I Hate Notes Too

Yesterday I was in a meeting with my current clients. Two of the people in the meeting were IT Manager (ITM) and Project Manager (PM). I got the gig by virtue of this site and the ITM being aware of it. ITM is pro-Domino. PM cares about the end solution and not the technology used. However, the PM is well aware of ITM's preference to use Domino, which is half the reason I expect I won the bidding over other non-Domino competitors.

Anyway, PM had been reading The Guardian on the train in and had kept a page to show the ITM. I think you know the page I am talking about (yes, it was in the printed version too). They both spent a while laughing about it and then I think (as I read the situation) they stopped in case they offended me. To break the air I then said "Don't worry, I hate Notes too" and they both continued to laugh.

It might seem like an odd thing for a consultant and Lotus professional to say as part of the small-talk at the beginning of a meeting with clients. So, why did I say it? Well, apart from the obvious reason that I do have strong feelings of hatred towards the Notes client, it was to make a point. With a nod toward the demo of the site I'm building them, which was being projected on the screen in front of us all, I went on to say "This is not Notes though. This is Domino!". I can't remember exactly what I said following that but I hope it put PM's mind at rest. It can't be easy to get so far in to the project to read a news article saying that everybody in the world hates the product they've chosen to build their site on.

Something PM would have picked up on in the article is that Notes usability is something of an oxymoron. This is bound to have set alarm bells ringing as one of the major remits of the project is that it has to be "usable". For this reason I spent a large part of the budget on having clear:left come in and consult on how best to achieve this. After numerous Information Architecture meetings and a round of actual user testing we've arrived at a prototype like no other Domino-run website I've ever seen. It's certainly changed the way I think about developing websites with Domino.

I have no doubt that the client will absolutely love what Domino, I (Rockall) and clear:left will deliver. All I wanted to do by saying what I said was put PM's mind at rest between now and launch. Also I wanted to get a cheap laugh, which it did. My approach to doing business is down-to-earth to say the least (it must be the Northerner in me). I tell it like it is and I think people prefer that to any obvious sign of being sold something.

Rather naively I thought I could come home from the meeting and break the story to the world, thinking that nobody else would have read this section of the paper that day and blogged about it. However, as you probably know, it's on the web and there's currently a whole furore of hyperbole underway. I'm staying right out of all that.


    • avatar
    • Anura
    • Fri 10 Feb 2006 05:44 AM

    One of the bloggers for the Sydney Morning Herald also picked up that article, and added his own comments >== {Link}

    Only two arguments in there:

    1. Clients hate the Notes client - therefore Notes is bad.

    2. We had a bad Notes developer and/or development experience - therefore Note is bad.

    I think your point is spot on. How many people are out there using Domino-based web applications with no thought of the underlying technology. I think usability is the key to web applications, but once you have that nailed Domino has to give you a head start when it comes to developing the application.

  1. And as I said in my blog yesterday, many Notes houses don't bother upgrading the designs of their systems.

    I did a project last year for a major formerly British based Steel company who use Notes as their major system. And I was rather surprised to see that they still used a Version 4 mail file design.

    Imagine the shock I gave them when I told some of the users how to upgrade their own mail files.

    Strictly speaking I had no right to do that. But the Notes client they were using and the server their mail files were on were all of the same newer version, it was just that their mail files had never been upgraded. This is partly the reason Notes gets such bad press.

    I even gave a couple of the users in the office their own colour coded versions of their mail. Not that I could ever sit their staring at a Pink coloured mail system. 0_0

  2. Easy answer to how so many can hate it; they hate the mail client, but like the rapid development model of all the other applications.

    The mail client has been the bane of Notes, and I for one cannot wait untilt they overhaul that POS.

  3. Why why why do people hate the Notes client? I don't even understand the hatred for Notes mail, but using the client to access Notes dbs is fine. And I can develop a Notes client db faster than a web one. And of course, faster than in any Microsoft technology (even though I love .NET).

    So what do they hate? I am genuinely mystified. Jake - perhaps you can enlighten me!

