Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

Thursday, June 25th, 2009
In the beginning, we did not think of Notes as e-mail.  (I'm talking about the client)  We thought of Lotus Notes as the ultimate repository for information and knowledge in tacit form across distributed databases (often called "knowledge-bases" or "applications"). Oh, and Notes happened to do email and calendaring (with some issues).

Over the next 15 years Microsoft did an exemplary job (I think) of convincing the world that Notes was just email and that it wasn't very good as such and that Outlook was better application because it was a really good Personal Information Management Tool (PIM). They did a good job of shifting the focus from the many things Notes did really well to the fact that its email and calendaring had some issues. Over time, Notes users listened to the message from Microsoft and, in the absence of new information to the contrary, began to think of Notes just an email client.

Lotus, then, IBM responded with improvements to email & calendar but missed the opportunity (in my opinion) to educate the world that the Notes client - even back then - was so much more than email.

Unfortunately, I think many people today still see Notes as an e-mail client and never consider the powerful communication and information management capability it contains - regardless of whether it is used with a Domino server or not.

It is my opinion that Notes is an undervalued tool and that it has great potential as an extraordinary communication and information management tool. Still, many people think of Notes as email and they may not think of it well at that. In the absence of marketing that would educate them otherwise, this is a challenge.

Personally, I would continue to use Notes for myself even if I did not have a Domino server.

In the 1990's when I was actively reselling Notes, I helped many people experience the power of Notes simply by selling them a stand-alone client and showing them what Notes could do for them. I did not sell collaboration. I simply met them where they were at. Within days, the question would inevitably come up: "This is great, how do I share my information with Mary?" Then, clients would beg for a solution and a Domino server sale was made. As I work with many Lotus business partners and Foundations resellers I'm learning that many of them are following a similar approach to win new customers.

I think the Notes design team is doing an extraordinary job with the Notes product. It looks great out of the box looks and each version gets better and better.  

I am fortunately to have as clients and friends, some of the most productive people in the world. For the past 15 years they have been getting things done with Notes. And, telling others about it. I also have considerable first-hand experience showing people that may have a less-than-favorable opinion of Lotus Notes that the product does in fact do all of the things they think it can't - and more.

I believe that Lotus Notes is truly an extraordinary application, both by itself and with its ability to add third-party applications. I have built a business, not selling, but showing people how to use Lotus Notes effectively as a tool for information, communication, and action management. I also believe in the Notes product and the potential that it represents for IBM Lotus Business partners that I have invested in creating software applications that build on what Notes can do.

So where am I going with this post? If you have read this far, you have heard the thouhts of a passionate Notes user. Now, I want to ask you this question: Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

The inspiration for my question is Ed Brill's blog today: What kind of applications do you run on the Notes client stand-alone?

I want to know what you think.

Specifically, is there value in IBM making Lotus Notes available to end-users as a stand-alone communications and information management application? By "available" I mean with active web marketing and aircover targeted at first-time end-users to tell them that Lotus Notes is a great productivity application for their needs. I also mean making it easy for a first-time user to visit the IBM web site and find Notes and get it up and running. Or, is should Notes be left as-is, to be considered a program that some unfortunate workers are forced to use at work because of the shortsighted vision of their employers? (An actual comment I hear all too often.)

Do you think the market would benefit by learning that Lotus Notes is so much more than email? More important, do you think that people - individual consumers - would find value in Notes?

What features would you show people that would help them see the power of Notes in a way that brings value to them personally?

You can post a comment here or go and post something on Ed's blog.

P.S. I want to keep the attention focused on the topic of the Notes client and the value it has for individuals. Therefore, I have intentionally not mentioned any specific products as examples or included any links other than to Ed's blog.

Discussion/Comments (14):

David Leedy (http://www.lotusnotebook.com): 06/25/2009 12:26:52
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

Personally I think there's a market for applications on stand-alone notes. There's more of a market with IMAP email integration but let's table that for the moment.

What's .Net? It's a framework for windows OS's that allow programs to be built. Why can't standalone notes be considered a "framework"? Isn't it just a development environment that you can create applications for? Clearly there's a market for .Net apps. Ok sure, you can do more in .Net then you can in Lotus Notes, but people like to have programs to track data.. Receipes, password, Directions, To-Do's, exercise logs, expenses...whatever

But with Notes as an enviroment, you can create something that runs on windows, OSX, and Linux so that makes up slightly for the limited capabilities compared to a .Net.

