Lotus Notes was a great product, but IBM did not market the product and let it die on the vine. IBM has always had this strange hangup about spending money on advertising. Back in the OS/2 days IBM was talked about launch a ad campaign for OS/2 Warp and suddenly pulled back at the last minute. The other big problem was that IBM was only interested in market to their existing customer base. This worked well for years, but the problem was that MS slowly chipped away and notes became the minority in the market.
Software guru Ray Ozzie has been celebrating the upcoming 25th anniversary of Lotus Notes by telling the story of its development in a series of tweets. He first pitched the idea of an email/collaboration app to Mitch Kapor – the founder of Lotus – in 1984. On 7 December 1989, Lotus Notes was released. Here's a selection of …
Saturday 6th December 2014 18:04 GMT Anonymous Coward
Great product... if you're a Notes administrator that is
I'm sure I'm not going to get a lot of love for this, but in my opinion Notes is a steaming pile of shit as an email client. I speak as a user in a company that should be best placed to make its Notes environment as good as it can be because, well, it makes it. Notes manages the feat of making Outhouse look like a good MUA. I would dearly love to see the statistics on how many entirely new customers Notes is sold to each year (that is, companies who have no existing Notes licenses). I suspect it's something not too far from zero.
While Notes/Domino admins may love it (it keeps them in a job), it sucks for a user experience. Its main failing (among very many) is that I just don't trust it to work properly. A particular favourite is the bug that causes random messages to be moved along with the intended ones when you control click and drag multiple items to another folder. I mislaid many emails that way until I got wise to that one. As a user I don't need or want all those crappy Domino databases or apps - I groan when I come across an internal process that still uses one and hasn't been migrated to a web UI yet.
IBM is not going to kill Notes of course - it's a steady stream of revenue, and we all know IBM needs that. And no matter what the end users think of it, many IT departments genuinely seem to like it, so sales will continue. More than that, the next generation of Notes is coming - IBM Verse, essentially a smart cloud-based web mail application. I've seen Verse demoed, and I really want to like it, but I am cautious about this because a) we in IBM have to wait until after public beta to get our hands on it and b) it's still Notes underneath.
Cue a bunch of people coming along to tell me that I'm all wrong because I don't appreciate/understand the power of Domino as a platform and the deep functionality that Notes offers. The thing is, I don't want any of that... As an end user I don't want a database that also does mail, I want an efficient, reliable email client that helps me read and deal with my email with the least amount of aggravation.
Saturday 6th December 2014 19:47 GMT Chris Miller
I don't want a database that also does mail, I want an efficient, reliable email client that helps me read and deal with my email with the least amount of aggravation
If you're using Notes purely as an email system, you're using the wrong product. But you can (with skilled developers) build impressive corporate workflow systems, that would be much harder to achieve on any other platform.
OTOH The versions that I used to have to administer (c. 2000) leaked memory like a stuck whale. I remember having to reboot our Notes server every 24 hours to avoid it running out of memory - even with a (then) humongous (and humongously expensive) 1GB of RAM.
Sunday 7th December 2014 01:21 GMT Anonymous Coward
Notes itself wasn't leaky. But the plug in antivirus applications on the other hand.. Oh and if you were unfortunate enough to be doing SMTP mail conversion on your server then yeah, that tended to explode. Oh and iNotes, and anything related to serving HTTP, those were huge resource hogs and could take down servers (and often as not, clusters, because iNotes users would retry whatever crashed the box, and it would crash the clustered server(s) the same way). Some agents.. some fields if they pushed an obscure 64kb limit.. some times when you ran ncompact, sometimes if you were using transaction logging, but OTHER THAN THAT it was pretty stable. Some of the time
Sunday 7th December 2014 01:48 GMT Anonymous Coward
> impressive corporate workflow systems
This is perfectly true - Symbian had a number of much-used discussion databases, the best of which amounted to a brain dump from some rather choice brains - when stuck at an airport there was no better reading than an offline replica of "Programming" or "Design". And each was tailored to need: some were purely for announcements without replies, some had threaded discussions, etc. It even got used for defect tracking, though the appalling search and execution delays suggested that this was better done by a dedicated system.