  4. There is also the fact that it is so very easy to write BAD Notes applications. How many web sites have we seen out there with things that were done half-assed? Those that, possibly with a little thought, didn't need to be built at all, or could have been part of a much more useful application if someone had taken the time to think about it. Things that never, ever should be done, like launching the site in a frameset containing a view applet with 100,000 documents in it? Notes development makes it very easy to skimp on or skip entirely the design phase and "do it on the fly". Ironically, this speed of development cycle can also be one of Notes biggest benefits, if it is implemented adequately (ie, not at the last minute when the house is burning down, which I've seen happen in more than a few instances). Sorry for hijacking the thread with this rant, Jake, but it just had to be done, IMHO anyway.

  5. I just had to add an example to this....

    I had a client once whose main application was 40 contract databases that opened to precisely that. Why? The initial developer built it that way, and no one had ever done a design review. People just kept adding features. They ended up with a poorly designed application that was 8 years old and in which half of the work HAD to be done in the client, and the other half HAD to be done in a web browser. With a little thought and work, they could have had an incredibly useful workflow application (their work consisted of SCHEDULE APPOINTMENT, ADD NOTES AFTER THE APPOINTMENT, FILE A CLAIM, AND RUN REPORTS ON THE WHOLE PROCESS.. something Domino is excellent at). However, their implementation SUCKED. Instead of fixing it, they just went on and on, and eventually spent about half a million dollars and migrated to 2 MS based solutions which don't do everything they could do with the single Domino solution and a mail client(they never even knew Notes/Domino did e-mail there, pop3 in some product that i cant't think of now was all they used).

  6. Same old debate. the Notes server (Domino) is a wonder for the most part and always has been, the Notes client is a crock. Email is a bolt on use of the document storage system and the client implementation is extremely poor. Perhaps someone will write a web-services layer in front of Domino and then we can actually have a spiffing, browser based interface full of Web 2.0, AJAXy goodness. Ooww, can I, can I?

    • avatar
    • Mikey
    • Sat 11 Feb 2006 07:08 AM

    As Joel says, it is easy to write bad applications and easier for non developers to write even worse applications. I have known people to go from Notes administrator roles straight into development roles and write the most awful applications using mostly formula as they have no scripting experience.

    These applications are then deployed companywide where they work for a while and then 'break' due to the limitations of THE DEVELOPER not Notes. I am at present having to rewrite a number of these applications which are causing major problems and cannot believe how awful they are. Hard coded names and major reliance on Replication formulas for security to name just two things (I hate replication formulas and have never developed a database which would use these). If I was new to Notes, I would certainly NEVER want to use it having seen them. Also, a number of developers I have seen concentrate so much on the back end that they give no thought to how it looks for the user. My first thought with development is to make something that makes the experience pleasurable for the user; if they don't like the look of it they have a completely different perception of it even if it works fantastically in the back end. Imagine a LADA with a Ferrari engine - enough said I think. (sorry all you Lada owners, I'm sure they are lovely really).

    I do get a great buzz showing people something in Notes (showing off really) that they could not believe possible and it is these things that give them the faith to continue with it.

    I LOVE NOTES I just hate bad developers.

    ...and relax!

  7. Check this out:


    Highlights 2 important things:

    a) Passion. With so much negative energy around the product must be terrific

    b) Until Hannover IBM was rather risk averse...

    :-) stw

  8. Well, it's nice to know that the section doesn't just get thrown away on the train...

    John Major, when Prime Minister, once rang Kelvin McKenzie, then editor of The Sun, and asked him what the Sun was going to do about some event that had turned out bad for the government of the day. (Most of them were doing then.)

    "Well, Prime Minister," said McKenzie, "I've got a big bucket of shit here, and I'm going to pour it all over your head."

    Which is sort of how it's felt... except that threads like this one, and the comments, all back up what the article said. Thanks for your insight. And keep those users happy..

    • avatar
    • Axel
    • Sun 12 Feb 2006 01:27 AM

    1) We all know that alleged "bugs" of the software are sometimes used by not-so-experienced developers as excuse.

    2) On the other hand I don't know *any* system where bugs or flaws of the platform the software is based on doesn't contribute to some extra-hours of work.

