this has been intentional or not, but all the references you cite in your article about Outlook are positive. Do you think admins would say the same thing about Exchange? I would suspect not.

    Having used Outlook over the years, I have to say I prefer Notes.

    I’m not sure if you use Notes outside of just mail & calendaring. For the 2 Notes companies I’ve worked in, Notes databases (& by that I mean outside of the mail/calendaring outlook territory) are critical to the business & to their websites.

    How good those databases look depends on how good your developers are. Do you even have a Notes Developers team at the Guardian?

    I also think that it boils down to training too, & this is typically dependent on the company you work for. But you can get really good quick start guides from which concentrates on end-user training basics, if you’re not really sure of how the client works. What’s really good is that they’re very short. Also the help file is a great resource & Alan’s site is particularly good for handy hints etc. If you’re not used to it, most things will be a bit quirky as you get to gripes with them.

    I’ve always thought that IBM Lotus should base the clent menus on that of the old Macromedia suite. Knowing that a lot of design agencies & press work is done on Macs, it would be a nice thing that those in the design/print/publishing industry have something that they’re used to. After all, you are the opinion makers & breakers & you have the loudest voices!

  24. It’s Saturday morning so I am more focused on laundry than finding positive user quotes, but I had almost forgotten about this:
    “At this point, we’ve found relatively little difference between users of Notes, Outlook and GroupWise in terms of their level of satisfaction, although a slightly higher, but not statistically significant, percentage of Notes users report they are ‘very satisfied'”

    Yes, there are a lot of “I hate Lotus Notes” or “Notes is crap” articles one can find on the web. But when you actually do market research, and not just listen to loud voices, you find that the users are satisfied (especially among users of 6.5.x and 7.0) and, amazingly, can run $90 billion companies on Notes.

  25. Strangely enough, I did read it but I wasn’t going to comment. The one thing that struck me about was that you reported “Notes users report they are ‘very satisfied'” from this report. That was on the 10th. 2 days *LATER* someone called Michael Osterman said “The survey we’re conducting was not commissioned by any of our clients: we funded this study internally.”

    So they have a result for this study even though they’re still conducting it and they’ve just suddenly decided to do because they’ve got nothing to do that would earn them any revenue, the thing that most companies do this kind of thing for.

    How very altruistic of them and convenient for you. Any other quotes?

  26. If I could just get a word in…
    Vincent – What I think people have taken umbrage to & I’m not sure if this has been intentional or not, but all the references you cite in your article about Outlook are positive.

    There are no references to Outlook in the article, apart from factual ones saying that there’s a bridge to it from Notes, and something else.

    Thanks Ed for the link to the SMH. Ah, that glad city. The post gave me a great laff. Plus the even-handedness of the positive comment, which says near the end Notes is better for a very large company like ours, but you do have to look beyond the email / calendaring. We’re now on version 6.5, which is a good upgrade. [But] For a small office company, NO.

    Oh, and here’s some more user reaction from the folk at hates-software (but you sort of know what their reaction is going to be; however it’s user reaction, not admin. Though there’s no way of knowing if this is Gdn users posting to hates-software, I guess):

  27. Hi there Charles

    I was only trying to inform you how others would perceive what you wrote in your article & offer some help if you were experiencing diffs as I really do want to help. We are not all ogres in Lotus land. Nobody has issued a fatwah against you!!

    Actually, & to be pedantic, I saw 3 references to Outlook in your article so there are clearly references to it. The one you highlighted was factual, those others could be described as conjectural.

    Reference 1…
    Where Notes does win praise is from those who administer it, who say it is secure, stable and flexible. Databases can be tied together, and there is even a “bridge” to Microsoft’s Outlook.

    Reference 2…
    However, most people aren’t administrators, and while Notes’ back-end functions have advanced, its user interface has continued in a parallel universe where Windows never happened (though arguably it introduced tabbed browsing years before Mozilla). For Notes users, email and calendaring – the same functions that Microsoft offers through its Outlook and Exchange products – are what they do a lot of the day.

    Reference 3…
    “The point that is missed by advocates is that people want to be able to communicate … with anyone, not just those who are using the same programs. That’s why email was the killer app of Web 1.0. And Notes has fallen by the wayside. That’s one of the reasons that something as uncollaborative as Outlook kicked Lotus’s ass.”

    This is going to be my last post on this subject in your blog as I do not wish to descend into a mud-slinging match with you. I was only trying to help you!



  28. Vince (if you’re still tuned in) how do you square your comment just above with the earlier one where you say all the references you cite in your article about Outlook are positive? Ref 1 could easily be seen as praise for, Lord help us all, Notes. Ref 2 – is that “positive” about Outlook? Again, I’d call it factual. Ref 3 is a quote by someone else, and it’s hardly positive about Outlook, is it? The tone of that sentence is disparaging about Outlook.

