What is Notes' core weakness?

by Volker Weber

Yesterday I asked about Notes core strength. Lots of interesting answers. Did you notice that nobody said email, which is probably the biggest use case? Also nobody mentioned anything that IBM pushed in the last years, like web services, composite applications, SOA (cough, cough).

Now we have some ideas about the perceived core strengths. But what about the weaknesses? I have a hard time figuring it out. So let's start again with two examples:

So what do you perceive as Notes' core weakness? I have to split it in two: admin and development.

Notes' core weakness on the admin side is that it must use its own directory and authentication scheme. On the development side it's the proprietary tooling.

What is yours?


I have two, but I'm not sure they fit. Notes core weakness:

... is due to its greatest strength: it is so easy to throw a quick application together that poorly designed systems proliferate uncontrollably.

... is its mis-characterization as a messaging platform rather than a ...

Rob McDonagh, 2008-09-12

... a what? :-)

Volker Weber, 2008-09-12

I tend to agree with Rob on the first one. It's great strength (RAD) becomes it's great weakness too - the ability to quickly meet a business need and the ability for non-programmers to cobble together applications that are poorly designed but fit immediate business needs.


Dan Soares, 2008-09-12

Notes/Domino is a largely monolithic suite of collaboration technologies that would really be happier if it could move the host OS aside. That is both its strongest and weakest point.

David Richardson, 2008-09-12

... even comparatively well-designed applications are often subject to problems when they grow beyond their original intention, due to certain limits in the programming and data models, and due to the fact that the strength of a schemaless database early in an application's lifecycle becomes a weakness when it reaches maturity.

Richard Schwartz, 2008-09-12

IBM Stealth Marketing. If Microsoft owned this product it would be everywhere.

Adam Osborne, 2008-09-12

Notes/Domino's key weakness on the admin side is its 20 year heritage of backward compatibility and cross-platform support leading to a sometimes untidy mix of technologies, features and configurations.

I would add another couple of more general ones:
The lack of built in, ready to use business applications/templates
The lack of understanding of exactly where it's value lies

Stuart McIntyre, 2008-09-12

The core weakness is that it is taking ages for important things to improve (GUI, templates, marketing, address book in mail file, ...). As a single feature I would mention the lack of a 100% roaming experience.

Thilo Hamberger, 2008-09-12

Greatest weakness: Lack of user friendlyness.

The UI is way to cluttered. It contains too many competing concepts (i.e. bookmarks vs. workspace). I have never met a person that likes the Notes UI when he or she first saw it. If you see Notes for the first time you simply don't know where to start.
With Notes 8 the number of inconsistencies even seems to be growing: Eclipse-based UI elements vs. traditional UI elements (i.e. Notes 8 mail template which is Eclipse-based vs. traditional templates).
Just look at the preferences dialog in Notes 8 - it's a nightmare!
I strongly advise IBM/Lotus to start cleaning things up. Pick a UI metaphor that's consistent across the board. Don't mix and match old and new. It's making things worse. If IBM wants to (successfully) compete with Microsoft, Web 2.0 apps etc. make sure the UI is really compelling.

Markus Dierker, 2008-09-12


they already are in the progress of cleaning things up and improving the GUI. But you cannot finish everything in the timeframe of a major release. That's why Notes Mail has the new GUI, but old Notes applications still have the old GUI elements.
And as time progresses, more and more standard templates are being rewritten to use the new GUI elements, for example the Journal - in 8.0 it was old, in 8.0.1 it was renewed.
So, that kind of changes need time.

Why is the preference dialog a nightmare? It's a standard (!) Eclipse preference dialog, just as in Eclipse SDK and other Eclipse applications. So the preferences of Eclipse SDK is a nightmare, too?
And for example OpenOffice has the same kind of preference dialog - that's a nightmare, too?

I cannot see that the current version of Notes is more or less user friendly as for example MS Office with their weird ribbons, or MS Outlook which also has some strange concepts.

However, to get back to Volkers question:

The greatest weakness of Lotus Notes is that the common treats it as an EMail software, not as a platform with ready-to-use EMail functionality.

Julian Buss, 2008-09-12

Markus nails it for me: too many ways to do basically the same thing, which in turn leads to the most common end-user whinges about Notes.

