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Notes is Dead -- Long live Notes

Yet another in a long line of articles that proclaim the death of a product with the #1 marketshare in the world.  How odd. 

I'm not sure quoting Ray Ozzie, a competitor desperately searching for a business model, saying Lotus Notes is "just another email system without a future" is a very valid way to make that point.

Clearly, millions (something like 50 million) users would tend to disagree.  Personally, I make a very good living developing applications with the Domino platform that have nothing whatever to do with email, and everything to do with public access.  Yes, I come under fire daily from J2EE types and .NET types who bid to replace my system.  So far in six years they've spent 13 million dollars in more than 9 attempts, failing to produce the same usability and functionality at anything approaching the same cost.  Finally, they've given up.

Ray is a brilliant guy, no question.  But truth be told he never truly believe in the transition of Notes to a standards based server suitable for top quality web and intranet management.  To him, that weakened the position of his beloved Notes client.  Now he's gone on to another "rich" client of a different type.  While I must say I agree with him that the web browser (miss-called the Thin Client) is a terrible place for an application, I must also point out that thus far Groove has no real business model.  This is evidenced by the whiplash like back and forth nature of the distribution model.  First it was partners, than that was dumped, then big cash from Microsoft which has failed to produce anything of note, now he's back to focusing on Integration with (but constantly downplaying) Notes -- oh, and suddenly their partner program is back in play.

Lets face it, business models based on what the children are playing with are not new, and have failed repeatedly.  Remember Apple's grand plan to win the business world by having the kids grow up with Apple's in school then bring them into the business world with them?

Andrew Pollack
Friday, August 30, 2002

A company I work for just decided to replace their ageing FirstClass mail system with 3000+ clients with Notes.

Eric DeBois
Friday, August 30, 2002

I totally don't get Lotus's market share; the look and feel of the application is horrible.  I prefer Eudora Light for ease of use already.

Jason McCullough
Friday, August 30, 2002

I hope that Eric DeBois reports back in a year on how he likes Notes.  I wish my company would drop it.

A. Coward
Friday, August 30, 2002

The FAA (43,000 seats) is in the rollout phase of switching to Lotus Notes. A friend of mine is desktop support at the Oklahoma City campus (30,000 seats?) and he detests Notes.

Troy King
Friday, August 30, 2002

We use Notes at the Bank I currently work for - Yuk!
All the good stuff is turned of by the Admin, and as a mail client it sucks big time. The menus make no sense, it's very difficult to find the simplest functionality buried somewhere in the non sensible menu system, and correct me if I'm wrong, my PC seems to work better when I don't have notes running, so maybe it's got a big footprint too.

Alberto
Friday, August 30, 2002

Notes *is* big bloated and unfriendly. Nevertheless, it packs together a bunch of stuff that is difficult to reproduce with other tools. Examples: a cross-platform rich text editor for creating documents. A database server with built-in replication (with decades of experience in making it work well). An email system integrated to workflow and document databases.  Flexible, rich security. Automatic web-serving and integration. Scripting languages. User-designed views of data.

Nearly everything in it is implemented in ways that drive me crazy: inconsistent, non-orthogonal, incomplete, and ignoring typical methods of software development (like version control or releasing updates or comparing files).

But, after all that, I find I can't really argue with it for value. I can, however, be astonished, that Lotus can't seem to figure out the weaknesses and fix them, because then no-one would even think about Exchange or rolling their own document management.

Aaron Lawrence
Saturday, August 31, 2002

I think Aaron really hit the nail on the head.  Of course, summing it up I like to say that Notes is "a really strange bird".  Learning to think like a real Notes developer is a tough skill, and that's the biggest down side to the product.  On the upside, nothing compares to its ability to create applications for workflow, security, and collaboration.  As a web development platform, I can make it do things in an hour that take J2EE and .ASP (or .NET) developers weeks or months.