  29. Charles,
    it is pretty hard to find decent, recent, end-user quotes supporting any position really isn’t it! I had a look round that hates-software rant site, it all seems to be written in 2004 by a manic depressive called Ann Barcomb who hates everything from Notes and Outlook to MySQL and CVS, I put it to you that CVS(a version control system for software source code) is not something a typical end user would know enough about to form a hatred of it! I may have missunderstood the way that site works though, but it looked like one persons rants. The problem is that very few typical end users have blogs and write about their experiences with software, they have better things to do. There were 6,000 people at Lotusphere who I would suggest are pretty keen on the platform, and they represent lots and lots of happy users.

  30. I read Charles’ article in the Guardian last week, and I agree with it entirely. I use Notes 6.5 at work and it’s complete rubbish. The interface is unintuitive and difficult. What’s worse, I’ve been using it for nearly 4 years, and I still can’t get to grips with it, and I consider myself to be pretty technically competent.

  31. @25 Are you using the famous ‘ad-hominem’ attack-line to discredit any opposing views? By this I mean that to say that you
    seem to say that validity means that the ‘user’ has to have no higher knowledge of the product?!

    I used Lotus Notes as my first corporate email product in 1994 – as well as a knowledge management product. Back then I
    worked in knowledge management for a management consultancy. (They are almost as despised as politicians, tax inspectors and err… journalists!). I use Outlook @ my current corporate employer which does the job as an email client – but can no way be described as anything related to KM enablement!

    Personally I see all the arguments about ‘usability’ as being Windows-centric. I never had any problems learning to use

    The reason I rocked up here was because I’m a long-standing Grauniad reader. Yeah, the Guardian NEVER makes mistakes eh? :)

    I saw the piece on Lotus and thought “sigh – there they go again”. Sorry, wasn’t that was the Gore/Bush debate?! No really, I was amazed and saddened to see such an ill-informed opinion piece in the Guardian. I was expecting to see the Fox News line of “some people say” to justify some of the nonsense put forward there!

    An example of such nonsense?
    >Databases can be tied together

    Really? Did you know that computers can be networked as well? Or that something called the “world wide web” exists as well?

    My two-penneth worth. (An on-off user of Notes since ’94 depending on employer!).


  32. Sorry Steve T – I actually meant @23. Not @25 – at you… too much of a big night out last night :-)

    As for @25… you are being a tad fatuous aren’t you? Are you seriously having a go at IBM for not having a /failures section of their website?!

    Please explain WHY quotes from people like “director of IT infrastructure” and “IT Director” don’t count? Is this some form of inverted snobbery?! :-)

  33. Steve: Are you using the famous ‘ad-hominem’ attack-line to discredit any opposing views? By this I mean that to say that you
    seem to say that validity means that the ‘user’ has to have no higher knowledge of the product?!

    It’s about the end user. It’s about Notes’s usability to the average person, who does not administrate it.

    OK, getting quite bored now having to explain that bit, which is in the article.

  34. Charles – congratulations – you got an (albeit off the cuff) breakdown by version and customer.

    Something Microsoft is very unwilling to provide at all. Why ?

    Because one suspects that 25% of MS exchange customers are sill on v5.5 and outlook 98/2000. There is also the suspicion that less than 25% of their userbase is on Exchange 2003 – the latest and greatest.

    Whereas, as Ed’s pointed out – the comparative product to Exchange 5.5 – Notes 5 – has far less existing users. Notes 6 came out after Exchange 2003, as did Notes 7. Hell, at this rate, Hannover (Notes 8) will come out before Exchange 12.

    Why is this important?

    Let me tell you about my user experience with Exchange 5.5. Twas a few weeks before 9/11, in the city of London. The Nihmda/D virus had came to play. The ONLY way that this BANK could prevent the virus from propogating to ALL their computers instantly was to shut down their routers and switches.

    The bank was shut down for the afternoon, as everyone ran round the building trying to fix PC’s.

    Why is this relevant to your hatchet-job on Notes ?

    Because – this is what old versions of MS software did. It spread viruses. The newer versions of Exchange are little better.

    I know of an Exchange consultancy shop in London. Who have an Exchange published author on their staff. Yet their mail system was down for over a week. EVERYONE had to use google mail instead.

    So this isnt even a “dumb user” problem. This is an exchange consultancy shop, who cannot make the MS competitor behave.

    Now the nice thing about the MS competitor is that all it does is mail and calendars. It does those pretty well, too. But you cannot extend this users mail or calendar experience. What you see is all you got, unless you want to start developing low-level code.

    Notes, on the other hand, is a collaborative software infrastructure, where mail is just another application. Companies – indeed most of the one’s Ive worked with all over Europe in the last five years – customise this template, adding their own capability.

    So. This is why the admin loves Lotus Domino/notes. It works, it works well, it doesnt spread viruses, and (according to your own experience) can run for years and years.

    (You’ve still not answered the question as to why your still running Notes 5 BTW ?)

    From a user perspective, the users had a lot to complain about with Notes 5. Hence the rather poorly executed hatchet job – the notessucks site. Did you notice that it was anonymous ? That at least 75% of the points raised there are no longer relevant ? Or did it just match too well your experience of Notes 5, so you thought you’d include it ?

    By your logic, I could easily create a web site called “”, fill it full of rubbish, and yet still use it to soundly beat the paper and/or your reputation ? Is this starting to make sense yet ?