But that very flexibility demonstrated some of the weaknesses - it's all up the designer. Everything. So what features are exposed (and how) was quirky - some had separate buttons for "reply to post" and "reply to reply" (of course with lots of misplaced orphans hanging from the root), some had quirky ways of backing out ("NO! Don't press <Esc>, that's non-confirming irrevocable cancel entire posting!"), what shortcut keys are provided, it all depended on the database. So the "consistent look and feel" fell apart and even after years of use the muscle memory would misfire. In fact the only truly consistent bits were those most hated: CTRL-N always meant "create a new database" (not that plebs even have rights to do this) rather than "create a new document appropriate to my current context" (like an email), F5 means not "refresh view" (necessary since that wasn't automated) but "lock screen and make me enter my password again".
Of course this was a local failing: with better discipline consistent styles would have been developed and applied. But great designs find ways to guide the users into good decisions without removing their freedom and Notes seemingly didn't manage this. And even today in release 9 (2013) fundamentally poor UI persists, such as the lack of edit redo: it's great that finally multi-level undo exists (for text edits anyway, many more complex actions can't be undone) but undo too far and you can't redo: somehow in the move to an Eclipse framework IBM still managed to bring its custom, user-expectation-breaking, controls. As other commentators here have noted it wouldn't be surprising to learn that almost all their business is upgrades and license packs rather than greenfield site sales, which is sadly perverse of IBM: given the strengths of the core idea and the shallowness of many of the paper-cuts they could have been more than an industry joke.
Monday 8th December 2014 14:37 GMT DrXym
"If you're using Notes purely as an email system, you're using the wrong product. But you can (with skilled developers) build impressive corporate workflow systems, that would be much harder to achieve on any other platform."
If you use Notes for anything you're using the wrong product. 20 years ago it may have been true to claim it could build impressive corporate workflows but there are various document / content management systems which can do pretty much the same thing but through web browsers and with substantially less grief.
And it's a fact that Notes *is* used for email and the email client is AWFUL. Even the Eclipse based front end is awful.
I strongly suspect that companies stick with Notes because of vendor lock-in and a escalation of commitment syndrome - they've bought a site licence at enormous cost (probably signed off by the CEO) and instead of acknowledging the mistake they throw good money after bad in the form of lost productivity for using it.
Sunday 7th December 2014 08:29 GMT Anonymous Coward
Re: Great product... if you're a Notes administrator that is
Lotus notes is powerful and under the hood brilliant, but has a user interface which could only of been designed in the depths of hell. I could never understand why IBM did not do a total makeover and produce something that did not look like is made by committee in Stalinist Russia
Monday 8th December 2014 16:13 GMT Joe 1
Re: Great product... if you're a Notes administrator that is
Totally agree with your comments about Lotus Notes.
I was forced to use this unbelievable dinosaur not too long ago, and frankly couldn't believe it was ever sold as a product. In short, it's a parody of itself.
All you have to do is google "Lotus Notes Sucks" to see what I mean.
Saturday 6th December 2014 18:49 GMT ecofeco
IBM has made many, many mistakes like this where they buy (once) great software and then let it rot and become obsolete.
For those of you who don't remember the early days of Office, Notes beat it hands down, but while it was technically upgraded over the years, it never kept up with changing user interface design and workflow standards as well as stability.
Saturday 6th December 2014 19:01 GMT returnmyjedi
That's not entirely true. I distinctly remember taking my niece to see Happy Feet at the cinema and there were two adverts for IBM services before the main feature. I'm sure the gaggle of assembled toddlers and exhausted parents employed Big Blue's services immediately after they'd watched the tap dancing penguins do their thang.
Saturday 6th December 2014 17:59 GMT Charlie Clark
Saturday 6th December 2014 18:09 GMT Khaptain
Celebrating since 3 years already
That's how long ago it was since we moved to Exchange....
I do not know anyone in my company that can honestly say that they miss Lotus Notes and especially that silly "desktop - welcome back to 1989 interface".