BUT --  I have to admit for someone who doesn't know any of the technologies I mentioned above, but has a programming background, I'm not sure I could make the statement that Notes would be a faster way to get there (for a web application).  The learning curve is high, not for its inherent difficult -- in fact its really overly simple -- but for its strangeness in comparison to other products.

The Mail client's ugliness has long been touted, but did you know there is a browser based access to the very same mail file?  Know what you have to do to use it?  Nothing, just point to it.  It uses the same mail file.  That design (iNotes Web Access) has won all kinds of awards for its user interface.

Using a full Notes client for mail only, is like using a tractor trailer to go shopping.  Its a waste of such a vast amount of power and capability, and makes the overhead seem like a waste.

Did you know, howerver, that the Domino server can serve that same mail to you if you have an Outlook client?  A web Client?  A Eudora (or other pop3, Imap, or http client)?  Do it that way, and you get this huge, rich, scaleable architecture for messaging, and quick, light, pretty clients.

The huge market share is simple:  It does more than any other product that is even remotely in its class, yet is vastly cheaper to run, install, manage, maintain, secure, and develop applications for.

by the way -- I make my living with it.  ;-)

Andrew Pollack
Saturday, August 31, 2002

btw: Sorry for the terrible grammar, spelling, and typos in the messages above -- I'm used to use a multi-platform rich text editing environment that provides a full set of editing features, even on the web.  ;-)

Andrew Pollack
Saturday, August 31, 2002

I'm a software developer for a consulting firm that uses Notes internally, so I get stuck with Notes projects along with applications built on .NET, legacy ASP, Access, Excel, and some industry proprietary platforms. I've seen some terrible platforms in my time, but Notes takes the cake and illustrates much more clearly than Groove the problem that Joel was trying to get across. As a platform:

- There is no useable API (i.e., COM interface, OLEDB data provider) for integrating Notes with other platforms. NotesSQL is the closest I can find so far to some sort of data bridge and is buggy and poorly executed.

- The script editor is terribly buggy and framed in to death. You can't use an external editor or IDE without copy/paste.

- There is no freely redistributable runtime.

- The UI is terrible, ugly, and slow. The properties dialog is constantly in the way and prevents switching between Designer and the Notes client. The built-in GUI widgets are non-standard, ugly, and some have little programmatic access (the Rich Text class is the worst of the bunch).

- It takes 15 lines of script in a LotusScript routine just to instantiate enough variables to access the current document, database, session, etc. Comare to VBA or ASP where many intrinsic objects are global and ready for use.

- The non-structured "bag o' properties" concept is useful, but RDBMS guys like me REALLY want to have ways of normalizing our data and joining it in views.

- Data in views are non-editable. Stupid. Users hate opening forms just to change a field, and *really* hate not having Excel-like copy/paste capabilities in views.

- To take any control over the generated HTML output becomes a slew of workarounds and kludges. Fortunately you can hack CSS into there, but it isn't terribly intuitive.

- There is no concept in Pages and Forms of server-side files, custom controls, or other features on web development platforms that make management of change reasonable. CSS and JavaScript references in the head are about as close as you get.

- There is no way to construct forms or views programmatically (except, maybe through the C++ API). I'm a programmer, I don't like doing everything repeatedly in a visual designer. They need to create an XML DTD and expose forms and views (especially views) as editable objects.

Oh well, I'm belaboring the point. BTW, Groove does have a "free" version (the one I use for now), but it is limited in some ways and is officially a "90-day trial" for business use. I'm excited about their upcoming .NET API, that should help open gates to developers.

Richard Tallent
Saturday, August 31, 2002

Reading Richard's support for notes vs nearly everyone else who uses or supports it saying "it sucks" makes me think that notes is only good if you can charge other people money for doing something useful with it.

And I know thats not entirely fair. But it sure is interesting. And it's not just here we see this gap between notes developers and notes users.

Robert Moir
Saturday, August 31, 2002

ack! That would be andrew the notes developer, not richard. Dangit!

Robert Moir
Saturday, August 31, 2002

Andrew,

>The Mail client's ugliness has long been touted, but did
>you know there is a browser based access to the very
>same mail file? Know what you have to do to use it?
>Nothing, just point to it. It uses the same mail file.

