back to article For a moment there, Lotus Notes appeared to do everything a company needed

It may seem that progress in technology proceeds in a linear fashion, with new developments replacing older ones. From this viewpoint, newer technology will always be better, since it is presumed to have built upon what came before it and improved on it. Grow older, and you start to realize that this isn't always the case. …

  1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    I liked it (as a user, not IT/Admin) when my company used it in the 90s and early 00s. The easy integration between mail, calendar and ToDo was great and something I find missing from Apple's ecosystem - especially since Sonoma broke my scripts for turning mails into calender entries and Reminders. The first Word Processor I used on a PC was Lotus Manuscript in the late 80s, which also had some great features; the formating of outline sections in Manuscript was way ahead of anything I've used since.

    1. IvyKing

      Lotus Manuscript

      In the early days of my former company, Manuscript was yje primary word processor used for any serious documentation. One co-worker even used it asa programming editor with the outline handling very useful for the different modules of the Forth based environment he was using. What impresses me in retrospect is that Manuscript could handle 100+ page documents and run on a PC-XT.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Once Exchange and Outlook were a thing I actively avoided jobs at places that had Lotus Notes. It was such a horror to use vs something that actually integrated properly.

  2. casperghst42

    From an user management perspective Notes was a pure horro, I supported a system which provisioned users to Notes and it was absolution a mess.

    Then companies decided to drop Notes for Exchange and Sharepoint as Microsoft told them it would be better, well yes that was something everyone believe right.

    1. botfap

      Notes / Domino user management was pretty straightforward and easily scriptable / automated with LotusScript. I did a pretty simple AD GPO that triggered a LotusScript that kept AD users & groups synced with Notes. It even deleted users and archived off their mailboxes / databases

  3. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Alert

    Fully Loaded Goats

    Back when I were a wee lad, an up and coming help desk technician, I was assigned the task of managing our Notes-based help desk software. It wasn't terrible, and Notes could do some cool things that put power into the hands of "gentleman developers" rather than dedicated programmers. If Lotus had stuck to their knitting and focused on those capabilities, especially as the Internet started to take off, things might have been okay. Unfortunately, Lotus perceived an imminent threat in the form of Outlook/Exchange, tried to compete in that space, and failed miserably. Notes as an email client and PIM was just woeful by comparison with Outlook/Exchange, in my opinion, even back in the 90s, and it never really got better.

    An example I recall from my last organization before they threw in the Notes towel and went to Exchange (by popular revolt), was that I had hit Send on an email just before leaving our data center, shut down my laptop, and went home, only to find that my email had not, in fact, been sent. The reason for that was that I was running a local replica of my email database (because laptop), and unlike Outlook, which will just send an email as long as there's a connection to the Exchange server, Notes needed to wait for the entire email database to finish replicating back to the Domino server. And that's just one of many, many examples which left me aggravated. Switching back to Outlook was such a relief!

    1. Philip Storry
      WTF?

      Re: Fully Loaded Goats

      I hate to break it to you, but Outlook sometimes fails to send emails too. Just this week I was on site at a new office that's literally an empty shell right now, so my laptop was tethered to a mobile hotspot as I did some work. I had some consultants visiting to advise on AV and acoustics, and wanted to send them over some files whilst we were talking. For whatever reason Outlook just plonked the email in the Outbox and left it there. Maybe I'd strayed out of the hotspots range briefly and the send timed out? I only noticed when I went to Sent Items to check their email addresses a couple of hours later, and failed to see the email there. I had to manually force Outlook to do a send & receive cycle to actually send the mail.

      I've always found Outlook to have enough foibles of its own when it comes to remote working and server access. Many of them due to its insistence on using a local cache for storage, because Exchange's database can't cope with high transaction levels very well. Every time I come back from a couple of weeks off, I have to just leave my machine as Outlook slowly download and index thousands of emails and makes everything sluggish. I never had that problem with Notes, as its replication engine and indexer were just far better than Outlook.

      But the basic point to take away here is that offline working can be difficult to get right, and neither product does it brilliantly. Always on networks just mean that we see the problems a lot less these days.

      As to "they shouldn't have focused on email" - well to be honest they were left with little choice. For a while we had the concept of "Groupware" - a category that Notes effectively defined when it arrived in the market, because there was nothing else that was as capable as Notes. Novell following with GroupWise, and Microsoft tried to compete with Exchange Server, but in Groupware Notes was still very much the king of the hill. Exchange may have done email well, but have you ever had to use Public Folders? Do you think that they made a good company directory, or workflow application? Because they didn't. They were, to be frank, rubbish. There's a very good reason most people have never heard of them these days...

      But then Intranets came along and offered a lot of that functionality. Have you ever wondered why Sharepoint is a trainwreck of a product? Architecturally it looks like it was assembled in a hurry with things Microsoft had lying around. Operationally it seems to be held together with staples stolen from Satan's own stationary cupboard. It's not a product that is well architected, it was a hurried response to the market wanting something more than Exchange's Public Folders could deliver. And preferably to be delivered to a web browser.

      The web browser and Intranets changed the market. Groupware as a category vanished, subsumed into a more general set of internet technologies. Management wasn't interested in spending money on Groupware solutions, but was happy to spend it on websites. Notes did add a webserver, but it didn't get huge traction (despite being quite good) and it rapidly it seemed that all Notes had left to sell was its mail functionality.

      Markets change. In this case they didn't change in Notes' favour.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Fully Loaded Goats

        I've always found Outlook to have enough foibles of its own when it comes to remote working and server access.

