My thoughts on Lotus Notes

Monash moves to Google Apps

I was going to post something about this months ago, but never got around to it. It’s about time I did. Monash has finally moved to Google Apps for both students and staff. There was much rejoicing.

It was interesting to see how people adapted to Gmail. It was a while ago since I moved, so I’d forgotten what the experience was like. I was surprised by some of the complaints and frustrations I was seeing. My favourite feature was conversation threading, but this frustrated a lot of people. When Gmail released the ability to turn off conversations, there were a few joyous emails sent around telling people about the new feature. I’m not entirely sure why people were so frustrated with conversation threading, but the one or two I spoke to explained that once they’d filed a message away, they didn’t want to see it again and would rely on what was included in the reply to get the context of the thread. Essentially, they wanted Gmail to work exactly like the desktop email clients that they were used to.

Another common frustration I heard is that they couldn’t sort by column. Many people used sorting instead of searching in desktop email clients. So, again it seems to be a case of people wanting Gmail to work like their desktop email clients rather than trying to use Gmail as designed. To be fair, I sometimes find it difficult to find an email in the over 54,000 I have if I can’t remember enough keywords and I get hundreds of hits. Being able to sort or slice the emails in a some other way would be useful.

Our department was moved to Gmail in September last year and now that the dust has settled, I’ve noticed that a handful of people have switched back to Thunderbird, but most people seem to be satisfied with the Gmail web interface.

This concludes the “Lotus Notes” section.

How I moved to Gmail

I had a couple issues moving my messages over to Gmail, so for my own benefit (and perhaps for others), here are the steps I took to migrate all my Notes emails to Gmail.

There might be better/easier tools, but I used Thunderbird to perform the migration. I configured IMAP accounts in Thunderbird for both Notes and Gmail. Then I simply dragged and dropped messages from Notes to Gmail. Well, “simply” might not be the right word, but that was the basic premise. So here are the steps:
  1. Create a rule in Notes to forward all messages to the Gmail account. I set this rule to run after the Junk Mail filter so that spam to my Gmail account is minimised.
  2. Configure an account in Thunderbird to access Notes via IMAP. The Notes IMAP server is the server name displayed at the top of the left panel in Mail.
  3. Configure an account in Thunderbird to access Gmail via IMAP. I already had a Gmail account with IMAP enabled, so I simply followed the instructions in Gmail help to configure Thunderbird.
  4. Recreate the Notes folder tree in Gmail. Each Gmail folder becomes a Label in Gmail. There are some odd implications of this mapping, so read the Gmail IMAP help to understand this.
  5. Copy the messages from each Notes folder to the corresponding Gmail folder by drag and drop while holding the Control key down. This is where I started having some problems. It seems that there is some kind of rate-limiter on the Gmail side. I would get an error after about a hundred messages or so and the copying would stop. To work around this, I just selected two or three screenfuls of emails and copied the emails in small batches. Needless to say, this was a slow process and took me about two days.
  6. Messages in Notes’ “Sent” view do not appear via IMAP, so I dragged them all to a folder in Notes so that I could access them via IMAP. Notes has a bug here. It doesn’t convert its internal addressing scheme (i.e. “Brent Muir/Adm/Staff/Monash”) to a valid email address in the “From” header line for sent mail. Thunderbird and Gmail don’t complain about this, but I didn’t like it as it looks broken. So to fix this, I first made a copy of my sent mail to a local Thunderbird folder. I closed Thunderbird and opened the mailbox file in a text editor and performed a simple search-and-replace to fix the “From” line. I restarted Thunderbird and rebuilt the index on that folder. Finally, I copied the messages from the local folder to the “Sent Mail” on Gmail.
Of course, I could have stopped after step 1 if I didn’t care about my previous emails. But I do care and I’ve got a lot of messages that I want easy access to. Gmail’s search ability is a compelling reason to migrate my mail.

Note that there are some quirks with this process:
  • In Notes, all messages now have a forwarded status icon, but unlike normal forwards in Notes, the header doesn’t say where it’s been forwarded to.
  • Most formatting (font colours, bullets, numbers, etc.) of Notes email is lost (they appear as plain text). This seems to be an artefact of the Notes IMAP implementation. Strangely, email that is sent from the Notes client to non-Notes users appear to preserve the formatting, but mail forwarded via a rule does not preserve formatting.
  • Message counts between Notes and Gmail probably won’t match exactly. I initially thought that something was breaking in the copy process, but when I had a closer look, I realised Gmail automatically collapses duplicate messages into a single message. (We’ve got a couple team mailing lists and when I send to one, I get a copy sent back to me, so I had quite a few duplicate messages.) Also, because Labels are applied to an entire conversation, not just individual messages, some of my messages would appear in Gmail folders other than the one I had copied the message to.

Moved to Gmail

At the beginning of this series of posts, I wrote that I’d attempt to find some things that I like about Notes. I’ve looked high and low and have finally found one redeeming quality: I can set up a server-side rule and forward all my email to Gmail.