    I could always use the WayBackWhen machine to get the Guardians web page from 2000, and complain about the lack of modern features there too. Would this comparison be any less relevant than yours ?

    So. You’ve focused on trying to find some users who are “happy” with Lotus notes. Has it struck you that the users of Lotus notes are neither “happy” or “unhappy” with the UI ? That its a BUSINESS tool for them – not a video game ?

    that most folks dont get emotionally attached to business tools ? When was the last time you hugged your printer ?

    Take some of the larger UK based companies for instance. Even some who are “exchange” shops. And you will find that many of their business applications run on Lotus Notes.

    Big Pharma especially seem to be a fan of Lotus Notes. I’m sure if you were to contact some of these companies, you would actually get some useful factual information, as opposed to the anonymous spittle you’ve collected so far.

    And as so many others have commented – what you put together was nothing more than an opinion piece on an out of date piece of software. Its a shame, as the various sycophantic MS bloggers are out there already, pedding this opinion piece as “fact”, and “conventiently” missing the point – as you did – that its Notes 5. Not 6, Not 7.

    So what happens. Another corporate ditches its Lotus Notes environment. For what ? Oh – for Exchange mail. Which is far less secure, less scalable, less robust. The UI looks magificient, by the way. Which is of little consolation when the mail system is down for days on end.

    But what of the applications that the business runs on ? Oh -MS cant migrate those “yet” (they’ve been trying for some considerable time). So they end up keeping the Notes servers forever, running two parallel, duplicate infrastructures. Ask your MS buddies about Great Plains software, and their lotus Domino servers. They were purchased by MS 6 years ago ?

    This is what happens when opinion pieces such as yours sways CIO’s on an emotional level as opposed to a business level. They screw up. They take second best. They vote for viruses, instablity, crap.

    Perhaps thats the difference between business applications and home PC’s. People dont look for bells and whistles. They look for stuff that makes a difference to their business. Reliablity, security, scalability – boring and not relevant for the end user ? Oh – so if the application is down for extended periods of time – as Exchange servers often are – this doesnt affect the end user experience ?

    What about asking the Department of Work and Pensions about their 80,000 windows machine outage the Christmas before last ? Did their extended outage affect the users perception of how cool the UI was ? Were they slightly less satisfied as windows users when they had to use fax machines to process claims ? You betcha.

    After all – is SAP exciting ? Fun ? Cool ? Possibly not.

    Successful ? God *yeah*.

    Give me a call – and I’ll give you some contact numbers for very very large notes customers in the UK. On condition you actually publish a rebuttal to this smear-piece…

    —* Bill

  35. @39 – Charles, let me have another go at explaining it.

    @38 – No, it’s not snobbery. The Notes client in unintuitive and badly written. I first used Notes in 1995 on a Mac. Since then, I have fallen in love with the product and I am a dual PCLP. But I can’t be like everyone else and say “Notes is great because it’s Notes” because it isn’t. People who have been on here, on my site and on LNUG blindly defending Notes against Charles’s opinion have failed to say anything that will change my thoughts about it.

    95% of the people that use Notes do not make a living because of Notes. They’re not administrators or developers, they’re users. End users. Not IT Directors. Not IT staff. It’s like asking the labour government to complete a survey on if they’re doing a good job or not. The results are in and apparently they are doing a good job. If you ask people who are pro Notes if they like Notes, they’re going to say yes. If you ask Charles if he likes Notes, he’s going to say no. Lotus aren’t going to put Charles’s comments on their site though.

    So, they’re not providing a fair and balanced report on the perception of Notes in the business world as a whole, just a few select comments. If someone dares to question this selective reporting, the whole argument as it’s been put to me and Charles so far is “You’re wrong because it’s Notes.” And this argument has not only been put across by Notes users but also by Ed Brill, a representative of Lotus.

    I love Notes and Domino. But this is the blind leading the blind. If you continue to accept a products failings because it’s overall function meets your needs, the manufacturer (notice I say manufacturer, not Lotus) will continue to foist poor quality product on you. To get back to he original point, because Lotus only asks “IT Directors” if their product is great, they’re going to carry on believing their product is great. What we need is for Lotus to ask more Charles Arthurs if their client is great and to find out just how great it isn’t.

    Let me finish by reminding you of my stance one last time.
    Domino – rocks.
    ND package – rocks.
    Notes Client – Bit crap.
    Notes Client, pretending to be a user and never having seen Domino – This is awful! What are all those buttons for? Why don’t obvious keyboard shortcuts work? Why should I become an expert on a piece of software that is just a tool to do my non-IT related job?

  36. See, as I was writing my comment, Bill was writing number 40. Another person missing the point.
    Firstly, please give Charles those phone numbers that you mention of some large clients. But don’t give him any names – he won’t want to speak to your selected few, he’ll speak to the end users. The people who use the client every day. Lets see if he’ll be writing a rebuttal then.

    And as for “This is why the admin loves Lotus Domino/notes” – hear that whooshing sound? That’s the sound of the whole argument flying over your head. Charles is NOT AN ADMIN. He’s a user. Users outnumber admins. By a huge proportion.

