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.