Look at it this way. Isn't there still a runtime version of Microsoft Access? So a developer can create a db and then distribute it to people without them having to purchase a microsoft access license? Why wouldn't Notes fit the same market?

Robert Proctor (): 06/25/2009 16:08:59
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

Hi Eric and all,

This is a great topic!!!

I have been using/designing very basic workflow/knowledge management applications for education, small business and health in rural Nova Scotia Canada for the past 12 years.

People are always amazed how easily I am able to create an application that addresses their specific information workflow/productivity challenge.

In my current place of employment, the Microsoft stack is well established but we lack the ability to create simple applications as we only have a couple of developers and they are using SQL/Oracle/IIS/C#/.Net etc. as the development platform/ "Framework"

One of the issues I see with trying to meet the current need in my workplace to support some Departmental/Custom applications is the need for cross platform support. The Microsoft approach leaves a great deal to be desired as MS Access is not available for cross platform development (and is not fun to use) and the use of Active X / .Net leaves IE as the main client and thus MacOSX and Linux are not supported.

As I searched for a platform I toyed with the idea of using Filemaker Pro as it was at least Win/OSX/WEB capable.

While Filemaker is a well established product it seemed silly to start to learn that platform/"Framework" when I was more familiar with Notes/Domino "Framework/Platform"

So recently I have been making some progress at getting people to at least consider Notes & Notes/Domino as an aplication development platform that addresses the need for Cross Platform (Windows/MacOSX/Linux/Browser) that can truly support Rapid Application Development and still be able to integrate into the enterprise environment when required.

One key to all of this is Mobile Client Support... We need to ensure that Active Sync and other such technologies are front and center (iPod & iPhone etc) as these will have a huge impact on our ability to position the platform / "Framework" of Notes/Domino as one that can be leveraged now and into the future.

As well,

Products like Lotus Foundations is making it possible to setup a Notes/Domino "framework/Platform" and focus on the applications and less on the server administration. Having a Notes/Domino Appliance to run the application platform/Framework presents a great opportunity to really entice people to take a second look at IBM/Lotus.

One last thought... I would be great if the Lotus Clients were Free just like Web Browsers and Mail Clients Like Thunder Bird but that Domino Designer and Domino required paid licenses. Especially now with Symphony coming as part of the Install it would be a great way to counter the MS Office/ Outlook Suite as well as be more than Open Office. It would also start to make it easy to build these standalone apps or use/customize the Open Source ones on OpenNTF that would eventually drive the demand for servers to promote sharing/collaborating (this is what Filemaker does) as well as a simple backup solution (Replication &/Or IDB in Foundations)

Lots to think about

Fun stuff..



peter b (): 06/25/2009 19:11:03
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

I'd love to be able to build small standalone Notes apps for my family & friends to use without them having to run a server or pay fees.

Bring on the free Notes client for non-business use.


Chris (http://warumblog.greenmorning.de): 07/03/2009 7:14:43
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

I'm a Lotus Notes and .Net developer in our company, so I know both sides very well.

My perception of Notes is: the general idea is great, application deployment is simple and quick-and-dirty applications are fast to develop. The problem in my eyes is the support of IBM for us developers. There are bugs in the application which weren't fixed since V4, that's years! The development client looks, feels and has a usability of Visual Basic 6 - no changes in 8.5, still terrible to debug.

For users, Lotus Notes is also catastrophic in terms of usability. Why does Notes have to implement a totally new user interface, completely different from Windows or Mac OS? Nearly every customer I supported has problems with this. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

.Net is nothing special in itself, but it adheres to some standard and I have a decent development system which is supported and updated from version to version. We use Microsoft Outlook for emailing and everytime I have to use Notes on a customer's PC I feel like being back to the 80s. Sorry, but Notes is so damned outdated and cumbersome, I can't find Notes good for anything.

Tobin (): 07/23/2009 19:28:45
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

<i>Why does Notes have to implement a totally new user interface, completely different from Windows or Mac OS? ... We use Microsoft Outlook for emailing and everytime I have to use Notes on a customer's PC I feel like being back to the 80s. </i>

This is probably my biggest problem with it.

Matthew (): 08/12/2009 8:20:38
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

I use Notes at work. I'm not a developer, but I would consider myself a power user. I despise Notes. It might have the ability for a bunch of neat stuff, but it isn't intuitive for someone that isn't a Notes developer. I prefer web apps (whatever the technology in the background is) because it feels more like things people use outside of work. I've yet to experience anything Notes can do that isn't equal or better with a newer feeling, more intuitive technology. I also don't like being limited to using machine with Notes installed. With a good web app you can access it from anywhere with a connection and in some cases offline too.