        Agreed. I see 150-200 synchronization-issue messages from Outlook a year, and my email volume is quite reasonable — far less than what some of my co-workers have to deal with. Just the other day I had a case where Outlook worked itself into a complete tizzy over a meeting invitation, and was unable to process any of the invitation responses, for some reason it could not adequately explain.

        Outlook mostly works, for me, and with extensive configuration bludgeoning it's not quite as much a yawning security hole as it is out of the box, nor as nasty a user experience. It's still not something I'd ever recommend.

        I only used Notes lightly, for a few months, as part of an engagement with an outside firm. Didn't have any problems with it, but I barely got my feet wet. I did like the fact that when scrolling long messages it would put a fold mark in the margin to show which line had previously been the last in the window; that was a very smart piece of UX which I haven't seen implemented elsewhere.

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Fully Loaded Goats

      The whole concept of working offline while remote, and then syncing the databases when you could was something that I think Notes had that was fairly unique at the time, and is now no longer necessary because of always on connectivity.

      But when remote communications were typically a V.32 (or earlier) modem with no ISPs giving Internet access, being able to dial up periodically through the day to synchronise the databases, which sent and received mail as part of the sync. was invaluable. You could set up an automatic replication to occur when you shut down the client which mostly fixed the type of problem that you had, and if you had a good always-on connection, you could configure Notes to use the remote primary database as the sole repository, and ditch the local copy.

      As a user, I think Notes is functional, just different. When the world started implementing Outlook, Notes was pretty established, but people who came across Outlook first thought Notes was odd, whereas you ought to look at it as not-Outlook, and accept the differences.

      As my use of email goes back a long way before any GUI mail agent (I was still using mailx - OK the AT&T Toolchest mailx that handles attachments - into this Millennium, not even using Pine or Elm) , everything looked different, so I never really felt fully comfortable in any GUI mail reader.

      I was using Notes up until about 2 years ago when my engaging client finally ditched it (in fact I still do have one environment that is still using Notes), and being a Linux user, I find that having to use Web Outlook is not something I enjoy. I have Evolution syncing with the cloud-based Microsoft mail server that this client is still using, but the authentication is tricky to set up, and frequently breaks when passwords are changed as it's tied into the SSO solution that the client uses which requires regular changes.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    The problem with Notes

    Disclaimer : I am a certified Notes Consultant and Developer since 1996

    From a development perspective, Notes/Domino had and still holds everything I need. You want an app that can be consulted from a smartphone and validate/decline a document in a Notes database ? I know how to do that. You want a monthly export into Excel of helpdesk statistics ? I can do that. You want an invoice system that prints to PDF ? I can manage that.

    And it all works in Notes, with a Domino server.

    Fuck Sharepoint. Fuck Outlook. I don't need five different Borkzilla products to solve the problem. I just need a Domino server and a Notes client.

    Back in the day, I had the privilege of being party to some discussions at a company that wanted to replace their mainframe. They tendered publicly, and Borkzilla was one of the companies that responded. You want to know Borkzilla's proposal ? No less than 40 NT servers. Because, obviously, Borkzilla was already taking into account the fact that there would never be 40 NT servers functional at the same time.

    Guess what ? The company went with two Solaris servers with Notes/Domino. Because, at that time, Domino was one of the very rare solutions that could work with a synchronized backup. In other words, if the main server fell over, the secondary would pick up the slack without anyone noticing.

    Sharepoint, eat your heart out.

    The only real problem Notes ever had is that manglement kept confusing Notes with a mail client. Yes, if you only need mail, go for Outlook. Have fun with the Exchange server that can't manage more than 500 accounts.

    But if you want an integrated document management system that can deal with almost anything you can throw at it and then some, you need Notes.

    Because Notes is not just mail. Mail is a side effect, a bonus. Notes manages your company data like almost nothing else.

    But Lotus, then IBM, were incapable of making the Fortune 1000 understand that. So now, HCL has the pieces (and it's not doing so bad).

    I would blame IBM, but it has already sunk so low that that would just be flogging a dead horse.

    1. ldo

      Re: Have fun with the Exchange server that can't manage more than 500 accounts.

      I have a client using iRedMail. It’s built out of a bunch of open-source pieces, like Postfix for the MTA, OpenLDAP for the directory services, SOGo groupware+webmail etc, with some custom management layering on top (less with the free version, more with the paid version). It’s very much a low-maintenance product. And since it is built on industrial-strength components, that gives it high scalability.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: Have fun with the Exchange server that can't manage more than 500 accounts.

        I'm happy that you have a nice mail product, but you are basically demonstrating why Notes did not take off like it deserved.

        Can your open-source assembly also do document management, order processing, manage the company website and a thousand other data management things your company needs ?

        I'm guessing not. It's not Notes. And if you try, you're likely to add a host of other open-source tools to your assembly.

        Not saying it can't be done, but Notes does it all already.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Have fun with the Exchange server that can't manage more than 500 accounts.

          http://lotusnotessucks.4t.com/ was the website for cataloguing Notes' UI fails.

          As so many users only used Notes as an e-mail client, they should have split it into two clients, the best e-mail client they could manage which shamelessly ripped off Outlook's look and the usual client without e-mail.

          1. HangingOnAnotherDay

            Re: Have fun with the Exchange server that can't manage more than 500 accounts.

            Ummmm ... Notes email existed LONG before Outlook so exactly how do you perceive that Notes "ripped off" Outlook?

        2. ldo

          Re: Can your open-source assembly also do ...