Three weeks ago, I started forwarding all my mail to Gmail. I haven’t looked back. Gmail is a delight to use in so many different ways. But the biggest benefit is that I’m now far more productive than I used to be.

Moving to Gmail started off as an experiment because I’d heard that someone else had done it. I was almost at the point of switching back to Thunderbird and do all my email via IMAP, but I had been hesitating because of some of the weird behaviour I’d noticed while using IMAP. IMAP is really a second-class citizen in Notes and it seems to have a few quirks (e.g. folders created via IMAP don’t show up in Notes). So, I thought I’d give Gmail a go, initially intending to use it to quickly check email at home or on the go. I didn’t realise how intuitive, fast and delightful the whole webmail interface would be.

I’m constantly amazed at how fast Gmail is considering it’s a web app. It’s far faster than Notes in reading and managing my email, and now that I reflect on it, faster than any desktop application I’ve used with the exception of perhaps Apple Mail. The keyboard shortcuts make sense and I can whip through a lot of emails with ease.

By far the best feature of Gmail is the way it handles and displays conversations. In one fell swoop, Gmail has solved the top-posting/bottom-posting debate, virtually eliminated the need for replies to quote the original email, and resolved the artificial separation of incoming messages vs. outgoing messages.

I usually have 3-5 active threads going at the same time and I was going batty trying to keep track of things in Notes. It turns out to be a very draining mental exercise to keep track of what messages relate to other messages. Now I spend virtually no time thinking of what relates to what as Gmail does it for me.

Conversations also keeps my Inbox tidy as it only displays one line for the entire conversation. I currently have one conversation with 8 messages. Every other mail client would display 8 lines, taking up quite a lot of screen space.

The next best feature is Labels. I love how I can tag messages while keeping them in my Inbox. This means I can easily keep track of which project an email belongs to. I’ve set up a couple filters to automatically tag some messages, so they’re already “pre-filed” when they arrive in my Inbox and they’re visually distinguishable. I can even create some special tags to indicate the status of a message. I’ve currently got two: “Waiting” and “Deferred”, which I use to push emails out of my Inbox into a spot where I can find them quickly.

Of course, I can’t talk about Gmail without talking about search. Searching is very fast and accurate as we’ve all come to expect from Google. It even highlights your search terms in yellow in the body of each email.

Amazingly, in the process of moving to Gmail, I found one more redeeming quality of Notes. Notes’ calendar invites can be understood by Google Calendar (gCal). Gmail recognises the .ics attachment and offers to add the invite to gCal. It’s not perfect, as gCal gets a little bit confused about repeating events (I’m not sure whose fault this is), but they’re easy to fix. It’s great having my calendar in gCal, because I can sync it to iCal, which I can then use to sync to my Nokia 6120 classic. It’s only a one-way sync to my phone, but I’m OK with that as I only need to occasionally view entries on it.

This may be my last post about Notes because I feel that I’ve vented enough on the topic. And now that I’m almost exclusively using Gmail, I’ve simply run out of material. Using Notes has been a soul-sucking experience and I can’t express how happy I am that I switched to Gmail.

Missed Opportunities

Now on to the missed opportunities. First, some background thoughts: Email is a medium that has gone well beyond what it was originally intended for. The concept of an “Inbox”, “Sent” box and storing email in folders where each message is independent is a metaphor that has been sufficient for now, but with the volume of email we are all receiving each day, that metaphor is breaking down. Much email traffic is actually conversation traffic, so threaded or conversation views of emails are becoming more important.

As for dealing with the volume of email, there are a number of techniques and many of them revolve around the idea of triage or preprocessing your email. The idea is to quickly glance through each email in your Inbox and making a quick decision about what to do about that email (respond/do immediately, respond/do later, delete, and file). Part of this preprocessing is often to “pre-file” things, so the filing (i.e. categorisation) decision is done at the start of dealing with the email rather than at the end. Often emails fall under many categories: it’s an “Important” message related to “Project A”, but it’s also related to “Project B”. This is where features like Thunderbird’s Tags, Gmail’s Labels or Outlook’s Categories come into play as you can assign more than one tag/label/category to an email.

It looks like Notes has an interesting backend where emails can appear in multiple folders (without actually copying the emails). This means that Notes’ “Folders” are functionally equivalent to “Tags” in Thunderbird. Unfortunately it looks like Notes goes out of its way to try to force the concept of folders onto something that is really just tags. I can quickly add the same message to multiple folders, as long as I hold the Ctrl key down when I drag. But, it’s awkward to then remove the email from my Inbox when I’m done with it. If I accidentally forget to hold the Ctrl key down when I drag an email into a new folder, then it is removed from all folders but the one I just moved the email to.

Notes’ own attempt to force the idea of Folders breaks down when “deleting” messages. If I have the same message appearing in 2 different folders and I delete from one of those folders, I expect the message to remain in the other folder. Instead when a message is deleted in Notes, it is deleted from ALL folders.