>(iNotes Web Access) has won all kinds of awards
>for its user interface.

Yes, and the R5 web template works badly too. Ever tried it on Konquerer? And the vaunted iNotes interface (at least the early beta I used) was ActiveX crap. I get *much* better results running Notes on WINE :-(  ...the only folk who'd call Notes' interface good are those used to IBM mainframe greenscreens all their life :-|

Fundamentally, Domino has some pretty nifty tricks up its sleeve (replication is sweet, .nsf is very interesting as a format, the security model is good, the API is good for groupware) but is totally let down by a dorky, unlike-anything-else interface and a forms model that is antiquated and suffers from real usability problems -- Notes "smart" icons, anyone? And the fact remains that Outlook's Digital Dashboard API allows far greater customization of welcome screen than Notes' LotusScript API. For what is used across many orgs as a glorified PIM, this is a serious problem.

Domino's http engine scales poorly too. Weblogic would blow it out of the water anyday.

Ranajit Ray
Saturday, August 31, 2002

Lotus Notes is the worst piece of software I've ever worked with. I don't give a damn about  50 million users or market share - it just yes, horrible. In all means.

Evgeny Goldin
Sunday, September 01, 2002

I'd like to try to respond to a few of these points.  The sumation of them comes down to this:
(1) If you are not a notes developer whos spent serious time developing in the product and learned its quirks, its not a product you're going to like right away.  On the other hand, once learned, you can build more secure, more interactive, and more functional applications much faster and cheaper than with any other platform.  I've bet on this several times, and always won.
(2) No other platform does all the things Notes does built in.  None.  That means with anything else, you're having to build bridges for one aspect of the application or another.  Either security, or workflow, or data storage, or whatever.  More bridges = less security.
Below I'm responding specifically to some good points brought up by Richard Tallent.  Richards use of the product is clearly enough to have a good understanding, if not total mastery of it.  His points are ones I hear quite frequently, which is why I'm responding to them.
RE:  No API (ie. COM, OLEDB etc..) --- Sorry.  Notes is fully exposed through COM.  Not sure where you are looking.
RE:  Script Editor - Vastly improved in the release that his the streets this quarter
RE:  No Runtime -- You're right, but I'm not sure there should be.
RE:  I agree on the U.I -- But the upside, is you get a trully cross platform U.I.  By not taking the Windoze stuff as the only U.I, they can run on other platforms.  Java suffers the same problem/advantage set here.
RE:  Well, or 1 line of formula language, or 1 script library,  (BTW:  I can get any of the things you name in 2-4 lines of script.  Not sure what you're doing.
RE:  DB guys want to normalize data -- I strongly recommend staying with an RDBMS for that.  Notes reads/writes to them easily enough.
RE:  Data in views non-editable -- Check out the public beta or wait till the D6 is released, its all editable.  D6 is due out this quarter.  Not sure if I can share the actual promised date so I will not here.

RE:  To take any control over the generated HTML output.....  Agreed.  This is tough, but getting better.  The product was doing its job long before there was a web, and adapting to be a leader in that technology is taking time.
RE:  ....no concept in Pages and Forms of server-side files, custom controls, ....  actually, there are many corellary features, from subforms to script libraries.  Though its not a 1:1 comparison.

RE:  no way to construct forms or views programmatically (except, maybe through the C++ API).  ---- Actually, the entire file is now open as you suggested through a DTD and XML.  You can read/write/change design and data elements, all subject to security.

Andrew Pollack
Sunday, September 01, 2002

Yup, its shite. I don't know about Eudora, I'd prefer to use telnet than Notes!


Monday, September 02, 2002

A few points in response to Richard Tallent's posting:

Notes has API's and a COM interface.  You can get ODBC and JDBC for Notes databases.  In addition you have LEI (Lotus Enterprize Integrations) and MQ Series to access data in db2/ORACLE etc.