          Yes. All developed in-house. Multiple company websites. Some older proprietary pieces (like invoice/statement generation), with open-source-based addons to compile these and send them out.

          Even the phone system runs on open source.

    2. Somone Unimportant

      Re: The problem with Notes

      Another long term Notes/Domino user here - Notes 2.0 on Windows 3.11 client with OS/2 backend circa 1993...

      So yes, I'm biased a little :-)

      Notes did - and still does - the work of so many other products, and if you know how to code databases and scripts, or know someone who does, it craps over everything else.

      It was and is a piece of software that can fit to your business - you do not need to fit your business to it. But it requires effort.

      Yes, it was and still is ugly. With an interface that only its mother could love. But it is consistent across versions, and given its heritage included DOS clients and servers with V1, it had to do all of that lifting itself.

      These days I run it at home out of nostalgia more than anything else. And I do have a client that runs a notes database - replicated between server and workstations for offline use - that was custom written for them in 1996. They became my client in 2021 when their orgs 25 year cert.id expired. I got them out of that pickle and they are still running domino 4.5 server on a windows 2000 VM and notes 4.5 clients on windows 7 and 10.

      And they have never used it for email storage, though it does generate and send emails.

    3. James Anderson

      Re: The problem with Notes

      But the heart of the problem was the e-mail client and the not that bad really but totally different from any other UI.

      Most companies installed it to run email, yes it could do loads of other stuff, but email was what it was sold as.

      Then when the dev team stuck thier handed over Thier ears and shouted "NA NA Na it's s database" whenever the issue of the hated email client and weird UI was raised. It's not that they failed to convince Thier user base, it's that they willfully ignored them.

      1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: The problem with Notes

        Your comment rings true. Notes _is_ a database, somebody missed this point....

        From the article -- "had started to look somewhat clunky and dated by the turn of the millennium"

        I'm so over that shit. It's software, rounded corners _should_ have absolutely no relevance. I first met Lotus Notes in 2004 and whether or not it would win a beauty contest never entered my mind. But I guess it's the world we live in. Politicians make decisions about how to run a country. Management makes decisions about what software runs the company. And experts pound sand.

        From the article -- "were perhaps easier to integrate with Microsoft Office applications and Visual Basic for Applications when it came to workflows"

        Or perhaps, similar to what happened "here" when the switch happened, everybody just **lost** all the previous workflows and learned to do without. We had Notes plus Office-sans-Outlook and from my view it was the best of both worlds. Having done plenty of workflows in both Notes (email always) and Office (Excel, MSAccess, and Word in that order), both are fine _except_ Outlook workflows are basically impossible. MS suggest InfoPath and SharePoint, but it's a nightmare. Outlook is considered the superior mail client, but whoever came to that conclusion never had to script it. In Notes "everything is a database" means an email workflow is no different from any other.

        Job security, as they say, except it's not a real thing.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: The problem with Notes

          I first met Lotus Notes in 2004 and whether or not it would win a beauty contest never entered my mind.

          I first met Lotus Notes 4 and it had a face like a smacked arse but what was worse was the UI didn't follow standard conventions, it was as if it was deliberately designed to be different but that just made it more difficult to use.

          All they had to do was make a first-class email client.

          1. matjaggard

            Re: The problem with Notes

            It's really not true to say that it doesn't matter how pretty software is. Users need to be OK with the basics of what they're looking at before they'll invest time looking for the specific thing they want. That's where Notes fell down. That and the fact that the sync seemed to be broken more of the time that it worked. Countless times I couldn't open a database or application or whatever they called them - I never understood why.

            1. mdubash

              Re: The problem with Notes

              ...and the fact that the client was single-threaded, which made it slow, especially if the network was clogged. It wanted to sync? Just wait until it's over, no point in trying to do anything else.

          2. Kevin Johnston

            Re: The problem with Notes

            I presume you have forgotten that at that time every piece of software had it's own unique UI. Even MS products used different UIs from each other (this is the era when all the MS-Standards jokes started) and the whole point of Notes was you could write your own UI if you hated the 'out of the box' one so much

            MS were working very hard to make their product incompatible with everyone else so companies had to make a choice. Each update for Lotus 1-2-3 to allow import/export of Excel files was followed by an Excel update to break it.

        2. James Anderson

          Re: The problem with Notes

          The UI is absolutely relevant. For a techie working day in day out with a weird UI ( I love vim ! ) it does not matter, but, for a user who accesses e-mail once or twice a day and hundreds of word documents for and web pages for the rest of the work day it really does.

          I know quite a few IBMers who preffered the awfull 3270 based e-mail system that notes replaced -- it was that bad.

          1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

            Re: The problem with Notes

            In my experience (including myself) most users' complaints about the UI boil down to "it's different to the one I'm used to using".

            (Except, of course, for the Microsoft Ribbon.)

            1. Jurassic.Hermit

              Re: The problem with Notes

              I used to hate the Ribbon with a passion. Now, I love it. When I recently gave Open / Libre Office another try, I was rapidly hunting for their version of the Ribbon which is off by default and requires firstly flagging an advanced setting somewhere. Once I eventually switched it on, I was unimpressed.

              That said, even MS Gen X / Y are now ruining their own invention...same as ever.

          2. HangingOnAnotherDay

            Re: The problem with Notes

            I disagree. Users want immediate gratification. IT needs to train them and encourage patience. Once someone learns the new interface (and there is no such thing as a "standard" GUI - that's the whole point of GUI) it becomes accepted and very usable. Unless, of course, it is just a bad overall flow. But Notes was never as bad as some here have stated. Different than what? Notes was first! And today the user interface is as easy to use as any other product. And with so much function integrated into the product as a whole, they are all integrated with each other and work quite well.