IBM has missed a golden opportunity to rethink how email is done. With a powerful search engine, views and message tagging (folders), Notes appears to possess a technical backend to support a fast, streamlined and compelling email user experience. Unfortunately, it’s execution is completely hopeless.

Miscellaneous UI Quirks

Here is a grab bag of user interface quirks or annoyances:
  • The user interface has far too much computer administrative debris. My 17” monitor feels cramped. The “Search this view” bar is overwhelmingly large. When I try to reclaim screen real estate by turning off the toolbar buttons in the Mail window, it also turns the buttons off in the compose message window. I couldn’t find a way to turn the toolbar back on in the message window, so I need to close it, re-enable the toolbar in the main window and then reopen the message compose window. The settings should really be independent. With a preview pane turned off, I can view about 46 emails in the message list in Thunderbird, but in Notes, I can only see 36 emails.
  • If I minimize the window while it is loading, it keeps on maximising itself (at least 3 times).
  • The default folder view of 1 1/4 row spacing and 3 rows per line is annoying. I can’t change the default, so I have to fiddle with the settings for each folder. If I rename a folder, it resets that folder’s settings to the default.
  • If a message has been sent to 2 or more people, only the first “To” entry is displayed in the message list. There is no indication that there are multiple receipients.
  • Sorting messages by subject line doesn’t ignore “Re:” and “Fwd:” prefixes.
  • The date column always shows the full date and time. It would be great if it would show “friendly” timestamps: just the time for emails received today, day and time for emails received in the last week and the full timestamp for emails earlier than that.
  • The column drag widgets in the message pane are fiddly and difficult to find and control and some can’t even be controlled with the mouse. For example, I can’t move the “Flag, response icons” column in my Folders with the mouse, but I can do it via “Customize this view”. I’ve also tried removing the “Thread” indicator column from my Inbox, but although the checkbox has been removed in “Customize This View”, the column still appears.
  • Drafts aren’t editable when double-clicking; I need to press the Edit button.
  • If you flag a message, you can no longer see the reply/forwarded indicator in the message list.
  • When viewing messages in any of my folders (i.e. not Inbox or All Documents), the “Show” menu in the upper right only displays “Unread Only”. The “Preview on Bottom”, “Preview on Side” and “Hide Preview” menu items are missing.
  • The email header for messages in the trash looks broken.
  • Blinking URL underlines in email messages is very annoying.
  • When I have the preview pane configured to appear on the right, my Inbox has a nice two-line message display (Sender and Date on one line, Subject on second line). This two-line display does not appear when I view messages in any of my folders. This means that having the preview pane on the right is frustrating.
  • If I switch to the “OS theme”, the email header no longer displays the email badge.
  • Pressing “Esc” doesn’t cancel the delete warning message.
  • Clicking on “Show/Hide Details” in preview pane doesn’t work unless Notes has focus.
  • If I close the “Home” screen, it reappears after restarting Notes.
  • When I move a message to a folder, Notes normally moves the focus to the next message, but often it “jumps” around and displays another message. I haven’t figured out why it does this. Perhaps it’s displaying the next last message viewed.
  • If I move 2 or more unread messages to a folder, click on that folder and select “Show Unread”, it shows one less message than the number of messages moved. One of the messages simply goes “missing”.
  • Clicking on “Show Details” in the message header shows the full address details, but it doesn’t remove the condensed details, so information is effectively repeated in the header.
  • When network connectivity is lost, I get a lot of errors and it doesn’t look like I can reconnect without closing and reopening the mail application.
  • There is no way to add a “Recipient” column to the folder views. A “Who” column like in the “All Documents” view would be far better. I like to keep my sent email in folders together with incoming email. Without a “Who” column, I won”t be able to quickly see or sort by Recipient.
  • I mentioned this in my previous post, but there’s no way to view the message source (and headers) for Notes-to-Notes emails, even though there is a “View Source” option for emails from non-Notes users.
  • There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to copy a contact from an email into my Contacts.
  • There’s no way to reply to emails in the Sent view (e.g. to send a follow-up email to the same recipients.)
  • I can, however, edit sent email and resend, but then the sent view only has one copy even though recipient gets two.
  • “Discover Folders” does not tell you if it is in the Sent view.
  • No way to forward an email as an attachment (preserving headers).
  • There is no way to mark a message as being a “sent” message (for example, by dragging it into “Sent”). If you connect to your mailbox via IMAP and send a message, it will not appear in Notes’ “Sent” view and there is no way to fix this. Also, emails migrated from the old mail system were not marked as “sent” in Notes and so do not appear in the “Sent” view.
  • The threaded/conversation view doesn’t work because we’re on a version 7 backend.


One of Notes' oft-touted features is full-text searching. Allow me to detail its many flaws...