There are competing and inconsistent concepts at work in the UI, but given how long Notes has been around, Lotus would have had a massive battle trying to pare the UI down to what it needs to be. There too many big corporates who like to tweak everything combined with mouthy power users ;o)

Ben Poole, 2008-09-12

@Ben Mouthy power users?? Surely not...

Stuart Mcintyre, 2008-09-12

Julian, meet Markus. He has written a few very heavy books about Notes.

Ben and Stuart: Over. My. Dead. Body. 'nuf said. :-)

Volker Weber, 2008-09-12

The whole product is infected by the general philosophy of "It is all about choice".

I think this is just a phrase for covering up the inability of the Notes product managers / designer / whom ever to develop straight forward, compelling and convincing one-button-for-one-feature solutions.

Lucius Bobikiewicz, 2008-09-12

Yes, the core weakness is definitely the poor user experience. Version 8 may be a step in the right direction, but the client really needed an overhaul along the lines of what Microsoft did with Office 2007. Even if you personally dislike the ribbon UI, you have to admire them for recognising that the interface, menuing and toolbars had become such a cluster-fuck of functionality that it burdened pretty much everybody except a minority of power users.

Jeff Gilfelt, 2008-09-12

I would say the Domino Designer is a core weakness. Teamstudio and Ytria (and a couple of great open-source projects like lotusscript.org and OpenLog) have made a good business of filling in the gaping holes in the domino designer.

Another point of weakness would be the persistent gripe of "not polishing the API". Every new version brings with it a coll new feature, where I think "wow that is so cool", only to see that some small, but essential bit has been forgotten - AND DOES NOT GET FIXED IN THE NEXT VERSION. For instance, "Show only one category" views. Cool. Brilliant. Unless you press the "collapse all" icon. Häh? nothing visible anymore?

Andrew Magerman, 2008-09-12

IBM is notes' core weakness

Martijn Mulder, 2008-09-12

Martijn, IBM ist Notes' strength and weakness at the same time :-) Without the power of IBM, we would not have the Lotus Notes 8 we have now with all those new and good functionality and the new UI.
Lotus on it's own would never have made it, personally I think Lotus would be as small as Groupwise if IBM had not bought them.

But IBM is Notes' weakness, too, because of IBM's legendary lack of marketing competence. Luckily things are starting to improve in this area, too.

Julian Buss, 2008-09-12


Alex Hernandez, 2008-09-12

The power and business value of Notes is hard to explain in a 30-second elevator pitch. Or in a 30-second tv ad.

Bob Balaban, 2008-09-12

Julian, of course you are right, but I wanted to give a one-liner and then it is hard to make nuanced observation.
Notes would probably not be here without IBM. On the other hand notes is suffering unnecessarily because of IBM. Not just in the marketing area but also:
- lack of direction (confusion because of WebSphere, Workplace etc.)
- integrating technologies half-heartedly (Java, DIIOP,...)
- no good answer to competition for decision makers in companies (half of us do have to get into the discussion about exchange and outlook every year or so)
- support (maybe slightly biased due to recent experiences but still pretty crap, excuse my French)
- all the other things people have come up with already :)

Still think Notes is an excellent tool in the right hands.

Martijn Mulder, 2008-09-12

Bob, see Chris's take on it here: http://www-10.lotus.com/ldd/insidelotusblog.nsf/dx/challenge-revisited-notes-in-one-slide

Alan Lepofsky, 2008-09-12

The 64 kb field limit. It breaks my well designed applications as the content keeps on growing. I spend/waste so much time on this.

I am happy IBM redesigned the mail, since this is where most people base their judgement upon. Better mail, better image, more installations, more developers etc. IBM could offer all clients that haven't upgraded since 5 or 6 a one time free upgrade to 8. That will enthousiasmate the users and make them buy new releases. Otherwise these customers become dead-ends.

For the rest, I really like Notes.

Felix Canto, 2008-09-12

@Adam - if Microsoft owned this product, we'd need to buy new hardware every time we upgraded the server! OTOH we wouldn't still be waiting for hi-color icons in the WS, not be subjected to Java views to make our inbox "look nice" etc.. :p

Colin Williams, 2008-09-12

Hmm, let's see... Notes' core weakness?

1. It's more than "just email/calendar/contacts" which complicates life for users who want "just email/calendar/contacts".