Lotus Notes was never intentionally designed solely as a mail client and it truly showed.
Saturday 6th December 2014 23:30 GMT P. Lee
Re: Celebrating since 3 years already
Notes' problem is that corporate workflow is actually quite hard and expensive to do and maintain. By the time companies have grown to the size where its feasible, they're already hooked on the (essentially) email-specific Exchange. Then overcoming the foibles for yet another massive messaging/information system with a superfluous email component is a hard ask. They might be better off (marketing-wise) having email as an add-on or integrating with Outlook as an option (don't know if they do that).
I was going to say that Notes is what those 15-core Xeons and flash arrays are made for, but then I remembered it runs on mainframes!
Sunday 7th December 2014 04:11 GMT Anonymous Coward
Still some good things
Domino admin for many years and still a few things I miss about Domino v Exchange:
1. Mailboxes that are actual discrete xxx.nsf database files. Copy it to a thumb drive, copy it to a temporary checked-out laptop and sync instantly, restore from an hour ago in seconds if you've got snapshotting on your SAN, etc.
2. A live remote console onto the server. If there's a problem happening right now you don't need to go looking at log files after the fact - you just open a console and watch everything the server is doing, and any error messages, in real time.
3. Routing around problems: Domino will go to extreme lengths to try to deliver a message if a particular connection is down by rerouting automatically. Otherwise: UK to Rio down, UK to Spain up, Spain to Rio up. One single config document and 5min later - UK->Spain->Rio.
I think the problem was never with the back end - it's the godawful client interface that caused/causes so much hatred amongst users!
Sunday 7th December 2014 14:38 GMT Mark Dowling
Re: Still some good things
agreed. Domino was great to administer from the back end and moving to Exchange meant having to find homes for other sorts of data Domino happily served up. Apart from a brief unhappiness running SLES8 which got fixed with kernel tuning, our install (2 Dominos replicating to each other plus one on Win32 to support BES) was pretty solid. Stuff like RSS enabled blogs brought to testing phase in an hour or two from receiving the templates.
Notes client largely a dogs breakfast of course and the failure to support roaming profiles for ages in the 8.5 code stream was a big minus. At least there was something you could do with the database look though, as opposed to Outlook's take it or leave it. Indexing was similar, great at the back end, nicely integrated into the DBs, but horribly at the front end, whereas Outlook/Exchange mostly reversed this paradigm in cached mode with Windows "Search".
Even now we keep one Domino spinning as we never fully trusted the quality of the conversion tools from Domino to Exchange, and it's good to go back to the "source" and see what the original looked like, plus now we have these enormous mail DBs where you largely hope they are in good shape rather than take a group of small ones offline and check them in Domino, or take the whole server down and leave the other machine take the load for a bit without much notice being taken. The other nice thing was the fix lists where you could make decent decisions about whether an upgrade was really worth it.
We had some unhappy meetings with our Dell Exchange 2007 consultant as he explained how replication worked in the MS world. A lot of "it really can't just...?" But we needed a Document Management System and the avalanche towards full support of Outlook/Exchange and a desultory implementation of Notes/Domino if at all had already started by then.
Monday 8th December 2014 02:44 GMT Simon Lyon
Re: Still some good things
Oh yeah - forgot replication. Just stick an mailfile/database on any number of servers (and/or PCs and laptops) throughout the world with config docs for replication and it just goes ahead and keeps them in sync.
Microsoft and "replication" ... I don't think that word means what you think it means!
Sunday 7th December 2014 04:38 GMT slack
I worked for a company whose owner got the Notes fetish on some business trip.
We went from a productive, happy environment to a "You forgot the cover sheet on your TPS reports" hell almost overnight. Forms that took 15 times longer to try to use than the previous systems (where we simply filled in a spreadsheet and attached it to an email with a set of cc's), support staff whose stock answer was along the lines of "You shouldn't want to do that and anyway what it CAN do is this, and would you like fries with that?".
The best (worst) part was that it was a company that encouraged you to use your own laptop so you could work from home or the road etc but on MY laptop I ran Slackware and of course Notes client didn't work so I had to set it up all over again to dual boot or risk getting looked upon with disfavour as "not a team player" by the idiot company owner. So screw lotus notes and the twats who foisted it upon an undeserving public.