            1. James Anderson

              Re: The problem with Notes

              Very few users have "reading emails" high up in Thier job description. So some arrogant IT bod thinks they should waste half a day on leaning the weird UI is not going to be popular or appreciated.

              And the UI was weird single click over double click, mouse over menus etc. etc.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The problem with Notes

        novell griefwise suffered the same, not a bad product BUT the actual mail client was hideous and didn't look like any other windows software

    4. bazza Silver badge

      Re: The problem with Notes

      >Sharepoint, eat your heart out.

      Document management systems seem to be out of fashion. In this day and age, driven by Google I'd say, "Search" is the way you organise documents these days, not some sort of structured index. Sharepoint to me seems awful because its search just isn't that great.

      For many organisations, the "search" approach to document managemen is good enough (or at least the key person in the organisation thinks it is), and it's these organisations that are driving the software market. For those that really do need strongly organised, properly indexed and guaranteed findable document storage, the mainstream software world seems not to care anymore. Of course, there's plenty that opt for Sharepoint or similar, and get into deep, deep do-do. Such systems are immediately found to be awful as soon as the company gets involved in a court case; you cannot be sure that a search has found every single relevant document.

      Part of the problem I'm sure is that every organisation's needs are different. No one product from, say, Microsoft or anybody else is going to do just what is required out of the box. Every organisation is more or less doomed to having to do some development for itself.

      Another part of the problem now is that workers arrive pre-conditioned against document management. They grow up as kids / students with "search" totally and thoroughly drummed into them by every device, OS and service they're likely using from childhood upwards. They arrive in a work place where "search" is inadequate, and encounter a Document Management System. The whole concept is totally alien to them, and the work taken to learn and properly drive a DMS seems like something that matters little to them and more bother than its worth. Couple that with a godawful user interface... So, getting people to properly engage with a DMS is now a real challenge. And if they're entering crap into DMS fields (e.g. keywords), the DMS is only as good as that data. Worse, attempts at encouraging compliance are pretty tricky; like as not they'll quit for some other organisation that doesn't care so much.

    5. richieadler

      Re: The problem with Notes

      20+ years Notes developer/admin, I could subscribe every word you wrote. The diverse applications we created in the insurance company I worked on were very used, even if quirky if they needed close integration with Microsoft.

      I still recall with fondness how the car surveyors missed their local replica of the survey application I created and were forced instead to work with some app running in the limited phones at the time (this was prior to smartphones and generalized mobile Internet access).

    6. Alan Bourke

      Re: The problem with Notes

      What you're doing there is confusing anecdote with data.

      "Have fun with the Exchange server that can't manage more than 500 accounts."

      Eh?

  5. Philip Storry

    Three things I miss from Lotus Notes...

    I spent 15 years administering Lotus Notes, and am well aware of its capabilities. But a lot of people are going to judge it solely as a mail client, so I may as well meet them there...

    Here are three things I miss from Lotus Notes as a mail client, in roughly descending order of my fondness for them.

    1. Tabs

    For crying out loud Microsoft, it's 2024. Give us tabs in Outlook, you lazy bastards.

    Actually, this wouldn't be such a problem if switching between Mail and Calendar in Outlook wasn't such a bad experience. Switching contexts between Mail/Calendar/Tasks/Contacts/Notes is slow and prone to forgetting small aspects of what you were doing in a most frustrating way, so that when you switch back it's not quite what you remember leaving. (I know I can run another Outlook window and use the Windows Taskbar to switch between them, but that's also not a great experience.)

    Just give us tabs. IBM did in Release 5 of Lotus Notes way back in 1999. That was 25 years ago! And yet Outlook is still forced to do context switching like it's a tranquillised sloth with a head injury. I've honestly been experimenting with using the web version just so I can have mail/calendar open in separate tabs there. As a user experience it's almost there but there are still some deal breakers for me. But I'm genuinely looking forward to switching to the web version just for this feature!

    2. Copy Into New

    Notes 5 or 6 (I don't quite recall which) added a great feature called Copy Into New. You could pick any email, calendar entry, or task, and copy it into a new one. It did it very well, and avoided clogging up the clipboard with crap. For example if you copied an email into a meeting it would add all of the recipients of the original email to the meeting invite. I would often find myself copying an email into an email, which sounds crazy but when you realise that it takes all the addressing, the subject, the text body and any attachments - well it saves so much time versus copy and paste manually from each field! Obviously we could try using email templates, but not everything needs a template, and Copy Into New is just a very quick and handy workflow.

    I'm aware that you can drag and drop mails to create calendar entries in Outlook as a workaround, but see my previous note about tabs. It's not a pleasant experience, and we should accept that Notes just has a better solution.

    3. Rich Text Sections

    Notes Rich Text was one of those odd rich text variants, and has many more features in it. You could add buttons, links, and so forth quite easily. But my favourite feature was the Section, which was introduced all the way back in Notes 4. They're basically a demarcation for a bit of text, and were intended for use in Form Design. But you could specify how a section should behave in different contexts (reading, writing, printing) and it had sensible defaults for that. It meant I could write an email to people that had a summary for everyone in upper management, and then hide the gory technical details in a Section that was collapsed by default when reading. Quick, easy, the management is happy, my colleagues are happy because one click expands the section and gets them what they want.

    Outlook's Rich Text - being effectively just a slightly constrained Word rich text - does some things better, like tables. But I still miss Sections, they were a nice feature.