The script editor isn't great, but it's not that terrible either.  In Notes 6 (out soon) it is much better.

There is no freely redistributable runtime, this is true, but you can use a browser to access a Domino server and Corba for the more fancy stuff.

The UI may be ugly, but it is a matter of taste.  The GUI widgets are terrible, I aggree with that, but in release 6 you can use the M$ stuff.

15 lines?  Here's how you access a document in a Notes/Domino database with 3 lines:

dim s as new notessession
dim doc as notesdocument

set doc = s.currentdatabase.getview( "viewname" ).getdocumentbykey ( "the key )

Notes is NOT a relational database.

Data is editable in view as on version 6.  Notes is NOT Excel.

You can mark pages/forms/views as 'treat entire content as HTML' to get rid of the annoying Domino generated HTML crap.

The next version exposes design elements as XML DTD.

Anonymous Coward
Monday, September 02, 2002

"RE: I agree on the U.I -- But the upside, is you get a trully cross platform U.I. By not taking the Windoze stuff as the only U.I, they can run on other platforms. Java suffers the same problem/advantage set here."

You know i've heard this before. It even gets a mention at the interface hall of shame. If memory serves right that was ironically enough in the notes section too.

Cross platform UI is usually shorthand for "sucks on every platform". Remember the fuss with Word for the MAC and it's more "Windows Word" type interface?

Robert Moir
Monday, September 02, 2002

We use notes internally at work.  OK, it seems that for virtually all developers, it sucks six ways to sunday, and I'm not going to dispute that.  Yes, the UI could use some work.  No quarrel.

But as a user, I'd have to say it seems pretty capable.    We use it internally for everything from scheduling time on lab boxes to reserving conference rooms.  And through its web controls, we've managed to work a nifty trick tying our CM environment into a CGI/web wrap that's smoothed out our process an awful lot.

Yes, the email portion is the most commonly used, but there's a heck of a lot more to Notes than that.  And I'd have to say that on the whole, it's saved more time than it's cost.  But, if all you're looking for is email, then Notes is definitely overkill.

van pelt
Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Andrew Pollack (hey dude, I still owe you a beer) has pretty much covered all the salient points.  I've been in Notes/Domino development since 1993, and can say absolutely without question that it is by far the fastest, most powerful web development platform that has ever been.  Period.  I can develop a running, complete, stable, secure, feature-rich web app in Domino, one that people can use immediately, in less time than it takes most ASP developers to set up.  And that's not "a team of developers," I'm talking, ME.  One guy.

Once that app exists, I can then also move it to any other server platform Domino supports (all of the major ones) and run it immediately without changing so much as a single character of code.  Run it on anything from a System390 to RedHat 7 to Win2K.  Mix and match them; it doesn't care.

This isn't just empty cheerleading, this is going somewhere:  the griping I hear people make about the Notes client is often well-founded.  Like any other big, complex application, there are only so many ways to do the user interface.  Lotus chose one particular interface for the client, just as Microsoft chose a particular interface for Outlook. 

As has been pointed out, Notes/Domino isn't email -- it's a distributed database application development environment that happens to include one app that functions as email.  Compare and contrast -- Outlook is email, period.  End of story, next question.  And the great power of the Notes environment is that if you don't like the look or operation of the email client, YOU CAN CHANGE IT.  In fact, the people at OpenNTF.org did exactly that with their LookoutExpress replacement email interface for Notes.  Freely downloable -- those of you who for some reason want the Notes email application to act like Buttlook, pester your sys admins to make it available to you.  Tweak it, wrench it, change stuff, or rip the whole thing out and build a new one if you want.  Just try that with Outlook.  Just try it.  I'll wait.

http://www.openntf.org

Notes client sucks?  Well, Windows as an interface sucks, too.  X sucks.  Mac sucks.  GNOME and KDE suck.  PalmOS sucks.  GEM sucked.  GEOS sucked.  BeOS sucked.  The Xerox STAR workstation sucked (I worked on one).