    And finally – ” (You’ve still not answered the question as to why your still running Notes 5 BTW ?)” – because HE’S A USER! It’s not up to him to choose which version of the Notes client he uses. Who cares that “7 is much better”? Surely that’s just confirmation of Charles’s opinion that R5 is crap? (for an explaination as to why he’s still using R5, look at my posts on esp. 22)

  37. >And this argument has not only been put across by Notes users but also by Ed Brill, a representative of Lotus.

    I’m not sure why this is personal, Mr. Thompson. It’s also not an accurate depiction of my approach to the market.

  38. >because Lotus only asks “IT Directors” if their product is great, they’re going to carry on believing their product is great. What we need is for Lotus to ask more Charles Arthurs if their client is great and to find out just how great it isn’t.

    By the way, I don’t know which “Lotus” you represent, but the Lotus I am employed by speak to end users all the time. In fact, the recent round of focus groups and usability testing disqualified people who were in IT — the key consideration is to speak to end users. See, for example,

  39. I totally get the point that it is about the end user experience, which in older versions there are certainly legitimate points to be made. In fact there are probably quite a few areas in version 7 where improvements could be made, or where things don’t behave the way some people expect them to (but don’t forget that two people could have mututally exclusive expectations). There are probably some areas where Notes could be better as an email client, if it was only an email client. For example I suspect that one reason that cmd+R isn’t a key binding for reply across the whole product is because you could be in a database which isn’t your mailfile, e.g. a document library or some custom application. Ctrl+M to create a new memo would be valid in this context but Ctrl+R would not. Keyboard shortcuts are not database specific, they probably could be, but there is kind of a logical reason why Ctrl+R does not compose a reply (not to mention there are 8 types of reply, the default should probably be a reply to all with history but without attachments). This type of logical reasoning probably would not impress the average end user who just wants the key binding to work. I think many of the issues in the past were based on hypothetical conversations like this:

    user: I want feature x
    IBM: no, because that would break consistency/internationalisation/backwards compatibility.
    user:I don’t give a toss. I want feature x.

    but recently the conversation seems to have been more like this

    user: I want feature x
    IBM: great idea, because of the Eclipse framework in Hannover we can implement your feature without breaking our goals of consistency/internationalisation/backwards compatibility.

    A lot of usability issues have been addressed in 7, and there are a lot more things that can be done in Hannover. I think as a journalist you should be looking at user reactions to current versions and whether IBM is addressing any concerns in future versions, examine whether the product is moving forward or not in terms of usability etc. I really don’t care if the results are positive or negative, I don’t work for IBM, and if you bring valid critisisms to their attention then hopefully they will try harder. I am however dissapointed because as I perceive it the article was not a fair representation of the current status.

  40. It’s not “personal” – just stating a fact. I don’t even know why you should think it’s personal. All I want is for you to say “yes, the client could be better” OR to provide me with real evidence that’s its not crap and unintuitive (see comment 30) from the point of view of the users, not the “users” who are in fact the admins and IT directors. Quick bit of maths – two newspapers, one magazine, two advertising agencies, one bank where I’ve been an Admin or developer or both over a 12 year career. Over 20,000 users in total. I’m absolutely certain that Lotus has never asked any of them for their opinion but it has asked me for my opinion three times.

    Joe’s site is an interesting link to chose because one of his articles is “Better UI Tops Notes Users’ Wish List” which is exactly the point I’m trying to get across. Additionally, I knew of this. It was Mary Beth’s initiative through Joe’s site. Not a Lotus initiative through the Lotus website. How big is your user base versus how many people responded to Mary Beth’s offer?

    Like I said – this isn’t personal and I’m sorry if you think it is. My point is about the software, the usability of the software and my constant annoyance that everyone is countering my argument with “you’re wrong because you are”.

  41. I find it amusing that the argument (correct me if I am wrong) is whether corporate entities should let their employees pick the corporate tools for doing the job, or whether cost-efficiency factors and overall cost of ownership and other such financial factors should come into play.

    Imagine a man or woman goes for a job as a delivery driver. He has read the job description which says his job is to get packages from A to B as quickly as possible.

    When he turns up for work he is given the keys to a (white) Ford Transit. He is shocked – “That’s not the fastest way to get from A to B, I need a Porche or a Lamborghini!” he tells his employer.

    Who is right, the guy because the Porche can go faster, or the corporate because the Ford Transit can actually deliver the goods?

    Oh, and I’m NOT a Notes Administrator!


  42. Charles,

    I’ve been patiently waiting for your response to Dave Delay’s pertinent and extremely valid question @19:

    “Please answer the question. Why was it necessary to report on acknowledged weaknesses in an eight-year-old product, but not worth your time to research and report on improvements in versions 6, 6.5 and 7.0?”

    In failing to respond to the question you tacitly acknowledge Dave’s summation that your feature is fatally flawed.

    Jings. Here I go. Imagine a journalist who corrects their errors. Sound unlikely? Yet that’s the perception one garners in trying to discover whether Charles Arthur …………. the “world’s worst ………..”. The discussions (at http://………..) suggest that those who have read it are united: to the average person, Charles Arthur displays all the ……………cornered……..