    So there we go - three things you may not know you're missing if you didn't use Lotus Notes. Because even software you don't like can have good ideas in it, and there is no such thing as the perfect mail client.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Three things I miss from Lotus Notes...

      this wouldn't be such a problem if switching between Mail and Calendar in Outlook wasn't such a bad experience

      Oh god, yes, this. Just the fact that switching to Calendar changes the layout of the nav panel (at least if you're using the "Folders" view for mail), so switching back requires going to a different place than where the Inbox was a moment ago. That's just agonizingly terrible UX. Truly abominable.

  6. Allonymous Coward

    I quite liked it 25 (!) years ago

    One of my first companies after graduating used Notes for email, “groupware” and chunks of their intranet by publishing NSFs online via Domino. I mostly interacted with it as a user, not an IT bod.

    As a mail client it was… alright. Kind of a clunky UI (we were on v4 I think) but a step up in features from Eudora or whatever I’d been using as a student. A couple of years after I joined they replaced it with Outlook, probably instead of moving to R5.

    The groupware stuff hung round for a while though. In fact that place had the best corporate document management system I’ve ever used, and it was built on Domino. We also had issue tracking systems, distributed file stores that used the underlying replication technology, all sorts of good things.

    It always felt to me like a product that missed its true calling. The vision was great, but people didn’t see it or couldn’t get past the quirky UI. Or, maybe, they couldn’t get past the cost. Intranets and web technologies eventually put paid to the groupware, and Outlook/Exchange killed the email side.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: I quite liked it 25 (!) years ago

      All of this. ^^

  7. nautica Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Okay, so call me quirky, but one of the real nuggets of this article was not about Notes, but about MOCAS (see last paragraph).

    A program 59 years old, running on its own dedicated (old-ish) mainframe? Written in--you guessed it--COBOL.

    "Today, the system manages about $1.3 trillion in obligations and 340,000 contracts. It uses an IBM 2098 model E-10 mainframe. This hardware is able to perform 398 million instructions per second with the help of its 6GB RAM."

    From MIT Technology Review--

    https://www.technologyreview.com/2015/08/06/166822/what-is-the-oldest-computer-program-still-in-use/

    "...MOCAS’s original interface relied on punchcards or keycards, says Michael Graham, the information technologist responsible for managing MOCAS. In the following decades the program got upgraded to work with what’s often called “green screen” access: a terminal-style system that remained in broad use at airlines, travel agents, banks, and telecom companies until just a few years ago. “I’m not sure I would call it a graphical user interface,” says Graham."...who has, obviously, mastered the art of the understatement.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      (old-ish) mainframe

      Isn't a 2038 E10 from around 2008? That's not particularly old.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thanks for the memories

    At one company I worked with, we had almost everything done in Notes. Sure there were grumbles but it all worked for everyone.

    Then along cam a new IT director and the edict was 'Notes is Dead. MS for everything from now on'.

    Cue a two year transition that ended with the IT director being kicked out the door. Sharepoint lost so many critical documents that we lost well over $100M worth of business. Exchange barfed on an almost daily basis and as for Orifice? What was simple with the old notes templates became a nightmare. Word would quit when trying to work on a contract document often losing hours of work. It still does when you get above 1000 pages.

    Our contracts were often 30,000 pages long and delivering 20 copies of it often took a whole Transit. big? Yep but they included all the specs of the tens of thousands of components that went into the finished product. All our contracts (less the financial part) with the suppliers was included.

    Notes ... while slow could handle it all with ease.

    It took another 5 long years before the MS crapshoot was whipped into some sort of shape that producing contracts were only 5 times as hard with their shit that with Notes.

    Thank god that I'm retired and 100% MS free even if I produce 2-3 novels a year.

    1. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
      FAIL

      Did he jump or was he pushed?

      So it would appear that things were sabotaged to create unbearable working conditions for the new IT director. He was being set up to fail. In 2024 it would seem that his assessment to gradually retire Notes was the correct one – I see plenty of Outlook and SharePoint around but I haven't seen Notes anywhere in probably15 years. It's a pity when people like that fall victim to Luddites who can cause great damage.

      1. Philip Storry

        Re: Did he jump or was he pushed?

        "So it would appear that things were sabotaged to create unbearable working conditions for the new IT director."

        How so? I see nothing in the original post that indicated sabotage. What I see indicates an age-old story - he turned up with his own ideas, and didn't bother to due appropriate due diligence before implementing them.

        It seems fairly obvious that the company had a very customised workflow in Notes, and in my experience any project moving away from that will be a multi-year endeavour. Most companies start the migration with mail, then move on to applications. Mail migration usually takes a year or two just by itself, and after that you need to run coexistence tools so that the email from workflow applications still gets delivered properly, so it's expensive.

        Maybe he'd previously done this quickly in a smaller organisation that had less customisation? Maybe he just didn't know or care about the challenges, and was being brought in by the rest of the management to be the fall guy?

        "He was being set up to fail."

        By himself. Not by anyone else, except possibly the management as mentioned above. A new IT Director arriving with grand plans that fail is a story as old as time. Just because you don't like the product being replaced, that doesn't mean you should assume that the failure was anything more unusual than the other ones we end up talking about here.

        "In 2024 it would seem that his assessment to gradually retire Notes was the correct one"

        I don't disagree with the first part of that sentence, but would like to take you up on the second one. The OP did not talk about a gradual retirement. They spoke about a two year deadline to remove Notes. Nothing gradual about that, which is why I said above that he set himself up to fail. No sabotage from anyone else required, he brought all that he needed with him.