First, as a full-text search engine, it needs to index your emails. There's nothing strange about that; fast searching usually requires some kind of index. I believe Notes has been configured here to update the index "immediately", but I usually notice that it takes several minutes before my new messages are indexed. And while they are waiting to be indexed, those new messages won't appear in any searches. This is not my definition of "immediate". Most egregiously, the "Indexed" indicator on the "Search in view" bar remains green, so there's no visual indicator (other than poking around in the database properties panel) that there are a few messages still to be indexed.

The second problem is that search results are by default limited to 500 results. Again, this by itself isn't really a problem, but the problem lies in the way Notes collects those 500 results. I usually have my message lists sorted by date, so I naturally assumed that Notes will return the latest 500 messages that match the search criteria. Instead Notes collects 500 results by some internal logic (perhaps what it thinks is "relevant") and then displays them in a sorted list. So, if I receive an email about a particular topic and I do a quick search to see if I can find the other related messages in a folder (or usually "All Documents"), there's no guarantee that that newly received email will show up in the search results. To me it just appears to be returning completely random results. In other words, I can't trust the search results.

I found where to change the search result limit and reset it to 10,000. That helped enormously, but then I noticed that there appears to be a server limit of 5,000. So whenever I see that 5,000 results are returned, I immediately mistrust the search results. Notes should be collecting results based on the current folder's sort settings, or better yet, it should have an "unlimited" results option.

Third, Notes indexes the full email headers. This is simply brain-dead. Let me explain what effect this has. I had been sending a few emails back and forth with the Notes change management team. I wanted to refer to one of those emails, so I clicked on "All Documents" and typed "lotus" in the search box. Thousands of results were returned! I only remember sending a handful of emails about "lotus". There was no way I had sent or received thousands of emails on the topic! I had a look at a few of the messages and they were clearly unrelated messages. On a hunch, I fired up Thunderbird and had a look at the email headers (as I can't see headers in Notes for any messages sent from another Notes client). I saw the following header:

X-Mailer: Lotus Notes Release 8.0.1 February 07, 2008

So, when I was searching for "lotus", it was finding every single message that had been sent from a Lotus Notes client. As it turns out, Notes searched through any email header, so searching for words like "lotus", "notes", "release", "february", "curly" (the name of one of our mail servers) and "java" tend to return far more results than they should. Yes, I know I can construct a query to only look for words within the subject line or body of an email, but why should I have to do a clunky work-around for something that should be the default? If there is a legitimate reason to search through the full email headers (I'm guessing email administrators may be interested in doing that), then it should be an option, but it should in no way be the default.

Fourth, according to the search help, Notes has the ability to do wildcard searches using "*". I tried it, but it didn't work. After some fiddling, I found out that the "Fuzzy search" option must be disabled for wildcards to work. This is not documented anywhere I could find.

Fifth and finally, it doesn't appear that Contacts are automatically indexed. My guess is that the Contacts application needs to be open for indexing to occur, but I rarely keep it open as the autocomplete feature works relatively well. Ironically, the handful of times I do open Contacts is to search for a particular email address that I can't find via autocomplete.


Although my personal laptop is a Mac and I sometimes use it for work, I haven't installed Notes on it because it requires Leopard and I'm still running Tiger. So I haven't had a chance to see how Notes behaves on a Mac, but another Monash Notes Mac user, Andrew Norman, sent me his list of complaints. So, here's his list with some of my comments in square brackets:

  • Size of the install - 819MB. [This seems to be almost twice as big as the Windows install.]
  • It is not apparent how you can disable or remove the "Sametime" item that adds itself to the menu bar in the top right. Uninstalling and reinstalling Notes made it go away.
  • If you don't install Sametime, you still get a Sametime menu under the tools menu.
Non-standard keyboard shortcuts
  • Closing a window is Ctrl-W, not the standard Cmd-W (and this cannot be overridden).
  • Cmd-W launches a strange "search" dialog.
Application Interface
  • The Preferences window resizes itself automatically (as you view options), sometimes resizing itself off the display. Widening the left column of the Preferences window results in a proportional resize of the entire window.
  • The Dock icon for Notes reads "java", and not "Notes".
  • Closing down Notes results in the dock icon being replaced with a java terminal icon for a few seconds, and then quitting.
  • In the message list view, Notes wraps the senders email address across multiple lines, expanding each message line vertically. [This also happens on Windows.]
  • If you change your week to start on Sunday, then in the "Week View", the last two columns are narrower than all the others (as Notes thinks they are weekends). As a consequence, Friday gets squashed up, and Sunday is extra wide.
  • If Notes can't connect to the server, it throws window after window of warnings telling you that it can't connect to the server. Setting the mode to "offline" still throws error messages saying that it can't connect to the server.
  • In the Mail window, with a preview pane, if you click and hold on the scroll control and move it up or down, the contents of the window does not scroll up and down. You only see the results when the you let go of the control.
  • When creating a new calendar entry, the fields are misaligned, and text is hidden.
  • Lotus Notes "steals" the focus when loading. When the splash page loads, it steals the focus again. And again when "Home" loads. Unlike other apps, it does not play nicely in the background. [This also happens on Windows.]
  • Links in email messages appear with a bright green underline. There appears to be no way to override this.
  • Mailbox folder names are case insensitive. If you mistakenly type "Web managers", but then decide to rename the mailbox folder to "Web Managers", you can't. Notes tells you that you can't rename a mailbox to a name that exists. The only way around this to use an intermediate name (rename to "W" then rename to "Web Managers").
  • What is the difference between a "Holiday" and a "Vacation"? [Beats me.]
Missing application features
  • You can't link to email items from within other applications or documents. With Apple Mail, you can drag a message and drop it onto a text document, and then annotate some notes about the item. Clicking on the email link, takes you back to the mail message. Notes does not support this behaviour.
  • Clicking on the "Next Unread" button in the toolbar only advances you to the next unread item in the current folder you are accessing. It will not traverse sub-folders, nor does it go from the Inbox to Folders.
  • New mail delivered into sub-folders (by either server side mail filtering or Notes rules) is not identified in your unread message count in Notes. It only seems to be interested in the Inbox for unread email. [This seems to be different than on Windows. I have some Notes rules that file some messages into sub-folders and I can see an unread count against each of those folders.]
  • I now have more Spam in my Inbox than ever before. Notes spam filtering just does not work. [I noticed this as well, but changing the Junk Mail rule to look for 3 stars instead of 5 seemed to fix this for me.]
  • Quicklook for attachments.
  • Notes defaults to top-posting when replying and there's no way to change this to bottom-posting. Top-posting messes up the order in which people normally read text. [Although I agree that it messes up the reading order, I personally prefer top-posting, only because I get tired of constantly scrolling down to see responses. A bigger problem is that Notes doesn't blockquote the quoted text, so if I want to respond inline, then I need to fiddle with font colours or some other formatting to distinguish the quoted text from my response.]
Speed Issues
  • Time it takes to load and view a single email from cold start:
    Apple Mail ~ 2 seconds
    Notes ~ 51 seconds
  • Time to quit:
    Apple Mail ~ < 1 second
    Notes ~ 7 seconds
Many thanks to Andrew for sending this to me.

Domino Web Access

Web access to email and calendar is provided by "Domino Web Access" (DWA). In many ways it's actually better than the full desktop client because the interface doesn't have as much cruft. Unfortunately, there are some glaring problems. Here's my story ...

I was away from the office, but I had my MacBook Pro, so I tried to use Domino Web Access to check my email. I hit my first problem before I'd even started: it doesn't work in Safari. There is a "WebMail" option for Safari, but it just looks hideous, so I fired up Firefox to see if that worked any better. I managed to log in and start reading my email. It even has drag and drop, which is nice. Then I hit my first snag. I could scroll down in the message list pane, but I couldn't scroll up! I tried using the arrow keys on the keyboard but that didn't work either. So I hunted for a preference and there's an option to show one page at a time. I turned that on and I could finally move up and down in my message list. I was happy for a minute, but then I tried to drag and drop a message into a folder. Drag and drop had stopped working! So, I then tried the "Move To Folder..." menu but nothing happened. Perhaps it was Firefox's pop-up blocker that was getting in the way, so I turned it off and tried again. Nothing. I couldn't move my messages! Changing the preference back to show all messages in the message list made drag and drop work again, but scrolling was still broken.

At this point, I was getting furious. I fired up XP in Parallels and got IE going and tried again. Now everything was working in DWA as expected. The message list would scroll correctly and I could drag and drop messages and the "Move To Folder..." menu worked. Hmmm ... whatever happened to "cross-platform"?

I then noticed that all my messages were marked as unread. This was infuriating as I had a folder of messages where I'd carefully left some messages as unread because I wanted to get back to them later. All that information was lost! There was no point leaving them as unread, so I selected "Mark All Read" from the "Mark Read" menu expecting it to mark all the messages in the current folder as read. Instead it marked all messages everywhere as read! Who in their right mind decided that that was a good thing!?

So, I gave up on using the read/unread indicator as a reliable "get back to this later" indicator. I created a new folder and managed to identify most of the messages I had left as unread and moved them to that new folder.

After the above episode, I did some more testing and found out DWA doesn't like Firefox 3 on the Mac. I went back to Firefox 2 and scrolling the full (non-paginated) message list worked, as did drag and drop. The "Move To Folder..." still doesn't work.

Here are some more random issues with DWA:
  • DWA repeatedly gives me following warning message in a dialog box: "Domino Web Access Warning. Sorry, we were unable to process your request at this time. If you are unable to continue working in your mail file, please dismiss the warning and select View, Reload from your browser’s menu." Nothing appears to be wrong with the application, but apparently it may be related to us using a version 8 client on top of a version 7 server.
  • When I navigate to a folder and then navigate back to the Inbox, the Folder list collapses. This is even more annoying than the full client.
  • Contacts aren't immediately available in DWA. I had to set up replication to replicate the data from my local contact to the server's contacts. Unfortunately, the most valuable aspect of Contacts, the "Recent Contacts" list, isn't replicated.
  • Using Firefox (either version 2 or 3), when I try to reply or forward a message that has a " (i.e. double quote) in the subject line, everything after the " is truncated.

Keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are frustrating and illogical. Alt-1 to send a message is weird to say the least, but I managed to get used to that. The Insert key marks a message as read. This is simply frustrating. It is on the wrong side of the keyboard when one hand is on the keyboard and one is on the mouse (at least for right-handed people). It is immediately above the Delete key, which is a recipe for disaster. The Insert key doesn't work while the Preview pane is loading up, nor when the Preview pane has the focus. And finally, to add insult to injury, the Insert key doesn't work when you click in the Preview pane and then click back on the current message in the message list. I have to click to another message, then click back on the first message to be able to use the Insert key.

Another annoyance is that there doesn't appear to be a shortcut to immediately delete a message without going through the Trash. When I delete a Junk messages, I don't want to decide once again whether I really wanted to remove that message.


I'm not a particularly heavy Calendar user (I mostly attend meetings others have created), so I haven't experienced as many problems as others. But here are a few things that annoy me:
  • I can't accept a calendar invite from the preview pane. The invite needs to be opened first. (This isn't much of a problem now that I've turned on auto-accept.)
  • I can't click-drag in the calendar to create a meeting with a particular duration.
  • I can't see who has accepted and who has declined a meeting (unless I'm the meeting's creator).
  • I can't quickly view a person's busy/free time without having to go through the motions of creating a meeting and using the Availability tab.
  • The "Today" button randomly stops working.
  • Scrolling up in the preview pane for a calendar entry is "sluggish" - it takes 3 or 4 times as many scrolls with the scroll wheel to scroll up as it takes to scroll down.


A handful of issues with attachments:
  • Notes includes attachments when you reply to an email. This might sound useful, but in practice this means that we've got multi-megabyte "Thank you" emails flying around.
  • Attachments with a text MIME type are displayed inline without any ability to save the attachment. I don't mind the inline display, but I must have the ability to save the attachments (many of these are specially formatted text files to be uploaded via script, so I don't trust any copy-paste mechanism). Asking the sender to zip up the attachment and resend the file is not acceptable.
  • Notes displays attachments inline which is sometimes useful as I can put text around the attachment explaining what it is. However, this only works in a Notes-to-Notes context. If the email is from a non-Notes user, the attachments are displayed at the end of the email, but without any separator to visually distinguish it from the text of the email. In too many cases, this just makes the attachment appear to be buried in the email signature and makes them hard to find.
  • Attachments are not included in exports. (A related issue is that I can't export messages in any kind of usable format - e.g. .eml file.)
  • I've got an email with multiple attachments. When I click on an attachment in the preview pane, a black box indicates which attachment is currently selected. If I then open that attachment by double-clicking on it and selecting "Open", the attachment opens as expected. When I go back to the preview pane and try to select another attachment, the black box briefly appears, but then disappears. Clicking anywhere else in the email or on other attachments does not bring the black box back. I have to move to another email and then back to the original email to get the attachment selection box working again. (Yes, this might be nit-picking a little, but that doesn't mean it's not a UI glitch.)
I was going to mention above that double-clicking an attachment displays an annoying warning dialog box, but I just found out that it can be disabled. Hurray!

Naming folders

I wrote a little while ago about the painful UI around expanding and collapsing folders. Here are some more issues with folders in Notes:
  • I can't name a top level folder "Rules" or "Archive" as these are special reserved names (for the mail filtering rules and archive features). Notes' error message explains that there is already a folder with that name, but as "Rules" and "Archive" appear in a different section (in the "Tools" special folder), it's not obvious that the error message is referring to those special folders.
  • I had two folders in my migrated mail folders that I was trying to move to a different level in the folder hierarchy. I could move every other folder without any trouble, except for these two. I could drag and drop and reposition them and they would stay for the duration of the session, but they kept on reappearing in the old spot after restarting Notes. No error message was generated, they simply popped back into the old spot. After trying to figure this one out for quite a while, it finally dawned on me that this was the same problem as above. The two folders that refused to move were called "Rules" and "Sent". Renaming them to something else and then moving them fixed the problem.
  • I had a migrated folder called "Archive" (so it appears to be technically possible to have both a folder and a special folder with the same name). Unfortunately whenever I tried to move an email to that folder it kept on displaying a dialog box asking if I wanted to archive my message. Renaming "Archive" to something else fixed that.
  • Folders can apparently be moved and sorted manually, but the order doesn't stay between restarts of Notes.

Copying from Excel

Copying some cells from Excel and pasting in an email message inserts a picture, not a table. Mmmm ... useful.