  43. OK, that particular argument I concede on – apart from the “That page has been quite advertised” bit as I obviously didn’t know about it. To me, the fact that it exists, shows that certain parts of Lotus do accept there are usability problems. So, are you going to agree with my point that there are usability problems with the Notes client, or are you going to defend this link as being a PR exercise and continue to insist that the product is perfect and that users who think it’s flawed are wrong because they’re wrong?

    @47 – your Porsche/Transit argument doesn’t apply to this argument. Yes, it’s a valid point, but what we’re talking about here is a transit straight off the production line compared to a ‘J’ Reg Transit with the steering wheel attached to the exhaust pipe and the pedals in the glove compartment. I know which one I’d rather use.

  44. @50 I beg to differ. Your argument is that because people “at the sharp end” don’t particularily like the Transit, the company should move to something else which suits your personal needs, rather than what the company wants. Unless you are in a technical or financial position to justify your choice as being more in line with company needs (and remember that you work for a company which you are implicitly criticising), rather than what you personally want, then you are just looking for a Porsche! And what’s more, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to customise the Transit than the Porsche.

    Try looking beyond your own selfish need and look to the company bottom line – when you come up with a solution which gives the whole company a lower cost of ownership and a simpler upgrade path, then perhaps the company should look to your solution.

    As for the J-reg Transit, I think you’ll find that the steering wheel and pedals are exactly where the people who paid for them want them to be.

    Perhaps if you answered @19 “Please answer the question. Why was it necessary to report on acknowledged weaknesses in an eight-year-old product, but not worth your time to research and report on improvements in versions 6, 6.5 and 7.0? In my opinion, that is a fatal flaw in your feature. “, then the J-Reg Transit would make more sense!

  45. @50 – In your first paragraph, you ask whether we are going to “continue to insist that the product is perfect and that users who think it’s flawed are wrong because they’re wrong?”. No-one said that the product is perfect. In fact I believe that much of the talk has been on the subject of how much it has come along in the last 7-8 years, and that the article is, at best, 8 years too late! Would you at least consider the fact that the version of Notes your ex-colleague is using is “dated”? That in order to use the word “Unfit” you should first define what it should be “Fit” for? The purpose of purchasing Notes is not to purchase a super-mail system; it is to support a collaborative environment.

  46. so. @40 (in this style I’m getting used to..) By your logic, I could easily create a web site called “”, fill it full of rubbish, and yet still use it to soundly beat the paper and/or your reputation ? Is this starting to make sense yet?

    (rests forehead on palm). It would be an analogy if people came in to work to find that the only source of information they had was The Guardian and the Gdn website. Do you not follow the usability argument?

    @51: As for the J-reg Transit, I think you’ll find that the steering wheel and pedals are exactly where the people who paid for them want them to be.

    Yes- mounted on the ceiling. The surprise of the newly-hired drivers, who are used to finding them respectively on the dashboard and on the floor, meets the response: “Yes, but that’s how we’ve always done it. You’ll find that you have fewer accidents because you can’t be on your mobile phone at the same time.” But we now discover that there’s a project in place which is gradually finding out whether people would prefer foot-controlled pedals and a front-oriented wheel.

    And to all, this awful warning: you are in danger of matching the obsessive behaviour of G4 fans. (See near the top of the RH column “most commented”.) This on its own, I’d have hoped, would make everyone jump back in horror and go and read some of the user experiences out there instead.

    As to this “@19″ thing. Let me reiterate: it’s about usability, usability, usability. This has been picked up plenty. User champions, though, are few and far between. Splash the cash to get Jakob Nielsen to do a Notes usability test. I’d buy tickets. And I’d write it up.

  47. @53.

    You’re talking about the usability of an 8 year old product while ignoring more recent versions and we want to know the reason for that.

    Heck, the right click in Notes R7 can be criticised for being cluttered but you haven’t even done that which suggests that your feature was insufficiently researched and may even have been based on prejudice. Your feature did not mention ‘Hannover’ which is surprising; you could have used that as evidence to suggest that IBM/Lotus recognise that the UI needs improvement but you didn’t and I contend that you didn’t either because you feared it would weaken the (negative) case against Notes you were determined to make in general or because you didn’t thoroughly research the matter.

    At the end of the day users want a telepathic UI that anticipates their thoughts and ‘just does it’. It’s unrealistic but that’s what users want and anything less than that will garner criticism from somewhere irrespective of the product. You picked on Lotus Notes but did not, seemingly, apply anything that can be reasonably described as a scientific method.

    The questions @19 stands. “Why was it necessary to report on acknowledged weaknesses in an eight-year-old product, but not worth your time to research and report on improvements in versions 6, 6.5 and 7.0?”

  48. @50 It was advertised on Ed’s blog, at Lotusphere, on the IBM site, in the forum, through the business partner network via the partner forum, on that Lotus sucks website, and probably a lot of other places, those are just the ones I saw. I don’t belive it has yet been advertised in the Guardian, but there is still time (actually the original reqest asked for feedback by 17th Feb, so Charles, if you feel like publishing that link then tell Mary Beth first so it stays open a bit longer)
    I for one am happy to concede that there are places where usability could be improved, I would never insist that the product is perfect, but it is only fair and reasonable to pick holes in the current version.