        Two years is, as I've mentioned above, just too short. Based upon the workflows described I'd guess that they had fairly heavy automation of business processes in Notes. At a rough guess they probably had an application that created their contracts as multiple documents in a Notes database, possibly pulling item specifications out from a separate document store (also a Notes database) and then just automated the printing of it with a button on the view. It probably also had some light review features for routing through management and legal to ensure everything was OK. Nothing difficult for Notes, and possible in SharePoint, but not as easy.

        So I'd guess that removing Notes in this organisation would be a six to ten year project, not two. That's based on an estimate of at least 500-1000 seats, and I'm having to guess that based on the size of contracts being mentioned, so it's not a precise figure.

        You're going to have a year of requirements gathering and usage auditing - identifying what's used and what it can be replaced by. You then should start a two year mail migration, alongside prototyping for the new applications on their respective platforms. Then once mail is completed you ramp up the application migrations. It will be very expensive, as you're going to need to employ a number of contractors or employ development services, not to mention the possibility of temporary staff to help with the logistics of the mail migration.

        Want to take a friendly bet that the IT Director underestimated costs and did it on the cheap? ;-)

        I'd like to make a final note about the OP's comments on Word and long documents. Basically, that rings true. Microsoft disabled the "fast save" by default feature in 2007, and that was notorious for losing data especially in longer or more complex documents. Word has gotten better in more recent versions, probably because of work done to enable incremental saving to the cloud and collaborative working, but I still find myself nervous at work if the document gets long. (And at home I use different tools anyway, so it's not an issue.)

      2. HangingOnAnotherDay

        Re: Did he jump or was he pushed?

        I would add to Philip's logical and realistic argument that new IT Directors often come in with their own preconceived ideas of what is "best" and force the change for the sake of change. They think their whole charge in life is to make changes so they can prove that the last Director was wrong! No change is acceptable if it does not promise a better business product. If it doesn't improve productivity it doesn't have a place there! The described change was "because I said so" and no other reason. There definitely was not a lower cost! MS products, due to the simple fact of how many products it takes to replace anything (but most especially Notes/Domino) are not less expensive nor do they add business value. They are the most popular but that rarely makes something the best choice for every business. And, by the way, replacing Notes/Domino is much more difficult than one would think (as has been documented by others here) because it has an integrated programming/development component. In fact, "replacing" is often just "keep both" (thus more costly) because the effort to reprogram everything is just too costly.

  9. Jay 2

    At my place of work we were a Notes shop for a very long time. From memory we were on 4, 6, 8 and maybe 9. I suppose I had Stockolm syndrome as I didn't really mind it (yes, it was a bit of a shock moving from Outlook back in 1999!). It was someone funny seeing the reaction of new hires when told it was Notes not Outlook. Ironically this also included several CTOs who always said that we'd be replacing Notes with Outlook, but many of them departed without doing so. One potential reason for this was as others have said, Notes was more than just email/calendar. We had various databases and apps in there as well.

    But eventually the inevitable happened a few years back and we went to Outlook 365. I think the Windows guys must have done a fair bit of work testing it all as the migration was smooth enough. But it did take a while to tweak Outlook to my needs.

    The other side effect, which I find very funny, is when there's a problem with email and some high up bod has a go at Windows, who then point out it's due to something at Microsoft or Proofpoint and there's not much we can do about it!

  10. xyz Silver badge

    I hate Notes

    I once had to extract a Notes DB to SQL server and then build the users a front end.

    According to IBM it was impossible (obviously they'd say that) but it was pretty easy except for the mulitmedia files, but there was an undocumented API call that sorted that out.

    The horror was the amount of times Notes (when just using it as a user) would gobble up all the available memory and crash windows (can't remember which version of windows) and is obviously where windows got a rep for dropping its kecks. Notes is ghastly and I'm glad it's been spread apart (like that computer that was responsible for the war before the Kricket wars) so it never again is allowed to reign terror over office staff. These days we have Microsoft for that... The student becomes the master it seems.

    1. HangingOnAnotherDay

      Re: I hate Notes

      Clearly you don't know today's Notes/Domino. None of that is true. I use the desktop client for days or weeks on end without any issues.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I hate Notes

        You still use Notes today?! My condolences.

  11. Cosby

    First Amazon Purchase

    Looking back my first Amazon purchase on 30th October 1999 was a copy of Mastering Lotus Notes 4.6. Really enjoyed working on Lotus Notes at the time

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: First Amazon Purchase

      Oh yeah, I remember Amazon, the plucky little online book-shop. Whatever became of them, I wonder?

      (As an indicator of how long it was before they became the all-consuming behemoth they are now, there's an amusing bit in one of the Futurama episodes circa 2003, when one of the characters announces that with his spare 1¢ change he's going to buy 5 shares of Amazon.com. "A risk taker!" comes the approving-but-sceptical response...)

  12. Plest Silver badge
    Happy

    We used Notes as a browser for a short time!

    Back some point in the 1990s we used to use Lotus Notes as a browser, simply as it was able to do it and it allowed us to track what people were doing. Once IE got off the ground properly, we set up proxies, firewalls and standardised on IE but for aout 6-9 months Notes on desktop functioned as a basic internet browser for about 50 people in our place.

    I wasn't the Notes admin but I believe Notes was rendering the HTML as a proxy as it wasn't as fast a Netscape off one of our Sun boxes at the time but it was just about usable.

  13. jpennycook
    Pint

    Bacon butties

    The catering for customer briefings in Staines was so much better than the competition - the bacon butties were especially good. I've still got my t-shirt for the R5 launch tour. R5 was a breath of fresh air and had a usable mail UI.

