So I took a look at getting the new Office 2007 Beta 2 to take for a test drive on my laptop. The install went great, the applications worked rather well for a Beta 2 product, and the UI changes were not as harsh as I thought they were to be.

So why did I de-install it less than 48 hours later ?

2 words: Lotus Notes

Unfortunately the "enterprise" e-mail system for me is Lotus Domino 6.5.x, and which you would expect to use the Lotus Notes 6.5.x client to work "well" with.

Since I come from an Exhange background, I am naturally biased towards a Notes world. I’ve worked at many large enteprises who migrated from Notes to Exhange for Messaging and PIM support, and never looked back. I suppose I will eventually write something on the pitfalls of the Domino platform where it comes to non-IBM integration, but let this rant exist about the client piece itself for now.

So in the past I used Outlook with the MS Domino connector to get my Email and Meetings. It’s been a rather excellent solution as it let me use the familiar Outlook interface, but still utilize the existing Domino backend. I was able to read all my E-mail, Schedule meetings, and even look at other Calendars of people who are usin the full Notes experience. For the most part, I was ok missing the backend features of Exchange that Notes was lacking out of the box because I could do 90% of what needed to be done.

So I installed Office 2007 which upgraded my exisitng Outlook. This had the ability to break the Domino Outlook connector which I expected to happen. I thought of it as a chance to really give Notes a try and maybe I was wrong in my assumptions about what it can and cannot do as a messaging client. I figured I had a BlackBerry device that if all else failed I could function with.

So I went about using Notes 6.5.4 client, and this is what I found:

  • Limited Interface Customization
    • I can’t cusomize my Interface to be what I want it to as far as style and font sizes. For the most part I like a an 8pt font for my interface, and it turns out I am in the minority, and people prefer a 10pt font. This sounds trivial, but when you are sorting through messages, it means more information on the screen and less scrolling. I am told I can’t change this interface as it would be a "Database Template" I’d have to modify. If I did choose to go that route, that the Server Admin would overwrite my custom template on refresh anyway, so it was a pointless excercise. Ok, so I think I can deal with that, and jsut chalk it off to not having personalization for my own style of information management. Yet, what if I wanted a LARGER font because I had poor eye sight. It appears I could not, and would be in the same position. This seems like a really big usability issue overall with Notes.
  • Delete is not Delete
    • So I can select a message and hit the DELETE key, but it does not delete the message. It marks it for deletion, and on next database refresh, it will disappear. This goes against pretty much all other deletion operations within a Windows system. Perhaps in a Linux or AS/400 system it is normal that selecting delete doesn’t actually delete the item. It sounds very similar to the IMAP protocol, but with most IMAP readers I can choose to have it really delete when I tell it to delete, or at least remove it from my view.
  • F5 key means logout and not Refresh
    • If you work in a Windows environment, and use most applications, the F5 key is to refresh the current view of the application. If you wanted to reload a webpage in IE or in FireFox, you would hit F5. If you hit the F5 key in Notes, it logs you out of your current session and you have to relog in. You have to use the F9 key to initiate a Refresh (F9 is also used to send/receive in Outlook). I have logged myself out so many times because every other WinApp uses F5 for refresh. Am I wrong for learning to use a common keyboard function that most applications use? Why can’t Notes use the same usability guidelines?
  • Refreshing of messages period
    • It seems Notes can be set to check for mail every x minutes. Yet if you receive mail in that time frame you won’t know about it till the timer counts down. Using Notes, people would walk up to me and say "Did you see the Email I sent?" to which I respond "What Email?" and then proceed to hit the F5 key, logging me out. I then log back in, and yup there is the message. The solution is to set the refresh to only 1 minute to check for email, and even that seems spotty.
  • Forwarding a Meeting on my calendar
    • if I am invited to a meeting and I plan to attend it, it will be on my calendar. If I want to invite someone else to the meeting because I think they should be there, I want to let them know about the meeting and put it on their calendar. In Notes I can choose to forward the Meeting to the user in question. This has the outcome of sending them the meeting details in a MESSAGE and not in a Meeting invite. So what happens is that it can get lost in their pile of email (Let’s not talk about the sophmore filtering and 3 color choice for message tagging that exists to "help" you be organized), and it does not show up on their calendar. Sure I could delegate it, but I want to also be at the meeting so I don’t want it to come off of my calendar. If I have a meeting on my calendar in Outlook (the same Domino backend), and I wish to ask someone to join me, I can forward the meeting to them. It sends them a meeting request which will show up on their Calendar correctly if they accept it. This appears to be a client issue, since the backend is the same.

I am sure I can spend alot of time going through my issues, but you will see that many people on the net have similar complaints. I believe it is said that Notes is the app that Admins love, and users love to Hate. Is that really a good place to be? Isn’t it the users who need to be productive so that business thrives?

Many people at my org know I whine about Notes deficiences all the time, so they are used to it. They don’t understand why I complain and Notes is just as good as any email platform. Then it turns out they have only used Notes in the modern enterprise, and have not worked with Groupwise or Outlook. I have to wonder, if all you know is one system, can you really know what is "just as good" anyway?

So yes, I wanted to try to use Notes. I know I can be biased because I am used to Outlook. Yet when I extended my hand to make peace with Lotus Notes, it kicked me in the shins and poked me in the eyes. I had heard it be said that using Notes every day at work is like being kicked in the balls everyday when you arrive at work. After my 48 hour wrestling match, I have to say that would be putting it lightly.  I know change is hard, but when it’s change in the backwards direction,  it is even harder to accomplish.  I could not stand using Notes any longer and had to remove Outlook 2007 B2.

Outlook is now re-installed and working fine once again with Notes, and I am productive again. Hopefully once Outlook 2007 reaches closer to RTM a Domino connector will re-emerge to save the day. This is why you get to look at Betas, so you can get an idea of what is coming down the pike. It may not all work, but at least you get an idea. I can deal with using Notes only for Notes applications (which leave alot to be desired in this age of Web based apps), but for the core messaging of Email and Calendaring, Outlook is king. Maybe Notes 7 is better, but do I really want to keep hoping only to get let down again?

Sure Notes integrates with Sametime, but how well do either interface with the Office Suite? I guess that is why Lotus Now has their own office suite they will be pitching soon. Funny, I remember they used to give the Lotus Office Suite away for free when you bought a new IBM Aptiva desktop computer in CompUSA. I wonder what will be different.