They all sucked... in some ways.  And without exception, you find people define "sucks" as "I'm not used to it, I don't understand it, or I never bothered to learn it."

I live in Notes/Domino, I know its flaws, and I've seen its amazing power.  I do sympathize with those of you in environments where you have admins who have rectal/cranial inversion or where management gave all the developer rights to a guy who wanted to move up out of the shipping department.  You likely haven't seen the power of a really well-thought-out cross-platform development environment, and realistically, if you think Windows is it, let alone .NET, you don't understand the question.

The Turtle
Thursday, September 05, 2002

(Insert strong agreement with The Turtle here.)

My first reaction to Notes (its UI, having to use it as an email client instead of emacs/batmail/etc.) included revulsion and horror. 

* Notes has an extremely un-sexy and unfamiliar style of interface.

* The extremely low cost of entry to start developing applications for Notes yields lots of half-baked projects done solo by non-programmers who don't really understand the platform's practical limitations (or, often, its strengths).

* The preponderance of half-baked applications suggests to their users that the Notes platform is flawed.

* The Notes/Domino platform does a million different things and is accessible via API and standard protocols six ways from Sunday.  Many of the platform features and interfaces are good.  Some of them -- SQL interfaces, I'm looking at you! -- are very bad and should not be used by anyone, ever.

Now, Notes is a great platform and does many, many things extremely well.  See below.  What's difficult is to line up the right project (one that doesn't require an RDBMS) and an experienced developer (smart, motivated Notes developers often move on to more buzzword-compliant areas like J2EE as soon as they're able).

However, Notes remains unbeatable in several key areas:

Replication -- across servers for clustering, to your laptop -- for the data and application design -- for offline reference and work
Document-level security
Integrated directory & PKI
Easy-to-create categorized/sorted views
High performance (but admit when you really need Oracle or DB2)

Basically -- it's easy to do a crummy job with Notes that makes the platform look bad, and the mail client ('yet another Notes database' that it is) is something of an example, burdened with the requirement to do all manner of ungodly-complex calendaring whatnots. 

But at heart Domino and Notes offer a lot of great stuff you can use to get great results, if you can identify the opportunities and resist the urge to take a new job to escape the mailer.  It is a reliable platform, works reliably across many server operating systems, and /will/ get your apps in production faster and cheaper than anything else I can think of.

Steve Kradel
Sunday, September 08, 2002

Lotus Notes is the worst software I have ever had the displeasure of using.

Despite its "good" points, it's the unusability of it that makes ordinary people like me scream everytime I have to use it to check my mail.

The reason why it is garbage is well documented;  surf to http://www.iarchitect.com/mshame.htm then click on Product Index, then click on Lotus Notes.

LN is without question the most aggravating experience that I have to suffer every day.  It's a disgraceful mess.  It is completely user hostile, its help is no help at all.

It is clear LN was designed by people who have no concept of user interaction design and technical writers who don't know how index the topics. 

Consistency makes computers easier to use.  In Windows, F5 refreshes data, a web page, the inbox in Outlook, etc.  But LN, you use a different key.

Lotus Notes is pure crap.

Gary C (remove oink and 3)
Wednesday, September 18, 2002

As a Notes Developer/User for many years know, I am in total agreement with users who say to UI sucks.  But without an understanding of the architecture and capabilities, to say 'Notes sucks' is a incorrect sweeping generalization.  It is unfortunate that the learning curve is steep for Notes developers, which has led to 80% of all applications, including the email 'application' to simply suck.  But if you understand the power, or worked for an organization that gets it, you wouldn't be so quick to dismiss.  But it is easy to judge the merits of a platform/application based simply on the UI.  Don't like the UI, change it.  As easy as going to your mail database, viewing the design, and changing it. 

