Lotus Notes: Survival of the Unfittest

Notes, and CR, and other types of software share a common heritage: they were picked by know nothing suits, not to be used by them, but by the Great Unwashed. the suits liked the sparkle, and the fact that Lotus was desperate for cash (this was the days when 1-2-3 was in its death rattle and Lotus needed a new cash cow). then Blue bought it, and, of course, it Had To Be The Best Thing for Big Companies. Blue pushed it still more.

Proof, once again, that the Market makes the wisest decisions.


Thank you for your useful replies. The multi-select technique in the check-mark column is fantastic. I’m not sure if you can consider me a convert, but I am definitely a happier user.


Notes survives because once a corporation spends the insane $$ it takes to install it, and the $$ for salaries and overhead, it would cost too much to replace it with something else.

To be fair, this is true of a lot of software. I view progress in the software industry as REDUCING this effect (eg, semi-open Office XML file formats), not increasing it.

Jason, it looks like Richard beat me to it. He got it right. I’ll just add two things.

If you don’t want to open an invitation to accept it, you can experiment with autoprocessing. Just above your inbox there is a Tools button. Select Tools - Preferences - Calendar To Do - Autoprocess. I think the dialog is self-explanatory.

Also, there are lots of other Notes tips at Alan Lepofsky web site:

a href="http://www.alanlepofsky.net/alepofsky/alanblog.nsf"http://www.alanlepofsky.net/alepofsky/alanblog.nsf/a

His Archives by Category section has more tips on mail and calendar. You could also subscribe to his RSS feed to get a new tip every week or so.

There. Foobar will be proud of me. I got through that whole response without a single “veiled threat”.

Jeff, today’s edition of The Guardian included a follow-up piece in which you were quoted. Here’s the link:

a href="http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,1710261,00.html"http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,1710261,00.html/a

Glad to help. And do check out the link Dave gave above to Alan Lepofsky’s blog. There are lots of helpful tips posted there.

…the Insert key is a toggle for marking
messages “read” or “unread”.

Woohoo! I moved back into a Notes environment a month ago - if I’d remembered that my new employer was a Notes site I’d have asked for more money! But that one shortcut is going to make life so much more bareable.

The click-and-drag multi-select is going to be handy too.


If you can ask this about Lotus Notes, why not ask it about pretty much any Microsoft product?

why not ask it about pretty much any Microsoft product?

I’ve used a lot of software in my life. Some good, most mediocre. Being forced to use Lotus Notes was, without a doubt, one of the most painful software experiences I’ve ever had.

That’s why it merits special mention. It’s pathologically bad. But don’t take my word for it. How many other software packages have a half-dozen websites dedicated to their many UI failings?

F5 Logoff - its origins:

Remember, Notes has been around since 1973 (‘PLATO Notes’), so there are some quirks in there which might seem illogical until you examine its history. I first came across Notes in 1987 before it was ever released by Lotus. Back then it was known as DEC Notes and was widely (internationally) used within Digital Equipment Corporation on their VAX network, but never commercially released.

A DEC Notes user would logon to their VAX host using a ‘dumb’ VT terminal. To logout, a user could use a menu option or the command line, in which case their process was gracefully terminated by the host, alternatively they could hit the shortcut F5 key. On the back of your terminal was a DB25pin male RS232 port - on hitting the F5 key, the voltage on pin#20 (DTR - data terminal ready) would drop to 3 volts. The modem (DCE) to which you were connected would respond by dropping its carrier signal which would hang up your phone line (no Hayes commands either). At the far end of the phone line, the host modem would respond to carrier loss by dropping the voltage on its pin#6 (DSR - data set ready), and the comm port on the host VAX would respond by killing the user’s process. This was the standard of the time.

When Ray and the guys took their idea to Lotus, pc networking and client/server architecture was just evolving. In the absence of any standard they simply carried over the tradition of F5 logout from the DEC environment. Up till then, the nearest thing to ‘groupware’ was internet newsgroups or bulletin board services (typically a host/terminal topology) - at the time, F5 was a well-considered choice for a logout shortcut

Soonafter, Windows emerged and some ignoramous up in Redmond decided to assign F5 as refresh.

Read about Notes history here…
a href="http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/lotus/library/ls-NDHistory/index.html"http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/lotus/library/ls-NDHistory/index.html/a

Evidently Notes was developed in an alternate reality where no other Windows apps ever existed.