2. Despite protests similar to Steve Jobs recent retort, a lot of people believe that Notes is dead.

Bob Congdon, 2008-09-12

Tsk, these marketing types. OK Bob, let’s try again ;o)

Bob, see Chris's take on it here: A proper link.

Ben Poole, 2008-09-12

Just to be clear, by “OK Bob”, obviously I meant “OK Alan”

* cough *

Ben Poole, 2008-09-13

Ben, I know all about creating HTML links. This just happens to be the only blog I comment on that requires me to craft them by hand, so I tend to forget. Sorry if I offended your non-marketing-self. ;-)

Alan Lepofsky, 2008-09-13

Notes's biggest weakness is its history. Because it rarely breaks (as long as its not been configured by an idiot), it runs and runs. So the enterprise doesnt upgrade it. So we see Domino 8 mail clients with v5 mail templates (as I saw yesterday in an IBM premium partner)... And then of course its the "oh, its not as pretty as outlook-pustule 2009! Throw it away!" upgrade.

Its other weakness is its lack of public recognition outside of Notes shops (at least here in the UK). And the inability of IBM sales to not try and upsell anyone calling them to Portal.

Okay Here's a third. Its perceived to be a difficult system to set up. And we know Foundations fixed that. If only anyone actually *knew*..

--* Bill

Bill Buchan, 2008-09-13

...interesting, nobody said email is notes core weakness, and it is also not perceived as core strength. hmm.

Gregory Engels, 2008-09-13

Not surprising. Notes is an accidental e-mail package.



Luke Kolin, 2008-09-14

A not yet mentioned problem is that its main advantage "Replication" is becoming less relevant in the future. Applications which work "offline" will not be demanded once you are connected with broadband everywhere (especially wireless).

But as already mentioned the UI is the biggest problem. And even that IBM seemed to "get it" with R8, the redesign is going on still too slowly. Some elements like replicator page, workspace/desktop, view search bar, templates have not been improved since a decade. And yet many users are using these elements in their daily work. Maybe in R9. Hope so :-)

Hynek Kobelka, 2008-09-14

Notes' core weakness? Two points... today's product doesn't suffer from what most people would perceive to be it's core weakness (i.e. the UI). So you could say Notes' core weakness is people's ignorance.

The other point is that it's not Microsoft Notes nor is it backed up by Microsoft's huge marketing budget... or the assumption that because it's a Microsoft product it's going to be just what people need.

Darren Adams, 2008-09-16

From where I sit (and what I've seen - both in and out of Lotus) is that Notes has never been able to reconcile whether it is an email platform or a secured, replicating, database development environment.

This tension has created a product where both major aspects of the platform (mail and app dev) have introduced sub par compromises.

The mail UI has always had to live within the frameworks of the other UI limitations in the system. For people who just use the email, the email experience is not optimized for 'just email’; it must work within the rest of the Notes UI - which has nothing to do with email. So, email users must carry the UI baggage of the rest of the system. This has been a problem since the days before Lotus acquired ccMail and it continues to this day.

From the app dev perspective, the major issue that I see is that IBM wants to move customers up to Websphere and so the app dev experience (and toolset) has been intentionally throttled (i.e. servlet container) in order to migrate customers to a 'real' development environment with a true J2EE stack.

For the app dev stuff, there is also enough 'non standard' stuff that you just need 'to know' that the learning curve is too steep (not steep, just long). Sure, it's easy to throw together a quick app, but the nuances on the app dev side have never been fully addressed.

Is it email..is it a replicating database environment..is it an alternative to SharePoint..is it a web engine..is it a corporate directory?

It's all of the above, but not best in class for any single category...erosion will continue on all fronts.

Peyton McManus, 2008-09-18

LOL.. Domino's core weakness is IBM's Business Partner suppport..

Seriously though, I find that a lack of data integrity enforcement in the data model (despite it probably being considered a core strength), is probably a core weaknesses to. Because data can be corrupted too easily by ad-hoc support and ruin the application's reliability. It would be nice to be able to enforce a strict data model to preserve data integrity.

Being able to turn it on or off at the database level would probably make it a more widely used (and important feature) than say, the "composite applications editor", (aka Framesets on Steroids).

Giulio Campobassi, 2008-12-08

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