Sunday 7th December 2014 06:36 GMT Simon Lyon
There's been a native Linux client since 2006, v7.0.3. Or you could just talk IMAP from your client of choice.
Current server platforms off the top of my head are Linux, Solaris and AIX, with an IOS client. And Windows of course if you want to take the performance hit.
A decade or so ago, the high street bank I worked for was supporting around 30,000 Notes users on just a single clustered pair of AS/400's (in the UK, others elsewhere). With failover to another pair at a recovery site. I personally built the first server in the domain and was the first user registered.
Remind me again how many operating systems you can run Exchange/Outlook on?
Sunday 7th December 2014 08:56 GMT John Smith 19
"A decade or so ago, the high street bank I worked for was supporting around 30,000 Notes users on just a single clustered pair of AS/400's (in the UK, others elsewhere). With failover to another pair at a recovery site. I personally built the first server in the domain and was the first user registered."
Voted up for being willing to put your name on the post.
I get the feeling Lotus/IBM should have enforced a bit more consistency, but how to do that while being backwards compatibility is going to be tricky.
Sunday 7th December 2014 12:00 GMT jason 7
It was okay at first...
..then went downhill from there.
My main hatred was for the cut and paste side that if you moved the mouse more than 8mm it would zoom to select everything all the way to the bottom. Used to make us all swear a lot. Never seemed to get fixed with every version I used from 3 to 6 iirc.
Oh that and the stupid 20MB mailbox limit the admins set for most users.
Unfortunately I worked for a team that evangelised the Notes Database side. I hated it but we ended up in a huge company with hundreds and hundreds of Notes databases that were there because really no other product could do the job as quickly and cheaply. If a team was told 'NO' by everyone else they came to our team and got something they could use. I managed to avoid the Notes database building on the whole but my claim to fame was building a database that if the user used as it should have been would have been a nice little database. However, they decided to use it as a repository for all their Word/Excel docs instead of the built in reports and it ballooned to a whopping (ahem) 1TB by the time I left. Drove the Notes admins crazy having that lump on their servers.
Pleased me greatly.
I think the company dumped Notes a few years ago. They went to some other crappy email system...Outlook I think it's called.
They should go back to carbon paper memo pads IMO.
Monday 8th December 2014 00:08 GMT Anonymous Coward
We use Notes at work and it staggers me that anyone who was involved in its creation should even mention it in private, let alone on Twitter, seemingly with no shame whatsoever. Anyone who helped foist the groaning monstrosity that is Lotus Notes onto the world should not be called a guru.
If the Samaritans really want to prime their Radar application with suicidal keywords, they could do pretty well by simply running in the Lotus Notes online help. That would supply enough trigger phrases to indicate a state of mindless despair. Or better still, they could ditch Radar, write off the development costs, and just ask IBM for their Notes customer list and email them (hah!) directly.
Monday 8th December 2014 13:33 GMT DrXym
I wish it would die already
I have to suffer under Lotus Notes at work and it really is the most unintuitive, frustrating, bloated, unusable, arcane, buggy software I've ever had the displeasure to use.
IBM have given recent versions a veneer of modernity by skinning the mail client and a few other things but you don't go far before it gives up any pretense.
If IBM killed it I would dance on its grave.
Monday 8th December 2014 14:37 GMT Anonymous Coward
I've been using Notes for 15 years now and I guess the best thing to say is that it's not as bad as it used to be! Though there were times it was useful in that it was so stpuid it dodn't know what to do with mail attachments, which saved a lot of grief.
Though as mentioned above if you're just using it for email, you're doing it wrong. As there are all those forms/databases too. Every few years we get a new head bod/CTO/whatever who freaks out about Notes and demands that we move to Exchange/Outlook. Usually this is countered by presenting a list of how much that will cost. Sometimes it may be mentioned that even if you move the email bit to MS, there are still loads of things living in Notes, that would have to be re-written entirely.
To be honest I don't really care about it one way or another now.