  14. t245t Silver badge
    IT Angle

    “We can't compete with Lotus and WordPerfect/Novell without this”

    “I have decided that we should not publish these [Windows 95 user interface] extensions. We should wait until we have a way to do a high level of integration that will be harder for likes of Notes, WordPerfect to achieve, and which will give Office a real advantage...”

    We can't compete with Lotus and WordPerfect/Novell without this

  15. NewThought

    The entire article, and every single comment, have all missed the best thing about Lotus Notes: the speed to build applications. It was 6-10x faster than anything I've used before or since. This is not an exaggeration.

    Products like Notion (or other "low code" products) can probably do this today (I only know one person who uses Notion), and this may become less of a problem in a world in which LLMs can make a decent stab at writing code - but it continues to amaze me how many people in business today are completely unaware of the value of being able to create good applications quickly.

  16. Tim99 Silver badge
    Windows

    Beaten by "Just good enough"

    I stayed away from Lotus Notes - In the 1980s we used DECs ALL-IN-1 suite. It had WP, email, personal/business management tools. and could be used to create custom applications.

    On a VAX, with connected terminals and minis/workstations, I found it (quite) pleasant to use and program. It seems to have been swept away by Windows; we ran the DOS version for a while; but DECs "failure with PCs" probably killed it (and DEC)...

  17. Handlebars

    I saw it underpinning a hospital EPR. It was hopelessly slow, so staff would open a couple of instances on their computer to keep working on one while the other opened or saved something. Which led to mistakes as staff would make an entry for patient A in patient B's file.

    I've seen even older non-GUI systems that were much better just because they didn't keep users waiting.

    1. HangingOnAnotherDay

      You have apparently been subjected to some extremely bad systems. Don't blame the underlying product! I've used Notes/Domino in a medium sized company environment - certainly as big as a typical hospital - and "mainframe" applications. Both are very responsive and as fast as can be expected. We are super aware of user productivity but we don't dump money into hardware unnecessarily but we still have great response time.

  18. DexterWard

    I have bad memories of Notes being desperately slow with a terrible mail client, and a tendency to eat all available memory.

    Good document sharing, but that was about its only good point.

    We only used it at all because there was a Notes evangelist; after he left, it was ditched ASAP

  19. bpfh

    CRUD (almost) to the masses

    The notes db platform allowed you local or server hosted databases, where you could see the underlying records or make a nice gui that when done correctly should also work over the web. It was not as user friendly as MS Access but didn't have the size limitations.

    I used to say Notes was a application generator including email app, and Outlook was an email app with an application generator (VBA), but Notes dropped the ball with so many compatibility issues, with email being the killer app of the 90's to 00´s, not being able to read html email and having attachments go missing was probably the final nail in the coffin when every copy of windows came with outlook express and people could compare how "bad" their company software was compared to what they could have at home...

    1. HangingOnAnotherDay

      Re: CRUD (almost) to the masses

      "Home" applications are never a good comparison for a business application. Ever. End users might complain but the business requirements are so far over their heads they just don't get it. Thus, they must be properly educated by IT to understand the reason why any given application is being used. For example, compare any Accounting business software to what most use at home and it will be a huge groan! But there are reasons!!

      1. bpfh

        Re: CRUD (almost) to the masses

        There may be reasons for differences, but Notes HTML email compatibility was left standing in the dust. Standards moved on, Notes did not, and this is the comparison I meant: I've seen side by side comparisons of emails where hafl the message went missing, for.... no good reason, the Notes rendering engine just coughed and died, and forgot to render the page. Or the HTML message got borked and decided to have a margin down the left side of the message to the middle, so you could only see 50% of every line... or it would misplace an image logo in a signature, and blow that in the dead center of the page, directly over your content.

        If I remember correctly, Notes didnt natively render HTML, but coerced HTML into RTF, and, like Outlook up to 2016, carried on using the rendering engine of the previous century.

        Also, IBM licencing fees were insane compared to anything else, and getting a location document set up for POP & IMAP was far from as easy as getting Outlook set up to use an Exchange-free email setup.

        So, end result; As much as the corporate overlords may have had their reasons, when the sales team cannot read their client's emails, and when the director cannot read his mistresses missives, the company gets a swift overhaul.

        Which in the end is a shame, because companies judged Notes for email, when email was only a tiny part of what the Notes/Domino environment was capable of doing.

  20. jfollows

    I liked it, too

    I liked it when IBM introduced it to replace its mainframe internal email system, first running on OS/2 of course but later on I was able to run it on Linux on my laptop.

    I found its handling of folders and the way I could file emails intuitive and simple.

    I liked its ability to let me write something which automatically downgraded emails from one particular person to "not very important at all", someone who insisted on flagging all his emails as "important". 30 minutes of my time I guess.

    I moved to the Microsoft world when I changed jobs in 2008 and found it much less pleasant. Admittedly some lack of familiarity will have caused some of that.

    But as a user it appeared to work well and do what it said it would do, plus it could easily be persuaded to do what I wanted it to do.

  21. Julian 8 Silver badge

    When it was good, it was very good, but that down to the developers and understanding of the system.

    Used to for numerous good things at various points, but at one company I worked at, we had Notes installed for a text index search routine, and the company that wrote this was terrible, cost a bomb and was, I'm afraid, the solution that started to kill Notes for that company. The same routine was rewritten in a quick 'n' dirty vb 4 front end and was so much more efficient.

