Why I hate Lotus Notes

First off, let me say that I hate Microsoft Outlook. I’ve been using Outlook since I entered the workforce, and it has never endeared itself to me… it was bulky, slow, and has a ton of function that I never use such as Calendar and Tasks (don’t ask me – the companies I worked for never saw fit to integrate those functions, so they sit there on my notebook collecting virtual dust).

Then I made a jump to a company that uses Notes.

Lotus Notes is an incredibly powerful piece of software. There’s no denying it – it is simply a titan in the groupware category of software. There has to be a reason a software like this has gained a seemingly unassailable foothold in the groupware industry.

From my point of view however, I can’t for the life of me understand how it has achieved that.

I’m a useability kinda guy. I like smart user interfaces, software that doesn’t require a lot of thinking to figure out, no matter how complicated the software. I’d like to think I’m an intelligent guy, but sitting there figuring out stuff via guesswork, or worse, figuring out stuff that clearly doesn’t work right, isn’t my idea of fun.

So here is a list of stuff about Notes that bugs me:

  • A basic reply button gives you three functionality – reply, reply with history, reply without attachments. I mean, what the hell? If I reply, of course I want to bloody quote the bugger. If I wanted to send a blank email response to the sender (which is what the default Reply does), then I would have created a new mail with his address! This is not so much of a problem if it wasn’t the default behaviour when I reply a mail. To make it worse, I can’t change the preferences to make it behave the way I think it should.
  • Cannot quickly add recipients into address book. This is a more irritating problem than you’d first expect. Notes somehow assumes that everyone you’re ever going to communicate with are other Notes users in the same organization.
  • Oh, the address book is unusable.
  • To explain the following problem, a scenario is called for. Let’s say Archie has Jughead in his addressbook under the nickname ‘Juggy’. Archie sends an email to a few people, and ‘Juggy’ is one of them One of the recipients (say Veronica) decides to reply all. But lo and behold, Veronica gets an error on delivery because Notes doesn’t know who ‘Juggy’ is, even though she already has Jughead on her address book. This is a crazy problem because Notes isn’t smart enough to stop using other people’s nicknames when someone else decides to reply all. Why oh why can’t it resolve the email properly?
  • Simple selection doesn’t work in the email list view – I must work with its cryptic ‘checkmarks’ system which doesn’t adhere to basic windows SHIFT-select or CTRL select commands. It’s infuriating!
  • The searching is crap. You know you’re in trouble when another company provides a tool (called Google Desktop) to search for content on *your* application, and does it *miles* better than you can.
  • I cannot sort by subject and cannot quick search on the currently sorted column. I can, but it’s useless, because it only searches for the characters in order of appearance (I will find “Bozo the clown”, but not “I’m not a bozo”)
  • Every time you start to open your mailbox, your custom list of folders are all closed – it doesn’t remember your recently open folders. That is irritating as I’ve got emails sent thru filters, and i want to see them.
  • The concept of replication irritates me. You never seem to know whether that mail you sent was *really* sent, because you forgot to replicate. Well, actually, you can find out, but hey, I’m the user, and my impressions count a lot. I know Outlook as a similar concept, but it somehow doesn’t strike me as a chore. If I wanted to really be sure, I can just tap F5 in Outlook instead of Alt-B, 4, Alt-2, Down Arrow, Enter in Notes.
  • Images in the email doesn’t behave like normal objects – I can’t select it, copy and paste it elsewhere (i.e. Word, Paint).
  • The bullet handling and tables in the email is crap
  • On the tool bar, there is a button called ‘Search’. It’s a drop down button, meaning there’s a little arrow by the side that shows other options related to Search. And you know what I find? The following dropdown options under Search: ‘Altavista’, ‘Lycos’, ‘Hotbot’. They are now on the 7th generation of the software, and you still find *this*???
  • The email address lookup is weak – even when you have a local replica of the address book, a lookup takes forever if you (god forbid) ever misspell a recipient’s name, because the system will automatically know it’s not in the loca replica, and will automatically search on the main directory. If you’re an offline user, that’s 1 minute of lost time. Now imagine you misspell 2 people’s name on route to writing a 1 sentence email. Shoot self? Probably. But any software that makes me want to shoot myself should probably be shot first.
  • Now this is incredible. Every email software I’ve used has this ability, but not gargantuan bigshot Notes. You can’t download email! You can’t drag and drop it onto your desktop, and somehow make it store email as separate files. As a consequence, you can’t attach email in another email, so you have to (ready for this?) *copy and paste* the contents of the email you’re attaching into the new email!
  • Cannot multiple undo!
  • Copy and paste in the to, cc, bcc fields are buggy! The highlighting is all wrong, especially if you start selecting from the middle of a to/cc/bcc field that’s very long.
  • Why would i reply to myself if I reply all???
  • Archive – when moving of documents to archive, and the documents deleted from view, you can’t immediately do it again with another docs unless you refresh the view. This only happens for local replicas, but since nobody should be using direct server copies anyway, this should be fixed!

