You’d avoid using Lotus Notes if you were me

Yesterday I promised all my non-existent blog readers a diatribe on the Lotus Notes interface. Here it is.

  • Things move around. A key component of a good interface is that things stay in the same place. With Lotus Notes when you open a new item – an email, a To Do item, an address – it opens it to the right of the page. When you close something, everything else is shunted across to the left. So you have an ever-changing menu with latest opened to earliest, running from left to right on your screen. You eventually get the trick of remembering which item you last opened, or of scanning across to find it, but you shouldn’t have to.
  • If you want to highlight a block of items you can’t click one, scroll down to the other, and click CTRL to highlight the block. Why not? This is standard Windows. Why abandon a perfectly good standard?
  • The menu system has a menu called ‘Actions’. In it, there’s an option called ‘Tools’. Surely every menu is an action or a tool? Why not arbitrarily change them round and have Actions within Tools, that would make as much sense.
  • You can’t flip between separate items with Alt-Tab or click them on the taskbar because they’re not classed as separate tasks. So I can’t just flip from, say, an email to a To Do item, I have to point and click at everything. I’m a keyboard guy, and I don’t have the choice to use the keyboard.

So, there you go. Lotus Notes is half-arsed. I’ve been using it for over a year now and I still dislike it. From my past experience of software development I have a strong suspicion that Notes wasn’t developed as part of the Windows environment, not just in its non-standard user interface but in the way it just feels overlaid on top of it rather than integrated into it. I’ll also wager that the developers consider consistency of user interface an afterthought – so long as the engine works the seats don’t matter. Well they do. People sit on them and touch them and if they’re not right then they won’t care about the motor behind it.

For the record, my image top right is from a similarly disaffected Lotus Notes user.

And an anagram of Lotus Notes is Loose Stunt. If only it were called Locus Note.

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8 thoughts on “You’d avoid using Lotus Notes if you were me

  1. Fair point but I also think it’s probably true to say that in most business cases it’s going to be Windows though, isn’t it? I’ve yet to see any company run Linux or any other OS predominantly, even tech companies. I think I also make the point that the interface is inconsistent generally, which is irrespective of OS.

    I’m also not sure what you mean by ‘my world’ and ‘the real world’. I’ve worked in education, tech, media and finance as a teacher, programmer, tech author, designer, web designer and copywriter, so I think my world has been quite real!

  2. flipping between window tabs is ctrl+tab, or ctrl+shift+tab to go the other way. This is the same for Firefox and any windows MDI application.
    You can also hold down alt, then press w (for window, b for bookmarks) then a number to jump to a specific tab. Little popup tooltips show you what keys you can press when you hold alt for a second.

  3. Well, Notes definitely has it quirks but I find most software does. However, I think Outlook is much worse in overall functionality. For instance, here’s my top 3 pet peeves with Outlook:

    1) Ctrl-F – most windows apps (including Notes) brings up a Find Dialog but Outlook does a Mail-Forward action. This is standard windows! Why abandon a perfectly good standard? What’s worse is that on the menu and the Forward button, the w is underlined making you think that Ctrl-W will do a forward but it does nothing! To do a Find for you keyboard guys out there, you have to do a F4. Oh, and guess what, you have to have your cursor in the body of the email for F4 to work. If you are in the To, cc, bcc, or subject line, you can hit F4 till your blue in the face and nothing will happen.

    2) Find & Replace – most windows apps (and yes, including Notes) allow you to do a Find & Replace. Does Outlook? No! So not only does it not use the “windows standard” key combination of Ctrl-F to do a Find, once you do figure out how to do a Find, you can’t do a ‘replace’! When I first ran into these limitation several years ago, the admin at my work said “all you have to do is cut and past your email into MS Word and do your find & replace there. Come on! How efficient is that!

    3) Print Preview – hmmm. I think just about every app on the planet can do a print preview. Heck, even Notes can, but can Outlook do it when the email is HTML? Absolutely not! Why is that?

    Oh, I’ll go ahead and throw in a bonus pet peeve:

    Folders – with Outlook, you can only file away a mail message into one folder. You can not have a mail message filed away in more than one folder without making extra copies of the message. In Notes, you can have a mail message in as many folders as you want (and it’s the same mail message!). I guess Microsoft thinks that email and folders should work exactly like real paper mail and file folders.

    In any case, neither product is perfect.

  4. Interesting observations, Jack. I find that both products have great strengths and weaknesses but what makes one more (or less) effective than the other often comes down to the training received and the methodology people use when they process their work in Notes or Outlook.

    Often people switch from one to the other in the hopes of radical improvment only to find little. Outlook and Notes are just tools. That said, I want to add a tool to the mix to consider: eProductivity (http://www.eProductivity.com). Disclaimer: this is my product. eProductivity makes getting things done in Lotus Notes easy. I haven’t used cut & paste in a year and I can now drag an email to create a calendar or an action or a reference items. I easily save 30 minutes a day.

    Brendan, you seem pretty upset with Notes. I’d like to help. have a look at the above link and get in touch with me., I’ll give you a tour and a license key. I hope this helps. Eric

  5. “If you want to highlight a block of items you can’t click one, scroll down to the other, and click CTRL to highlight the block. Why not? This is standard Windows.”

    Just to clarify on that point. That is not standard windows. CTRL and click will select a single object. I think what you meant to do was SHIFT + click which will highlight a block.

    Screenshot is from 2005. Also this entry is from 2007. Strange it popped up as recent on my feed list.

  6. Tools is under Actions because it is an action within your mail file which is also listed on your action bar. If you where developing another mail template or another database you could add another sub menu in the Action menu as many as you like that is because Lotus Notes is a bespoke email client and development platform unlike Outlook take or leave it. You talk about Windows standards, why should IBM or Lotus in its day comply to MS standards anymore than they should comply to theirs? If you really wanted to you could get every mail file and database to open in a fresh window if you took the trouble to work it out but like tab browsing I think you’ll find in the long run it is the way forward.

  7. If you think using Lotus Bloats is bad (which it is) you should try developing in it! A hodge-podge of conflicting and inconsistent interfaces riddled with bugs which are rarely if ever fixed. I think it is testament to how if enough very large companies invest in a system and develop enough mission-critical applications in it then it will be kept in existence no matter how bad it is.

    The trouble is that the backwards compatibility has to be maintained, so that even though the new Eclipse-based version is actually much better it still has the overhead and complexity of all that history.

    By the way, I am no fan of Microsoft either. There must be a third way!

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