I second the "80's" comment. The user interface feels outdated.

Bibi (): 03/16/2010 13:49:25
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

Personally, I think that IBM products and services are very reliable and efficient.

I am going to give a try to Lotus Notes.

The fact that it is designed for an enterprise use makes the product even more reliable.

I use IMB Lotus Symphony and I just love it.

Sriram (): 05/24/2011 0:09:19
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

I am using Lotus Notes and Exchange for almost 11 years, exchange was born then, and lotus notes was crawling (I mean in age and experience),

1) I feel in Lotus Notes, the downtime is very less compared to Exchange,

2) in terms of user satisfaction, Outlook wins, the Quick and Dirty stuff can be done with it easily.

3) Accountability wise, Lotus Notes is very accurate, each document/email is very accountable, logs are very mean, BUT, outlook is not this promising.

4) Administration wise, the Lotus Notes is easier and faster, outlook is slow and unstable.

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Alan Pickering (): 02/10/2012 10:44:43
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

I use Notes at work for email. I'm a software developer, and I don't think I've ever loathed a program so much. We use it for email and it basically blows on every possible level.

I think of Notes as just a 3rd rate email and calendar client, and this article hasn't changed my opinion. Perhaps some examples of what is IS good at would be useful, rather than just saying it's a "powerful communication and information management" tool.

JH (): 02/24/2012 1:08:29
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

I was a Notes Developer (CLP) in de late 90's and early 2000's. I have developed fantastic workflow applications and I believe Notes was way ahead of its time referring to the level of security options and document-based thinking instead of thinking in relational databses.

IBM took over Lotus Notes in '95 (I believe) financially boosting the product and enabling developers of Notes/Domino to work with AS/400 machines. Strategically a good idea.

Unfortunataly users never quite got used to the look and feel. That is where IBM should have invested.

Now I believe it is too late. In the Netherlands big Notes-using companies are rebuiling Notes applications into products like M$ Sharepoint (yuck, ptoowie!) which finally have feautures Notes already presented in the ninetees.

I'm gonna cry for a little while now. Farewell Lotus Notes.

Anonymous (): 02/27/2013 6:52:45
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

Absolutely nothing


- Abysmal bugs

- Usability is awful

- 8.5 crashes most if not all of the time.


- Dirty interface with no follow on of standards

- Poor editor even with eclipse components

- Separation of concerns is completely ignored


- Dirty interface as it has been flung onto the existing notes designer

- Seperation of concerns still poorly implemented

- Buggy and frustrating interface

Overall product:

- A real lack of distinction...

- It offers far too much unrefined and bloated crap

- Its interface in its entirety is awful

The entire line of IBM's latest Notes oriented products

- Connections is one of the buggiest piece of crap I have ever used

- I don't care if it does this, that or something else. Those features are impossible to make work. For goodness sake, don't waste your time, just use Podio or something similar.

- Sametime... Take a look at Micrsofts latest iteration of office products. That is how you should integrate things... Sametime is an absolute abomination... It's codey, it's dirty, it's more unattractive than Gordon Brown.

How it makes me feel to use:

- It makes me depressed

- It frustrates me beyond compare... consistently

- IBM and their strategy for the product bewilders me

My suggestion:

- Use PHP(zend framework) / C#.NET or just stop developing altogether.. it will be better for you

- Poor users who get stuck with using Notes, I am so sorry. I know IBMers who apologise consistently for the Notes product line...

Eric Mack (www.ica.com): 02/27/2013 14:13:24
re: Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

You seem to have quite a list of grievances against Notes here.

Apart from any product issues, I suppose at the end of the day, it all depends on how Notes is implemented. I have seen some pretty poor deployments where people tell me they hate Notes passionately., I am frequently involved in extraordinary deployments where people tell me they LOVE Notes. Same product.

In any case, as a 20+ user of Lotus Notes I can agree with many of your points. To the question, "Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?" I would say much - which is why many people around the world still use it.

Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like an opportunity for a blog post.

nox (): 07/18/2013 2:31:36
Just what is Lotus Notes good for, anyway?

I am forced to use Notes and hate it... I don't see future for it in structure that I work in. It is not user friendly, hard to understand for elderly employees, poorly manages workflow and documents. No options to connect to database and use it fully if you are not in office. This is major drawback , because our employees need to travel, create documents on the go and be certain that somebody on the other end is able to put everything in motion not overstepping legal boundaries.

PS: work in governmental structure.

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