So what’s good about it? Notes has a concept of teamrooms, which has its heart in the right place. However, in Notes there are millions of ways of designing teamrooms, and this of course translates to inconsistencies in user interfaces for different categories of team rooms.

I hate Outlook. But having used Notes, I’d jump back in bed with Outlook any time of the day.


  1. My comp made a corporate decision to switch from Outlook to Lotus Notes, and I hate it! The worse thing is Lotus doesn’t let you edit attachments and auto-save it to the email. Any changes you make to an attachment gets lost! So when you try to forward an edited attachment, you have to go through 6 more steps than you would using Outlook. Talk about inefficiency!

  2. some of these sound like customizations done in your company’s environment — one of the benefits of Notes, but also a challenge as IT departments sometimes make changes that are in their company’s best interests.
    Also many of your desires are addressed in Notes 8, in final beta now and shipping in Q3 2007. See http://www.lotus.com/getnd8now

  3. Ed, appreciate your comments. I agree with you – I’ve seen Notes 8, and it does look kinda spiffy, and I’m looking forward to using it when it’s eventually available.
    But in the meantime, I hope the dev team (not that they’ll read this) will take note of this. As a collaborative software it has a lot of strong features, but I find that as an email client it is a little weak. And since this is what I’m using it mostly for anyway, these are my impressions.
    Hsin, thanks for your comments. I know what you’re talking about. 🙂 But actually, you can edit the document by selecting ‘Edit’ when you double click on the attachment. You just have to make sure you save the document and the email when you’re done.
    I’ve another peeve: When you’re sending email, the whole Notes hangs, and this is especially obvious when you’re sending email with large attachments.

  4. soowm

    Notes is expensive to maintain!!!!period

  5. littleComma

    hhahahahhahahha!!!! This is so funny. *llallalallalaaa*

  6. //Now this is incredible. Every email software I’ve used has this ability, but not gargantuan bigshot Notes. You can’t download email! You can’t drag and drop it onto your desktop, and somehow make it store email as separate files. As a consequence, you can’t attach email in another email, so you have to (ready for this?) *copy and paste* the contents of the email you’re attaching into the new email!//
    Even we found very difficult. But we printed as an Office Document (extension .XPS).

  7. Notes Loser

    Everytime my lotus crashes on a simple search in a small database that still takes hours to complete resulting in losing all my edited documents, I look for new notes hate posts in the net.
    Everytime I look, there’s a lot of new stuff. The internet is with me 🙂
    This is one of the worst apps I have ever used. I dont even understand how people that have *ever* used email could design such a monster.
    Thanks for sharing my frustration, I cannot kill the admin. Again.

  8. It’s been a while since I last revisited this sweet post, which continue to drive traffic after all this time. I’m happy to announce that it’s been 7 lovely months since I had to use Notes on a daily basis, as I’ve left my last company. Since I have, I may as well disclose it – I was actually working in IBM when I was complaining about Notes.
    Yes, there were those who didn’t understand why I’d dink one of our own products at the time, but hey, I feel how I feel. I can tell you that IBM has some awesome top-of-the-line market leading software, and deservedly so, but unfortunately Notes isn’t one of them.
    I did upgrade to Notes 8 (on my own, I might add – because I’m a hands-on tech chap!) prior to my departure, but I can tell you by and large my thoughts as expressed in this post haven’t changed much, even though it was was written for Notes 7.