  49. Could be worse though, you could be using Groupwise. Groupwise 6.5 (which we started using in October) was the first release that actually displayed a little icon next to a mail message indicating that you had forwarded or replied to a message. Something Eudora had in 1992. Almost made me miss outlook….

  50. Charles – this thread rather proves the point alluded to in your (very good) piece. Lotus Notes is, for the end user, an unambiguously bad piece of software. Bad, insofar as it makes work hard. That is a common feature, no matter the version – I’ve ‘em all, as an informed end user, since the mid 90s. The reason you’re taking heat is because you’re disturbing the cosy world that a subset of admins have created around this suite of software. Poke a wasps’ nest, and prepare to be stung. But do, please, keep prodding – there are plenty of iniquities in the IT world which lead only to damaged productivity, bruised employee moral and a reduced bottom line. In some businesses, the organisation is aligned to protecting those goals, and IT is correctly regarded as a service unit, not a strategic unit. But perhaps that’s another area for you to examine, another day.

  51. @55 – yes, it was advertised at the places that all users go. Only last year every employee of PWC, Trinity Mirror, The Guardian, The Independent and UBS was reading on Ed’s site about what to expect at LotusSphere when their employers sent them en-masse to it.

    The people who go to LotusSphere and read Ed Brills site already like Notes. As I said earlier – if you ask 10,000 people who you know already like Notes if they like Notes, you’re going to get a misleading repsonse. Ed’s inability to provide an example of end users, not IT directors or Finance directors, but everyday users saying “I love it” confirms this.

    A form of logical inference or an instance of it, based on the assumption that if two things are known to be alike in some respects, then they must be alike in other respects.

    And I answered 19 in 42. And on LNUG.

    @52 and 51 together. Firstly, please DO NOT use the word “selfish” to describe my “needs”. You haven’t been reading this argument through, really, have you. Usability is NOT a selfish need. It is the FIRST stage in interface design. A first year computing student can tell you that. Additionally, since you’re just picking out bits to pounce on and not reading the whole thing through, I am a dual PCLP and have worked with Notes and Domino since 1995. However, at no point has anyone said that I’m not allowed to have a negative experience of it purely because it Notes. However,

    “No-one said that the product is perfect” – I can only find two people who haven’t said that Charles is incorrect. Everyone else is defending the usability of Notes with the argument of “you’re wrong”. In that case Joe, you’re wrong. And I don’t have to explain why. You just are. If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me.

  52. So it’s a little late for a comment, but I just chanced upon this site.

    To clarify, hates-software is a mailing list where we simply complain about whatever is annoying us at the moment, without looking for a solution to the problem. As most of the subscribers are programmers, someone, somewhere, is cursing us as well.

    Anyhow, kudra.hates-software shows only threads I started, while shows all recent rants.

  53. Also a late comment, as I’ve just chanced upon this too. I’ve developed in Notes for many years, and (obviously) worked in large organisations that use Notes. In all honesty, in my experience negative comments about Notes have been *very* rare. People are more concerned with getting on with their job than worrying about minor interface issues. And any quirks people find with software (any software) are quickly fixed in their own mind. Perhaps employees are cursing inwardly daily, wasting hours of their time trying to find that attach button, or how to quickly respond to an email, but if this is the case, then I think more attention needs to be paid to the caliber of the employees. I am not denying the need to continually improve interfaces, and IBM have proved with subsequent versions of Notes (notably Hannover, which promises big things on the UI front) that they take this seriously.

  54. I work for an 8,000 employee company as a Project Manager and have to say that it is my opinion that Notes does not enable productivity to be at the same level that Outlook could/ would.

    I have heard the same arguments from the systems team regarding easy administration, etc, but the systems team is a small percentage of the overall employee population. One or two additional salaries in that department would more than be paid for (I believe) by the increase in productivity that would result from having office packages that work properly together.

    The above comment from HorsMors (and the other defenders of Notes) is exactly the kind of thing that I have heard before and it irritates me (too much? Probably, but I am getting grumpier as I age.). I am in business to help the business make money and outperform the competition. Notes does not enable this, it frustrates it.

    Just as an indication of how correct the article was in the first place – everybody on here complaining about Notes is a user, everybody defending it is a coder/ admin/ developer whose jobs rely/ depend are directly or indirectly interlinked with Notes and it’s continued existence.

    I am viewing this from an enterprise level and have to say that Notes fails to make the grade. Thankfully, rumour has it that we will be changing to Outlook within the year.



  55. As an administrator of Both Notes/Domino and Outlook/Exchange and can tell you that Notes server is

    more scalable
    Much more Reliable
    Easier to manage
    MUCH easier to upgrade
    Easier to restore mail
    and by far the most flexible.

    I have worked in company’s that use it for e-mail, Intranet, Internet, Document Management, Instant messaging and simple database apps, all on one server, you can’t do that on Exchange, you ned about 10 MS servers to offer that. To a company small and large its financially cheaper than having a seperate server and a support team for each type of app that notes can do on one server.