Junk mail alerts

Notes' new email alert notifies me when I've got Junk mail. There doesn't seem to be a way to change this, so I find the new email alerts pretty useless. It would be really nice if this could be fixed by introducing a "Do not trigger new mail alert" action which I could add to any rule. I have other email that I filter into folders and I don't particularly want an alert for them either.

Moving messages

Here's a doozy: I often select a couple (non-sequential) messages to file away by Ctrl-clicking on them and dragging the messages into a folder. Most of the time this works as expected, but sporadically the messages in-between the ones I've selected are also moved!

This means I can't trust the drag and drop operation to move multiple messages. Ironically, I started noticing this because I habitually leave the messages in my inbox as unread (see previous post) and I was starting to see unread messages in my folders. (I only mark my messages as read immediately before I drag and drop them into a folder.)

I can't even entirely trust dragging and dropping a single message. If a new message arrives while I'm in the middle of a drag and drop operation, the wrong message is moved.

How many messages?

Notes displays unread counts in its folder list, but it doesn't display how many messages are in a folder or view. The only way I've found is to select all messages in a folder (by pressing Ctrl-A) and look at the status bar to see how many messages have been selected. The other alternative is to leave all messages as unread.

Working with text

A couple issues with text selection and text editing in Notes:
  • Dragging and dropping text in a new email message is not supported. This also means that dragging and dropping attached files doesn't work either. Notes attaches files within the text stream itself (rather than in a separate attachments pane), so if I stuff up the initial drag-and-drop operation and drop my attachment in the wrong position in the text, I either have to delete it and reattach it, or use cut and paste to move it.
  • I can add bullets with the formatting bar, but there doesn't seem to be a quick and easy way to revert back to non-bulleted text. In most modern editors, pressing return twice terminates the bulleted list, but not in Notes. I usually just move my cursor down one line to get back to unformatted text.
  • Indenting text has a similar problem as above.
  • When I copy and paste some formatted text from an external source (e.g. Word) into a new email message, then immediately undo the paste, the formatting remains in the email message. I usually have to do some deleting and cleaning up to remove the formatting.
  • Double-clicking a word in the preview pane opens the message in a new window (or tab) instead of simply selecting the word.

Expanding and collapsing folders

Notes lets you create folders within other folders. It displays a little + sign next to those folders that have subfolders. As you'd expect, clicking on the + expands (or collapses) the folder list. Notes also tries to be helpful and expand the folder list when you click on the parent folder's name itself. This is great as the name is a bigger target to click on than the little + sign. (Windows Explorer does something similar).

Unfortunately, from this point on, Notes gets it horribly wrong. Clicking on a folder name acts as a toggle! So, if you click on the name again, it collapses the folder list. Aside from me preferring all my folders to be expanded and remain expanded, this behaviour makes it incredibly annoying to quickly flip between a couple folders to hunt for an email. Imagine the following folder structure:

Folder A
--> Folder B
--> Folder C

Moving from Folder A to B is fine, but then if I jump back to Folder A, then decided to jump to Folder C, I have to click Folder A again to reopen the folder list so that I can go to Folder C. There is no way to select Folder A without opening or closing the folder tree. The net effect is that folders are constantly being expanded and collapsed and it feels like everything is "jumping around".

This is so frustrating that I've resorted to removing all hierarchies from my folders and adopting a flat folder structure. I've resorted to adding numbers at the beginning of folder names to keep things grouped.

There are two ways to fix this:
  1. Change the behaviour to only expand folder trees when clicking on a name and use the + icon to close the tree
  2. Stop expanding/collapsing folder trees when the user clicks on a folder name and instead rely entirely on the + icons

Scrolling the preview pane

For me, the following is the most infuriating aspect of using the Notes email client. Notes has a preview pane like most other modern email clients. You can even position it vertically, which I quite like, because I can see more of the message in the preview pane as well as more messages in the message list, but I digress.

I use the scroll wheel on my mouse to scroll the preview pane, but here comes the infuriating bit: Notes insists that you select the preview pane by clicking on it before the scroll wheel works. In fact, it seems that any panel in Notes that has as scroll bar must have keyboard focus before you can scroll the panel with the scroll wheel.

Applications that support the scroll wheel correctly should scroll any pane under the mouse cursor regardless of whether or not that pane has the focus. This kind of click-to-scroll behaviour was common when scroll wheel mice were new and not widely supported, but the scroll wheel mouse has been around for 13 years now!

Another issue that compounds this problem is that keyboard shortcuts don't work when the preview pane is selected. So, this means a two-handed operation (using my left hand to move from message to message using the up/down arrow keys, and using my right hand to scroll with the mouse) to quickly flip through a series of emails is impossible.

Fortunately, there is a solution: KatMouse fixes Notes (and other scroll-wheel-unfriendly programs) so that the scroll wheel works on whatever pane is currently under the mouse pointer. It even scrolls panes when other applications have the focus. It's brilliant ... sanity has been restored!