As mentioned above, a good Notes/Web Developer can quickly crank out secure, reliable, and powerful applications as long as he or she knows how to make Domino dance with XML, CSS, DHTML, and RDBMS.  Tie that into SameTime (Secured P2P), Everyplace (Wireless), and WebSphere and you can build do some cool stuff quickly.  Don't like your Lotus Mail client, use your Outlook client, use Eudora.  And as shitty of a piece of software it supposedly is, GE, Exxon-Mobile, Daimler, Caterpillar, IBM get it, bringing significant ROI to their organization.  That's the bottom line.  J2EE, .Net, and slick OO design is really cool.  But sometimes the tools and capabilities you need are already within your organization, within your Notes infrastucture.  Unfortunately, Lotus and IBM have never done a good job of evangelizing the product. 

Jason
Friday, September 20, 2002

You might be right. But I'll tell you you are way of track. Notes development from within a Notes  Environment is briliant. That is from within a Notes environment. But F*%$#in but if you try to integrate Notes from any other application/ platform it sucks. IT SUCKS. IT SUCKS. IT SUCKS. Its unreliable, it has wonderfull security features, but what does all that help if you loose information, or you have an idiot user who replaces you replication formula.

I have spent more time optimising applications to work with Notes DBS properly with than on any other task. 1 NOTES IS NOT A REAL DATABASE. IT is probably the slowest system, I have ever come accross. ie I have an Application that runs on top of a Acces DB. Typical DB queries run at 0.8 seconds when I replcae the DB with a Notes DB the same query runs at 16 second. That is with both DB's locally on my PC. I run the same query on a webbased MySQL DB 1200 miles away across the internet and it outperforms the Notes Database. I suppose you do not need much more proof that Notes Really, really Sucks badly.

I've been developing on Notes and Domino platforms for some odd couple off years, but also have MS SQL MySQL postGreSQl, DBASe, etc etc etc etc experiece. As Much as I love Notes for some of its features, I really regret to say again that it sucks as a Database. From reliable sources within IBM I believe it is one of their sunset technologies.

Enjoy Notes while it is with us, I for one would not regret its departure from its claim to reliable DB technologies.

C
Wednesday, March 03, 2004

I've used Notes at work for about 4 years.  Speaking only for myself and my coworkers, I can say w/ confidence that the vast majority of us DETEST using Notes.  Virtually no one uses all the available "features" (all that calendar b.s., the schedule and meeting b.s....).  Everyone relies on email, and, as others have noted, Notes sucks when it comes to email. 
A product that can do all this fancy stuff is fine, but if no one uses it (because of UI problems or whatever else), what's the point?
I wish Notes would up and die already.

Brian C.
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

We're using Notes since 5 years. Migration to R6 since it was released. Yes, UI is ugly. Yes, Notes client is slow and memory eater, and yes, I hate IBM for may reasons. The biggest one : IBM is the software's General Motors Homever, when did you heard about a Lotus security flaw or data integrity problem ?. I still believe in DOMINO technology. Notes client is dead, but alternate client (iNotes, mobile) and Outlook connectivity should be alternatives for end-user. Domino is the better way to integrate rapid workflow bulding, security, and content management.

Exchange-Outlook ? Mail-only system; viruses, security flaw three times per week, mailbox corruptions, Windows server without alternative. Development capacity? let's be serious!

.Net platform - I don't trust MS since we built, there is 4 years ago, n-tiers solution including Window NT server, Transactionnal server (MTS), SQL Server and VC++ client. Result : Crash, cpu and memory consumption, servers hang 1 time per days, needed to reboot server on a per day basis. Homever, Bill Gates is a marketing genius and a good UI builder. He's a leader in 'Waylon Smitters' (Re: The Simpsons) attitude. Visual Studio .NET is an incredible way to build application, in the same way that MS Office and Windows are intuitive to use. Homever, there is a price for this : Security, closed-code and inefficient systems.

Groove : should be promising, but a .Net product ??

J2EE - Should be more high-available effective, cross-platform, safer, but harder to code. IBM will need to give (and prove it) smooth and clear migration path from Notes to WebSphere and fully open-source. (LotusSphere 2004 wasn't convinced me).

Jean-Francois Lemieux
Sunday, April 11, 2004

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