  9. Hi,
    You make some interesting points. When talking about notes though it is good to say exactly what version you are working on. 8.5.1 is the latest version but some companies may still be on 6.5.x (very old). So some annoyances you mention have been fixed.
    You can also make suggestions on what you want in the product at the following location:
    (responding to bits I am capable to comment on).
    >A basic reply button gives you three
    In 8.5.1 the mail template you can click the button (or select drop down). The default action is to quote the history without attachments. With the new DAOS features sending attachments no longer gives an overhead (you never resend, just a reference to the attachment).
    You can modify the default behavior of this button by editing the design of the mail template/application.
    > Cannot quickly add recipients
    > into address book
    8.5.1: On an email right click and “Add sender to contact list”. There is also a feature called “quick contacts”. When you send an email it remembers the people you talk to and selects them first in a drop down list. So if your company has 15 “John Doe”, it will pick the person you talk to the most first. You can modify this as well.
    > Oh, the address book is unusable.
    8.5.1 if you picked “Juggy” in the drop down list it would automatically change it to the email address you have set in your personal name and address book. So that the receiver can reply to.
    Personal groups does not allow such expansion though.
    >Simple selection doesn’t work
    >in the email list view
    Check marks are no longer used since R8.x in the mail file unless running in BASIC mode (for older machines).
    > The searching is crap
    There are two ways to search in a notes application. The first is view search. This is done by just typing while in the view window. This will only find based on the current active sorted column.
    The second is full text indexing. For this to work the database MUST be full text indexed. Mail files on the server may not always be (up to admins).
    If the application is not full text indexed then an index is made on the fly of the first 5,000 documents then discarded.
    Once a database is full texted indexed you should be able to find what your looking for fine.
    However prior to R8.x the search did not use “google syntax”. For example in notes prior to ND8.x these are all different kinds of searches.
    lotus notes
    “lotus notes”
    lotus AND notes
    lotus OR notes
    This isn’t a bug, but just that the search syntax is different. It uses similar search syntax that you would be used to with google now.
    > I cannot sort by subject
    Available in 8.5.1. However you can just modify the template design to enable this functionality on earlier versions.
    > You never seem to know whether that mail you
    > sent was *really* sent
    There is a option that you can set that it MUST send the mail if X number of mails waiting to be sent. Not sure when that feature was introduced.
    > On the tool bar, there is a button called
    8.5.1 has google, and other major search engines. You can also create your own add-ons into that search bar.
    >The email address lookup is weak
    Again 8.5.1 you can configure how you want to do the lookup but at defaults works like this:
    1. recent contacts list.
    2. Personal address book.
    3. Domino directory (or other configured directories).
    The delay may be due to an earlier version of notes you are using.
    >You can’t download email!
    If you have a local replica of your mail file then you have downloaded the email. You can drag attachments to your desktop. Dragging a mail will create a URL link to the mail in your local NSF.
    > Cannot multiple undo!
    You can in ND8.x
    > Copy and paste in the to, cc, bcc fields are
    > buggy!
    I’m aware of one issue reported but not similar to what you mention (relates to richtext pasted).
    >Why would i reply to myself if I reply all???
    Unless your replying to a mail you sent to yourself this doesn’t happen in ND8.x.

  10. direstraits

    Thanks, Simon, for that incredibly detailed comment. I truly appreciate the sort of effort that went into writing such a response.
    I do want to mention though, that the comment that appeared immediately before yours actually belonged to me, and I mentioned there that the post was aimed at Notes 7, and I upgraded to Notes 8 with the majority of the weaknesses intact.
    Just a couple of things I wanted to touch on:
    1. Downloading email – what i meant by this is the equivalent of dragging a mail item out of Outlook onto the desktop (or wherever), creating an .msg file, which can then be used as an attachment to another email. This is endlessly useful, and Notes doesn’t do this. Local replica is not analogous to the .msg file.
    2. Re changing template design – well, I simply used whatever IBM provided as standard. And by IBM I mean IBM corporate, since I worked at IBM at the time of writing that post.
    I’m happy to hear Notes is bucking up. Given IBM’s fearsome developmental prowess at its beck and call, I’ve always been baffled why IBM put Notes in this position in the first place, and have taken as long as it did to fix the most rudimentary usability issues.

  11. Thanks for the clarification. Didn’t notice the 2007 on it. 🙂 Someone had posted the link today to twitter so thought it was recent.
    Re point 1: I am not sure what value this would add (as I have never used it). Latest version has the ability to right click and copy into different areas. Or you can drag and drop, although that only creates a doclink. There are export options in the file menu. RTF format might be close to what you mention. But drag and drop option you mention is not there.
    8.5.1 is extensible though. Built on Eclipse, so you can create a plugin which will intercept the drag and drop (AFAIK) and link in the functionality.
    Something else I forgot to mention is that 8.5.1 designer client is free to download and use. It has the full working client in it (bar being able to connect to a domino server). You can at least get to play with the latest version.

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