    The interface is poor, it has been for a long time, IBM concentrated so hard on getting the back end right they forgot the front… But they are now working on that so it should get better.

    Exchange how ever is a real pain to support. Restores are a nightmare, being an MS product it intergrates with Active Directory and nothing else and Upgrades are a heart in mouth experience. Its not uncommon to lose 1 day a month to an exchange problem.

    Give me Notes any day, its simple.

  56. @David: yes, it’s simple to administer. I utterly believe that. However the *client* software is a complete pain. Go and read the followup –,,1710261,00.html – which demonstrates that, again and again, administrators love it for its simplicity on the server and users hate it for the client program’s complete anti-UI.

    Fortunately, I only have to interact with it through the web interface. I’ve spent years avoiding it, first by using Eudora to its POP output, and lately via Apple Mail to its IMAP capability. Both are great. Lotus Note the client ain’t. It’s dire and stupid. For instance, the latest version for OSX has scroll wheel support. Wow! That’s only taken, what, 6 years to take advantage of the built-in APIs on OSX, where since 2001 any scroll wheel mouse you plug in works right away – no driver installation or other junk. Ignoring that is just coding as afterthought. Users notice it, and however good the reason might be, users don’t care. They want usability, not long-winded reasons why the administration is easier.

  57. I just support the system and the finances that are needed to do that. I completely agree with you that front end has been bad for years, it never moved on with the times, MS has always made the approach the other way, I nice interface and will sort the problems with the back end later.
    Outlook is a very good e-mail client, it has far to many options for my liking, I just want to send an e-mail.. But its very good and easier to deploy in a hot desking world. But it just does e-mail.
    IBM are trying to catch up on the looks side and the new version looks more like Outlook which is a good thing.
    The past is the past. Look at the new R8 version and forget the past looks. Start from a fresh perspective.

    A lot of companies I see now use the Inotes web version more now, and all the other notes apps are built with Inernet explorer in mind rather than the older Fat client. Inotes isnt the best webmail I have seen but its not bad. Companies are reducing the software on the PC’s.

    “They want usability, not long-winded reasons why the administration is easier” Agree. BUT
    Money my friend is the big one, the bean counters are the people who make the decisions not the IT techies. Lose a day every month will cost? Another server will cost? an upgrade requires a new environment will cost? etc
    oh and those nasty SLA’s that users when it doesnt work, “why isnt it working and whats your SLA” says the customer to the IT bod.
    Notes wins on the quick wins not the usability. Faster fixes, less down time, cheaper TCO (total cost of ownership).
    Obviously any saving to the company is reflected in bonuses etc.

    You may not like the interface but how many times is the system not actually availble to use, and if it is how quickly does it come back.
    You would be the first to complain when its broken i am sure, with a heated call to the helpdesk :o)

    On another note.
    Found this as a reply to another comment. Hope they help.

    Some keystrokes that some other popular mail applications bind to commonly used features do not work in Notes. Examples are:
    Notes uses Ctrl->M to create a new mail, whereas some other mail clients use Ctrl->N for this purpose. (However, Netscape’s mail component and Mozilla Thunderbird also use Ctrl->M on a PC, or Shift->Command->M on a Macintosh).
    Ctrl->R, to create an email reply, also does not work in Notes, which uses Alt->2,R for this purpose.
    Notes uses F9 as its refresh key and F5 to log a user out without terminating the program. Some Microsoft applications (e.g., Outlook 2002, Explorer, Internet Explorer) use F5 as a refresh key, others (e.g. Outlook 2003, Word, Excel) use F9. F9’s use as the refresh key in PC applications pre-dates Microsoft’s choice of F5. It dates from the early 1980s, when Lotus 1-2-3 was the most popular PC application.

  58. What is should also add is some blame on to IBM. There was a time where notes was very stagnent, with no investment from IBM etc. Over the last 5 years IBM has really started a big push on improving it which is LONG OVERDUE.
    From about 1996 – 2000 there really didnt seem like anything was happening in the Notes world and this is really down to poor product leadership at IBM.
    It was only when ibm realised how many people were paying license fees for Notes and they were grumbling about it and thinking of Exchange migrations etc that IBM actually took notice and realise that some 10% of their revenue was from Notes.
    They lost a lot of customers due to this (and I made a few quid) so hopefully they will keep moving forward and improve things.

  59. @David on 69: The past is the past. Look at the new R8 version and forget the past looks. Start from a fresh perspective.

    I’ve been hearing that since they replaced Microsoft Mail in the place I worked at with Notes. With each version. And it’s never been enough.

    As to the key bindings – Notes isn’t going to trump all the other apps on my Mac. So it ought to live with all the default Mac keystrokes. Ctrl-M for “New”? When every other app on the flipping machine uses Ctrl-N for “new”? At some point, you have to stop telling people that their feet are the wrong size for their shoes.

  60. @68 “Go and read the followup –,,1710261,00.html – which demonstrates that, again and again, administrators love it for its simplicity on the server”

    I just re-read that article. I couldn’t see anybody therein – be they administrators or not – defending the product on the grounds of its “simplicity on the server”.