    If you are working with reasonable experience on a complexer project on a certain platform there are 2 kinds of people in the customer organization:

    Group A accepts 2) and it is a pleassure to cooperate with them. Group B does believe that IBM or Oracle or JBoss.org or Interface21 or Sun or whoever is unfaible.

    I have lost part of my time on this planet in crazy meetings with persons from Group B.

    • avatar
    • IanB
    • Sun 12 Feb 2006 05:22 AM

    I love this line at lotusnotessucks.


    We were "upgraded" to Lotus Notes 6.5.2 recently. Lotus Notes still sucks.'

    Slightly different track -

    I've been having to work with sharepoint teamsites recently and was struck by how similar it is to the domino model 'views, documents, fields etc.' but falls short. I'm amazed by the fact that I want to do something (embed a view in a form to display related documents) but can't. Muttering, "jeez, this would take me 5mins in lotus".

    If the whole client were transported to the web, including a simple designer, IBM would pick up so many sales from those people who don't want websphere, but want WSS functionality. Anyone know if there's any project out there?

    • avatar
    • Jake
    • Mon 13 Feb 2006 05:18 AM

    @Tim. Why do I hate using the Notes client? I'm not sure I have the time to explain. Let's just say it's the one piece of software that actually makes me scream obscenities at the moinitor on an almost daily basis.

    • avatar
    • Darren
    • Mon 13 Feb 2006 06:36 PM

    Like Tim, I don't understand why people don't like Notes. Okay, Outlook wins the beauty contest. Okay, some of the Notes functionality can be a bit cryptic. But when I read the blogs and comments all I ever seem to hear is "I hate Notes" with no explanations. And that doesn't give the opinions much credibility.

    Of course I'm biased. I would say Notes is great. I truly believe that a user, not just as someone who has a vested interested in making sure Notes continues to be a success. I spend lots of time travelling, dealing with various connection speeds and locations - there's no other mail client that would allow me to work with such efficiency (even before you start to talk about collaborative applications). The integrated presence awareness and instant messaging makes contacting people so much easier - you have their names in the context of what you're doing, mail or applications - you don't have to add them to a buddy list before contacting them. Some of the new features in Notes 7 such as recipient indicators and message threads embedded in an e-mail allows me to process e-mail much more quickly - get it out the way and get on with some real work.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but let's hear some supporting reasons.

    • avatar
    • Margus
    • Tue 14 Feb 2006 12:04 PM

    Almost all mainstream software applications with large user base could be criticized at some point. There is no such kind of thing like 'one size fits all' in modern software world.

    I would ask to look the issue in a broader context. Look the tone of an article (Guardian)- it does not fit into the paradigm of good inependent press ethics. Think of who would like to see Notes dead behind the scenes? Timing?

    Instead, I would not put so much heat on 'how bad is Notes' issue although there is a positive said too, actually, this kind of brainstorming is a good and valuable feedback for Notes developers (IBM among others) to improve Notes in the future.

  9. When R 4.7 came off support, I think I suggested in the forum that IBM open source it because at the time, they were running it into the ground with the direction R5 was taking. Since then, it has gotten a lot better... a whole lot better. They even (FINALLY) redid the print interface.

    But, all af the recent improvements have been reactionary changes that came at the behest of the developer and user community. Just imagine if IBM unleashed the -current- code base as Open Source and sponsored a foundation to further develop the product. Instead of being reactionary, they could be developing the software proactively.

    Business wise, this only leaves out the money made on licenses, which, from what I can tell, isn't that great anyway. There is far more money te be made in consulting services. They seem to get it (IBM) when it comes to their Z-series mainframes, but have this pyramid marketing quagmire (business partners carying the evangelism ball) when it comes to Notes?

    I know a few IBMers read here occassionally... any takers on this idea? Has Firefox not been convincing in it's fight for market share against IE? What is IE 7 but an attempt at old school institutional software development trying to mimic Firefox? What is Vista but the same of OS X (based on Free BSD, with a healthy dash of proprietaryness thrown in for laughs apparently).

  10. Well, to be honest, the average user doesn't really look at it that closely, and doesn't really have reasons why they don't like Notes beyond the fact it doesn't look like Outlook or the Exchange client.

    It's as simple as that usually.

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