Lotus Notes is rubbish

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Lotus Notes UI is a disaster. Examples are legion, and there are doubtless a million web pages attesting to this. So here’s the million-and-first. I thought Notes was clunky the first time I encountered it, which was back in 1996. I was dismayed in 2003 when I started a new job to find that I would have to use the Notes client, not just for email, but also for internal documentation and even for entering time sheets. It turned out that that company had started life as a Lotus Notes development shop. I managed to escape, but now my new company and the client that I am working for both use Notes for email. It’s a nightmare.

Unless otherwise indicated, all comments apply to Lotus Notes client version 6.5, though a lot of the comments apply to version 7.0 as well. Webmail comments apply to version 7.0.

Preferences: Looking for Preferences? There is a Preferences submenu under the File menu. It contains six menu items for different kinds of preferences (but none of them are to do with files). But there’s also another preferences command, in the Actions menu under the Tools submenu (note: not an action). So for example if you want to add a digital signature to all your sent mail, you set this in File/Preferences/User Preferences/Mail; but if you want to add a text signature, you go to Actions/Tools/Preferences/Mail/Signature. This is ridiculous.

New Folder: I wanted to create a new folder to file some emails. In the panel on the left hand of the window, there’s the standard Inbox, Drafts, Sent and so on, as well as a Folders icon that can be expanded to show all your folders. You’d think that the command to create a new folder would be obvious. You’d be wrong.

Right-click the Folders icon. Huh? I get a context menu with options like Italic and Underline, amongst others. (I select Italic just for fun. Nothing happens.) But no New Folder option.

Right-click the panel itself. Huh? I get a context menu with options like Document properties and even Forward. (Just for fun I select Forward — a new email appears containing a picture of the lefthand panel. It’s hard to overstate the uselessness of this.) But no New Folder option.

File/New from the menu bar. This gives me a few options: Memo, Calendar Entry, Contact, To Do, and URL. (URL?! I try selecting that. It turns out that it actually just lets me type in a URL rather than create a new one. And then it opens up the URL in Internet Explorer. Even though Firefox is my default browser.) But no New Folder option.

Create from the menu bar. Surely. But no: I can create a new Memo, Reply, To Do, etc. There’s a Special submenu that lets me send a message to the database manager. There’s also an Other… option. Surely here! But no, Other… actually just gives me a list of the same options in the rest of the Create menu. Brilliant — the Other option actually does not give me any other options at all! It’s utterly worthless and confusing and I really can’t be bothered trying to come up with words to express how monumentally stupid the whole thing is. And I still can’t create a new folder, even from the Create menu.

And now finally I discover the several ways to create a folder. I select the Inbox icon to show the Inbox view. There is a button bar above the actual Inbox view. It’s not a toolbar — there are already two toolbars below the menu bar. This button bar is just a row of buttons, except that some of them are really dropdown menus that look like buttons. Anyway, there is a Folder button (actually a menu) that has a Create Folder… option. I didn’t notice it before because it wasn’t there — I had the Trash displayed, and the Folder button/menu does not appear when the Trash is displayed.

With the Inbox showing, there’s also a Folder/Create Folder… item in the Actions menu. But I also notice that if I click the Inbox icon, the menu bar shows File, Edit, View, Create, Actions and Help. But if I click the word “Inbox” beside the icon, the View, Create and Actions menus disappear after a second. If I click it again, those three menus appear for a second and then disappear again. Oh dear.

Also, it turns out that I could right-click the Inbox icon — a New Folder… item is in the context menu. Note that the new folder does not appear in the Inbox. In fact it has nothing to do with the Inbox.

So finally I have created a new folder, which appears under the Folders icon. It appears that I can now right-click on my new folder to get a context menu that will let me create another folder. And now that there’s a folder under the Folders icon, right-clicking the Folders icon gives me a different context menu! It’s the left-hand panel context menu (with the nonsensical Forward option) rather that the old Folders icon context menu (with the nonsensical Italic option).

All this just for a folder. In the time it took me to do this I could have simply run the Lotus Notes uninstaller and ended up much happier.

Scrolling: I got a meeting invitation that contained several screenfuls of text, but there was no scrollbar. In fact I didn’t even discover the text until I printed it out and was surprised that it was 5 printed pages. Scrolling with arrow keys or scroll wheel didn’t work. I also couldn’t select any text. I tried going into edit mode, and that seemed to make things better, though the scroll wheel still didn’t work unless I actually selected some text. (!?)