Yes!! Jeff hit the nail on the head. The reality at the time was that Windows did not exist.

To this day, there is still no one product which competes with Notes/Domino. Other companies will try to sell you a solution but what they give you is a ‘suite’ of products held together with spit and gum.

Notes/Domino is a single, multi-faceted, versatile and highly customizable product.

From its earliest origins in University of Illinois it has allways been about ‘document sharing’. Once the Notes client has been deployed in an enterprise, new Notes apps are phenomenally easy to deploy and update. This ease of deployment (and admittedly the initial cost of ownership) has always tempted developers and IT managers to shoehorn unsuitable applications into Notes.

However the document-centric model has been greatly enhanced in R7 with the integration of DB2. This has hugely increased Notes’ versatility and will mean a lot less shoehorning.

Jeff – I did some checking on a few things here:


If your assertion that the existence of some web sites about the horrors of Notes UI holds water, then what does that say about the fact that about 10% more web pages say that Outlook sucks than say that Notes sucks? That three times as many say that Word sucks? That nearly seven times as many say that Windows sucks? That nearly twentyfive times as many pages say that Microsoft sucks as say that either Lotus or IBM suck?

Anyone can create a web site that says that any product sucks, or that any UI sucks, or that anything sucks.

Hmm, that’s an interesting analysis.

“Outlook sucks” - 13k
"Notes sucks" - 11k

Outlook is easy to get. It comes with many copies of Microsoft Office. I know many, many people who run Outlook on their home computers as their email client.* My wife actually installed it on her PC to manage her contacts even though I strongly recommended that she not do that.

Notes is not easy to get. It doesn’t come with any office suite that I know of. I don’t know anyone who runs Notes as an email client on their home computer. I don’t know anyone that wants to use Notes, period, even if they knew how to obtain and install it. Which they don’t.

Thus, I believe Outlook (like MS Word) has a much wider currency than Notes. I would expect many, many more complaints about Outlook because it’s a far more popular and easier to obtain application. The fact that there are roughly an equal number of complaints for both doesn’t exactly count in Notes’ favor.

I propose a new metric for measuring suckiness. Let’s measure how many people get defensive and shrill while actively going out of their way to protect a product. Bonus points if these people are developers of and/or derive income from said product.

You guys are almost as defensive as the FoxPro developers! Sheesh! :wink:

  • Note: I am not one of these people. If I could get away with using PINE, I would. Less is more.

Call me defensive, maybe, but I’m not the shrill one here. I’m not the one describing anything as “pathologically bad”, etc.

We could argue about the meaning of the number of web sites in relation to user base sizes, degrees of user choice, marketing budget of the vendors, and phase of the moon, but it wouldn’t get us anywhere. The number of “sucks” sites isn’t a useful measure of anything. It’s the validity of the content that matters – and yeah… there’s some valid content on some of those sites (in addition to quite a lot of very dated content). Nobody in the Notes community denies that.

I came into this thread to give some constructive information, and it seems I helped one of your readers. I never once said he – or you – were wrong about any of your specific criticisms. So please, by all means… keep on hating Notes and loving whatever it is that you love, but either drop your own shrill tone or get over fact that it inspires a defensive reaction from some of us.

Firstly, Notes/Domino is an enterprise solution

There is a misconception that Notes/Domino is only used in the corporate world

Yes, where could we POSSIBLY be getting that terrible misconception from?


I wouldn’t say I hate Notes. I am just very, very happy that I never have to use it again.

I remember installing Notes for the first time in 1993 on a 486 with 8 megabytes of RAM-- a tremendous amount of memory at that time-- and Notes was literally the slowest Windows 3.1 application I had ever seen up to that point. And I couldn’t make any sense of the interface whatsoever.

“People actually use this?” I said incredulously to my colleague sitting next to me, who had provided the Notes floppies.

“This consultant I know makes tons of money writing Notes software.”, he replied.

“More power to him”, I said, as I uninstalled Notes.

Ten years later I would have exactly the same experience. Good times.

The Notes antagonists resort to sweeping, metaphysical terms (eg. ‘notes sucks’, ‘painful’, ‘pathalogically bad’), while the advocates respond with lucid explanations and counter arguments:

I don’t know anyone who runs Notes as an email client on their home computer.