    – Mike

  61. Hmm, yes, true, Mike. Perhaps what I was trying to say was “easier to administer”. Which would be a server thing. As opposed to a client thing.

    Re-reading the piece, I was struck by the comment of the person who said ‘surely the thousands of end users matter more than the few IT people.” Tch. Typical, eh?

  62. @73
    Sorry, can’t see anybody defending it on the grounds that it’s “easier to administer” either. Perhaps that’s because it’s not.

    There’s an awful lot to Domino administration, as it happens. As well as the product’s own proprietary stuff (shitloads of it) there’s also the likes of POP3, IMAP, HTTP, MIME, SSL, HTML, LDAP, TCP/IP, DNS and so on that have be understood at some level. Easy to administer, Domino most certainly is not.


    – Mike

  63. @74: ye gods, Mike, are you telling me it’s tricky to work with on the server side as well as the client? I may have to lie downin a darkened room.

    So I should be able to plug into its LDAP for Apple Mail?

  64. @75 It can be, yes. There’s certainly a lot to it all. Those poor, misguided fools in IT that recommend the product must have other reasons for doing so.

    You may well be able to hook into LDAP for Apple Mail. It all depends whether it’s running on any of your company’s servers.


    – Mike

  65. The end of the story is (and I could care less what Admins think, i’m a user) NOTES SUCKS. All I want is, any product that allows me to use any other email platform, plug in, whatever — I just want to bypass Notes. Notes is the worst, Ver.5, 6, 7 & 8. If anyone has any other NOTES SUCKS websites, post them please. I like to send them to our overpaid NOTES Support folks… (Who, yes, Love Notes. I would too, if I was making that kinda money to support a obsolete product… Im just the VICTIM that is forced to use it.)

  66. My organisation has just moved to Notes (v6.5)

    As anyone who has used it will surely realise I now spend much time searching online trying to find out how to do even the simplest tasks (hence stumbling on this article).

    It is a complete nightmare to use. It is IBM who write it? If so, I shall certainly minimise my dealings with them in the future.

  67. I’m an admin, an end user and a developer. The sheer horror of the Notes 6.5 mail interface made me vow never, ever to consider it even for a moment as any kind of alternative to developing in c#/ with sql.

    I have yet to discover even a single redeeming feature about Notes. When it’s easier to delete and re-create users and then assign them to their old mail file (with its properties changed) than to get Notes to do a simple thing like renaming a user, then something is horribly, horribly wrong. And don’t say it’s a matter of training – I needed no training at all to figure out how to do this on Exchange, Active Directory or practically any other MS product.
    Say what you will about MS’s business practices, but at least their products don’t require excessive workarounds or *training* to do something basic like *renaming a user*.

  68. My – very large – organisation is using Lotus Notes 6.5.

    It is unusable. Not a single function is readily obvious.

    Outlook is so, so much better.

  69. @74
    You’re kidding me right !?!?!? Maybe you’re using your elbows or something but how hard is it to type “load http” or “load pop3″ ………… !?!?!?!?!?! Yep, real tough stuff. Please don’t be an admin where I work.

  70. Just saw your article – loved it

    The reason this POS continues to be used in the “millions” of users has nothing to do with users liking it – they almost universally hate it

    It’s because of incompetents in corporate IT who shouldn’t have the jobs they have making these kind of decisions in a total vacuum – they’re sold a bunch of BS by IBM and are too ignorant and unqualified to know when they’re being sold a load of crap. IBM makes some of the most awful software around BUT they DO have some great sales people who know how to leverage the incompetence of the corporate IT folks they sell to.

    Corporations often have a lot of people paid to operate the IT functions – but have very few “professional” IT staff.

    Way too many large companies are staffed with weak links unqualified for what they’re charged with – managers who are so incompetent that they have no experience or background to make strategic technology decisions and so they delegate the decision making process and it rolls downhill (often to the lowest rung on the ladder) to some guy who picks a product solely because he just read an article about it or because he “thinks it’s cool”.

    If they polled their user base they’d get a resounding “get me the hell off this garbage” – but they don’t.

    They just plod along like always – not wanting to make changes because to do so might raise questions about their initial decisions. Better for them to stick their heads in the sand, stick to the same misdirected course, and hope to make it to retirement before it becomes painfully obvious to management that they’ve been wasting corporate resources and staff time promulgating prior poor decisions.

    Lotus Notes is the poster child for why Java apps on the desktop is ALWAYS a bad idea – and even more importantly, you should NEVER EVER deploy IBM apps to the desktop.

  71. I worked on Notes 8 (I think it was) in 2011. It had the same problems; useless error messages, unintuitive UI, bad shortcuts, clumsy layout in menus.

    Notes’ problem is simple; it’s been engineered by programmers without ever once asking users what they need. That’s why administrators love it; they’ll code it and make it their own. But users don’t give a rip about that. They want to cut/move messages, delete or re-file messages without having to muck around with new menu commands.

    Lotus needs a “simple mode” where it works just like 90% of the mail clients out there. They need to let users customize the shortcuts.

    It still sucks. It still SUCKS!

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