In the interests of full disclosure, I worked on Notes from 1996 through 2002. As a software developer, I contributed to versions 4.5, 4.6, 5.0 and 6.0. Obviously, I don't like to hear people bash the product I worked on. On the other hand, I have also used Lotus Notes every working day for almost ten years. It is not and never will be a perfect product, but it also isn't nearly as bad as some people make it out to be.
Let's look at some indisputable facts:
- When it was introduced in 1989, Notes pioneered the concept of groupware.
- It is one the most successful desktop applications ever. For example, in 2000, Network Computing named Notes one of the top ten products of the 1990s.
- Unlike many products of its vintage, Notes is still going strong. According to Ed Brill, Notes still has 120 million seats (see comment #9). Microsoft in particular has repeatedly tried to kill Notes, and Microsoft has a history of obliterating the competition in many market segments (think Wordperfect, Lotus 123 and Netscape Navigator). How many products have been able to withstand sustained competition from Microsoft? Notes and Quicken are the only two products that come to mind.
In my opinion, people dislike Notes because their expectations don't jive with the original intent of the product. At its core, Notes is a runtime environment for collaborative applications, but when people complain about Notes, they are usually not talking about core Notes at all. They are talking about the Notes Mail and Calendar applications.
Why does this distinction matter? It matters because the Notes core is what a lot of people really love. The three core features I really like are:
- Replication. This is what lets you disconnect from the network and continue to read and send mail. It's also what lets Domino servers maintain multiple copies of your mail file. I don't think any product does replication as well as Notes and Domino.
- Security. Notes security was way ahead of it's time in 1989. It is still rock solid.
- Programmability. You don't like the way Notes Mail works? Programmability lets you (or an IT developer) fix small problems and add completely new features in mail. It's also what lets you build entirely new applications for your business.
Here's what I am really saying to people who dislike Notes: Grow up please. You may have preferred the mail application you used in your last job. You may have a dozen small complaints about how Notes works. But don't say Notes sucks and recommend throwing it out. That's like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Chances are your IT department has many good reasons for sticking with Notes. Have you asked what those reasons are?
** I mean viral in a good way. In the early days, small groups in large companies used Notes to solve real business problems they couldn't otherwise tackle. At first, this drove central IT departments crazy. Eventually, the IT departments understood the business justification and adopted Notes themselves.