Daylight Saving: This is from a Certain Company’s intranet from 31 March 2008. This is not a joke:

The end date of Daylight Saving Time in New Zealand has been extended for 1 week this year. We now revert back on Sunday 6th of April.

When browsing your calendar for the week starting Monday 31st of March, your meetings may appear to be 1 hour late, so please OPEN the calendar entries to view the correct start time.

Ugly: Big fat ugly stop signThe Notes client has its mysteriously-changing “keychain” picture. The Web client has a big red stop sign on its login page. The stop sign has a fat, fleshy hand on it, just to hammer home the point that you have to stop. It looks like a scary error icon. Why is it even there at all? The only sensible interpretation I can think of is that it’s saying “Stop, the application you are about to log in to is hideously bloated and ugly.”

Meeting invitations: There’s no obvious way to accept a meeting invitation without sending a response. Even worse, select Respond with Comments; an email form appears. Change your mind and close the email form. You get an “are you sure?” dialog box, and since it’s Notes, you get several choices: Send as is, send without comments, or continue editing. That’s right, there is no way to cancel. You are forced to send the response. You can’t even quit from Notes now — if you try you will get the dialog box offering the same three choices. The only way to quit Notes without sending the response is to use the Windows Task Manager to kill the process. This is magnificently, fantastically stupid and is just another reason why the people who designed Notes should hang their heads in shame.

It turns out that even killing Notes won’t kill the meeting response form. When I started up Notes again, the form was there. Apparently that form will now be a permanent fixture of my Notes usage forever, until I finally give in and send it. Even though I don’t want to send it. Shame! Shame!

I noticed that a couple of days later, the form had finally gone. I can’t even remember if I restarted my PC or something like that, or if I finally gave up and sent the confounded thing. I have no more comment.

Webmail drafts: When you’re writing an email using the webmail interface, the Save button saves the email as a draft and then closes the window. So if you’re writing a long email and you want to save periodically, you have to keep pressing the button and then going back to the main window, opening the Drafts folder, opening your message and scrolling down to the bottom to continue. What a waste of time.

Spurious error: In webmail, if I create a new message and start editing it and then return to the main window and select a mail folder, a message pops up saying that they are sorry (which is nice) but “we were unable to process your request at this time.” (I don’t know who “we” refers to — the entire Lotus Notes development team, presumably). So I click OK to dismiss the dialog box and guess what? Everything works fine.

Well, I could go on. In fact I already have. It’s important to pick holes in Notes like this because otherwise we might get used to its warts. If we relax our standards for the software we use, it might flow on to affect the software we write. For this and for so many other reasons, Lotus Notes is rubbish.

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  1. Dear Bennett,
    thank you for very interesting posts and professional approach.
    I entirely share your oppinion about Lotus Notes 6.5 and look forward to a future tool (like Outlook) that assist me by enabling me doing my job, rather than disabling me.
    It’s now 2010 and as you ealier wrote – we may also be upgrading(!?) to Lotus Notes 8 this year.
    Looking forward to your brilliant review.
    Best regards,

  2. Editor’s note: It has been pointed out to me that the forthright language Mark used in his comment may cause problems with spam filters. Therefore I have altered some of the more intense words by changing them into the names of popular food items. Despite the changes, I think I have successfully preserved Mark’s sense of frustration and rage.



    Whomever designed this should be executed immediately. Then executed again.

    No flounder personal folders.

    Frittata sent items that arent actually documents.

    Worst arching system ever.

    Cant fettucine restore a document from deleted items because its a frankfurter soft delete (whatever the french fries that is)

    Seriously – what brain dead homosexual smelly spotty greasy virgin nerd designed this total and utter cluster fish failure.

    Not one single rule for UI design and application design was followed. No wonder Lotus figging failed to compete with Microsoft! Amazed IBM was conned into paying a billion for this piece of shortbread.

  3. Thank for expressing what all of of us are thinking. Notes is indeed the most hideous vomit stinking wretched puddle of cat piss I’ve ever come across in my entire life. If I had a button on my desk that could execute the entire Lotus Notes development team I would push 100 times a day. I fucking hate you Lotus Notes.

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