Here's my first gripe about Lotus Notes 8: it's slow. It's incredibly sluggish to load and use daily. Being a huge resource hog is probably partly to blame, using 440MB of disk space and about 300MB of RAM (yes, you read that right ... 300MB!).

From a cold boot this morning, Notes took over 2 minutes to load on my 2.8GHz Pentium 4 with 2GB of RAM. That's just ridiculous! I've just swapped over to using Apple's at home and it takes a whopping 1 second to load on my laptop. Granted, it's not really a fair comparison as Notes can do far more than can do, but 2 minutes is still ridiculously slow whichever way you look at it.

It's not only slow to load, but the user interface is also very sluggish to use. Swapping tabs from Mail to Calendar or loading up Contacts takes a good couple of seconds and quite a few redraws. It sort of feels like a web page loading up where the text loads and as images are downloaded, the text rewraps to make room for the images. Parts of the interface are initially blank and then they get filled in and pieced shift around until everything is finally loaded.

This gets quite annoying when using the "Search this view" search box. After performing a search, there's a "Clear Results" button to revert back to a normal display. It sometimes takes a couple seconds for the button to respond and that often makes me think that it didn't work, so I click the button again. Unfortunately, when the "Clear Results" button disappears, a "Search tips" link appears where the button used to be. So, of course Notes registers each click: the search is cleared and then search help is triggered. This results in another few seconds delay as the help panel loads up, and by the time I get everything back to normal, I've wasted a good 10-20 seconds.

All this time I thought Thunderbird was a bit slow and sluggish; I've been thoroughly disavowed of that idea!

I love Lotus

Before I start this gripe-fest, I thought I'd share some history with you. I used to love Lotus products. I used Ami Pro and then Word Pro in the early 90's as I was finishing high school. When Lotus Word Pro was released, I remember being quite excited by its features and how powerful and intuitive the product was. It seemed like it was light-years ahead of Microsoft Word. The mode-less formatting palette was wonderful to work with. I could see the changes in the document as I made changes to margins, fonts, styles, etc. I no longer had to deal with opening and closing fiddly dialog boxes. It was a revelation.

I haven't used Word Pro in years, and now that I use Microsoft Word at work, I don't have a compelling reason to use Word Pro. My opinion of Word Pro may change if I looked at it again after so many years, but I suspect I'll still be delighted by it and find it hard to move back to Word. I use a Mac at home now and strangely using Word on a Mac is much closer to using Word Pro. It has a nice formatting palette that means I don't have to fiddle with all those dialog boxes.

I really did have a fond spot for Lotus products, but as you'll soon see, Notes has utterly destroyed any brand loyalty I may have had.

Thoughts on Lotus Notes

Monash University, where I work, has recently purchased Lotus Notes 8 and is now in the process of deploying it to all its staff. I was migrated to Notes in May this year and it was an utter shock to have to use such an infuriating piece of software. I can truly say that no single piece of software has incensed me more than Notes has.

I've been reporting all the problems I've found to our Notes change management team, but I still feel a need to vent my frustrations, to scream with fury. Hence this website. I'll be using this space to document the bugs, deficiencies, annoyances and frustrations with using Notes. At the risk of just becoming another of the numerous "I hate Lotus Notes" websites out there, I'll try to write in the spirit of constructive criticism, and perhaps even attempt to try to find some things that I like about Notes (though, that may be very difficult).

I'll be writing from the point of view of an end-user of the Notes mail and calendar applications. I'm not a Notes administrator or developer and I really don't care that nifty applications can be built within Notes. Notes has been deployed at Monash primarily for email and calendar (though other applications like Team Space and Chat are planned) and that's what I'll primarily be using it for. As an email and calendar client, Notes is simply put: appalling. This is not because Notes is lacking some essential feature (most of the usual suspects are there), but rather, it has innumerable small bugs, user interface quirks or inconsistencies that all add up to a death-by-a-thousand-cuts experience.

What I write will be coloured by my past experiences, so some background before I start venting:
  • I understand that Notes is very customisable, so some of the issues documented here may not be IBM's fault, but could be attributed to local Monash customisations. From my point of view, I can't tell. To me, it's just "Lotus Notes" that's broken.
  • We're running the version 8.0.1 client with a version 7 server. Some of these problems may be resolved when the server is upgraded to version 8.
  • I haven't found a decent resource on the web specifically about the version 8 client. There are a few websites documenting problems with previous versions of the client, but they don't seem to have been updated in a while, so they don't cover version 8.
  • I was using Thunderbird 2 prior to being converted to Lotus Notes. I've been a long-time user of Thunderbird, though I've also used Outlook Express and have had some recent experience with Gmail. I think all three have their warts.
  • Our calendar system was Netscape Calendar.
I haven't enabled comments here, but feel free to email me your thoughts (click "Contact Me" at the bottom of this page). If I start getting some traffic, then I might have a look at opening up comments.