Firstly, Notes/Domino is an enterprise solution. Secondly, any person or company who uses Notes solely as an email client is simply ignorant of what Notes/Domino is about. In our ‘Alternative Reality’, email is just one facet of document-sharing. Notes is a much bigger picture.

If you were so inclined, the Notes client can be easily configured as a POP mail client. Users can also access their mail file remotely from a web browser and it is every bit as good as Hotmail or any webmail service.

Notes is not easy to get.

There is a misconception that Notes/Domino is only used in the corporate world, however it is in everyday use by millions of internet users without them realizing. Just search Google (advanced options) for URLs containing “.nsf”.

b.t.w. the F9 key will now refresh Outlook, Excel and Word. After 15 years they’re finally coming round - maybe next they’ll fix it in Internet Explorer then all the other sheep can follow suit.

Allow me to rephrase:

Notes/Domino is an enterprise solution

The term ‘enterprise’ seems to provoke a hostile response probably because it implies ERP packages like Siebel, SAP, JP Morgan etc. Notes/Domino is better described by the quaint old term ‘Groupware’.

There is a misconception that Notes/Domino is only used in the corporate world

Notes/Domino is not confined to the corporate back-office but is cross-functional and can co-exist with ERP, CRM and front of house systems. It is deployed in small, medium an large organisations in every sector. I have seen effective Notes deployments in pockets within wider organisations. The N/D brand does not aim for household recognition, yet the unsuspecting public use it every day in online ordering, information repositories, blogs and so on.

Notes was originally designed for a distributed topology with small servers deployed beyond the clean room to outlying offices connected by modest dialup links. Server admin, user registration ect. was often carried out by a local power user. For many years database replication was a major and unique selling point of Lotus Notes, it was key to the distributed archictecture. Even application development was very accessible, the Notes formula language oringally derived from 123 ‘macros’. Non-programmers could with relative ease, develop cheeky labour-saving apps under the radar of IT managers. That fragmented, almost anarchaic topology has resonances of a brief time around 1999 when I heard IBM managers try to describe their sprawled company structure in terms of business ‘cells’ - however the terminology was soonafter applied to terrorist organisations and was quickly erased from the business lexicon.

Sadly, the distributed model is somewhat obsolete in today’s world of always-on broadband and servers capable of 15,000 Notes sessions (Linux server) or 18,000 (iSeries). Also since R5 the increasingly-complex apps development IDE is deployed as a separate client to the annointed few. These days fascist organisations host Domino on gargantuan monoliths and impose it upon users by a central IT dictatorship. But the original architecture is still intact and organisations can still, if they wish, deploy Notes in the ad-hoc, organic manner that it was originally intended.

Every programmer knows that you can build garbage with any programming platform. Email is about 5% of the actual use of Notes.

I’ll give you an example of why Notes survives. Our IT dept was asked to quote an actuarial application. It had to be easily updatable, handle a large number of mathematical equasions and work on both a client and web based environment. Both .NET and Notes were to be considered. The quotes came back. .NET took 3 people and 6 months to build at a cost of close to a half mil. Notes came back with an estimate of $60k and 1 person to build it, same delivery date.

Yes, .NET is more scalable (wasn’t needed) but most companies are looking for a reliable product at a reasonable cost. The interface for an application is up to the designer and has nothing to do with the email gui. Bottom line was they got what they needed, on time and in budget and that app still runs like clock work even when they upgrade to a new version of Notes (and there is no conversion necessary).

If you want something done properly and it will run within the confines of a particular platform, give it to a capable programmer. Give up this platform specific thought process once you get past the needs of the application.


As I am searching how to drag and drop and attachment from Lotus Notes into a .NET application I find this amusing thread.
I got a thank you making my day a little sunnier.

In any case my personal stand on Lotus Notes is that it is in use by IT only because hackers care less about looking for flaws in their product. So in short Notes is more secure. Before someone starts writing me back, ok it is more secure then Outlook, although with proper tools and thought Outlook has been completely robust for me at home.
In short I think Notes belongs in its own class with SAP for thinking about users last.

Hey anyone have a link for that .NET drag-drop thing ? With no extra controls from IBM please. I have the file name but can’t get the file image from memory, as I can with Outlook.