    Though from an ex global admin, I do find Notes was dead easy for user admin, replication, recovery of files and so on, especially when trying to restore someones mailbox vs Exchange.

    My final view of Notes was when I was tuped over to IBM. I thought, lets see what they have done with the mail template. We got it and it was OOB, not customisation at all. I soon passed around the "company" standard template so we could get that back. And IBM's own "techie" team were dire. A few people had problems post migration and we knew the errors and how to fix. A good few weeks spent with users not working in Notes, IBM saying "no it is not that, you do not know what you are talking about", to only then finally go "OK, so it was <whatever>"

  22. hammarbtyp

    A mixed bag

    The great thing about notes was that it could do everything

    The bad new was that it could do everything, so became a morass of data stores, impossible to navigate.

    and lets not forget the user interface, especially email, which was seemingly designed with the GEM desktop environment in the 70's and never updated, which made doing even simple functions a nightmare

    When our company split off, we moved from Notes to the Google cloud infrastructure. Suddenly we had email that we could "gasp" easily search

    We still run a domino server somewhere on the off chance that someone may wish to access 20 year old info. Good luck on that

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Notes lived for a very, very long time inside a former employer's business process flows, and with good reason.

    When you think about it, the functionality is not entirely dissimilar to Sharepoint, but much with the capacity to be better organised. Instead of every team or department going off on some disparate shotgun blast of ideas, notes could be coherently organised and cross referenced.

    When it comes to corporate memory I have no illusions that Sharepoint (at least the current implementation of it that we live with) is a turd. It's almost as though the creators actually used their product, and thought about how to present it back to users; rather simply foisting it on the unsuspecting and being told to get on with it. With the predictable consequences that has.

    One or two key staff moves and your sharepoint/onedrive dependency will become only too apparent.

    There are a number of web based tools that are useful, Asana comes to mind, that have their own focussed set of capabilities but nothing quite so all encompassing as notes was to actually run a business.

    Graphics might be dated; but do you want shiny and disorganised or a bit antiquated but functional and understandable? Yeah, I'll take the latter a dozen times over.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As someone who occasionally had to support Notes but 20+ years ago, I'd say as a database it was a decent email system. As an email system it was a good database. But better existed in both spaces.

  25. hammarbtyp
    FAIL

    Open all hours

    So my best story about Lotus notes...

    We were transitioning away from Notes due to a company takeover. As such all the email history had to be ported to another system.

    I was working on a company information system and i was using notes as the backend. During my experimentation it seemed that when IT ported the emails, they had not reset the access settings and i could access everyone's emails from the lowest engineer to the CEO.

    ...

    The temptation to delve was strong, but i decided to be a good boy and send an email to the IT head telling them they had a big security hole...

    3 months later, i tried again. i could still access. Repeated the email in stronger language

    Again it was ignored. In the end I had to show my boss, who had to take it direct to the CEO before it was fixed.

    It was a long time to resist furtilling....

  26. x-IBMer

    "Just look at how personal computers largely replaced the hulking mainframes and minicomputers that came before them, then proceeded to slowly accumulate the advanced features of those older systems, like multi-user support, redundancy, and security." Demonstrates a huge misunderstanding of what actually happened.

  27. Whorleyburger

    Right click to go back

    I miss the right mouse click to go back so much...Notes + Novell were awesome..

  28. x-IBMer

    The mainframes are still there

    "Just look at how personal computers largely replaced the hulking mainframes and minicomputers that came before them, then proceeded to slowly accumulate the advanced features of those older systems, like multi-user support, redundancy, and security." Demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of what actually happened from the late 80's through to the early 00's in the enterprise IT landscape.

  29. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Lotus email

    Frontline Distribution used to maintain pricing to its VARs using Notes, which gave me exposure to the product and its capabilities.

    The first email system I ever setup for a company used cc:Mail, another product Lotus acquired, connected with Notes. My client was the UK offshoot of a US household name. In those days it was very satisfying to hear the sound of their dialup modem handshaking periodically to exchange emails with a remote mesh of servers in the USA. After that I messed around a bit with Novell Groupwise, but with both products one had to be careful with call scheduling and routing as call costs were significant.

  30. Larry D

    enshittification

    I think most sites stopped (ground to a halt) at 6.5 and didn't go on. I was told the interface for Notes mail was based on snail mail interactions. It dated badly. But it was good in 1994. One of our team swapped a whole lot of problem/change/incident/bug forms and workflow to in return for free licenses. These turned up in the next release of the base Notes product. He later moved to the UK and won Dragon's Den.

    It was terrible in 2008. I remember being told by my Notes administrator not to send invites from gmail as it crashed Domino mail. I don't miss it although the forms, workflow and (non-relational) databases could be good - at times. I'm continually amazed at how bad vendors get forms and workflow even today. IBM and Oracle both had OK products at various times that fell victim to enshittification.

    MS tries to do forms/workflow in Sharepoint/Teams but it is really rubbish - really embarrassingly bad stuff you would not pay for. But corporates do.

    I recently got a new personal laptop and wondered what was eating my network bandwidth. It was MS Teams chewing bandwidth even though I was not using it. So uninstalled Teams on my personal laptop but forced to use it at corporate work.

  31. Blackjack Silver badge

    [The publisher's internal photographer (this was the Nineties, when publishers had more money)]

    Actually it was because screenshot programs didn't became common until like... windows 3.x? There was probably a DOS screenshot program somewhere but I definitely never used one. Some MS-DOS programs allowed you to take screenshots with the press of a button on the keyboard or a combination of them but not all of them.

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