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Dave Delay was a developer on Lotus Notes for several years and has written an essay on how much he loves Lotus Notes. His intent is to counter claims that Lotus Notes Sucks.

No self-respecting software developer wants to hear someone say that his product sucks. You pour your heart and soul into software that you think is cool and ground-breaking. Software that’s used by millions of people around the world. And someone has the gall to say that it sucks?

For me, the key thought in Dave’s essay is this one:

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.

I used Notes for many years and worked with Dave at Iris for several years as well. I don’t think that Notes sucks. I agree with Dave that the core of Notes is brilliant. An amazing set of ideas that are still relevant today. But most people who use Notes don’t see or appreciate this core. They use Notes Mail and Calendar. To them, Notes is indivisible from these applications. And some of them are frustrated with Notes and, frankly, think that Notes sucks.

One way to appreciate this sort of end user experience, to feel what it’s like to be in their shoes, is to think about a product that you use (or used) frequently that you really hated. A product that was a source of endless frustration but, at the same time, was incredibly popular. For me the product that comes to mind was a source control system that I used. It’s a commercial product you’d recognize by name.

This product has been around for about as long as Lotus Notes. At its core, it has an incredibly sophisticated versioned file system. And it’s highly customizable. But, for me, using it was a miserable experience. To me, it sucked. The graphical UI was confusing and often non-responsive. The product had a voracious appetite for network bandwidth and was completely unusable over broadband connections. I’ve used lots source control systems and this was the first one that forced me to work in a way that I felt was unproductive. And I wasn’t alone. Most of my team was frustrated by this product. But the product has enthusiastic users as well. One developer on the team would counter that we just didn’t understand, that we didn’t appreciate its power. That we weren’t using it properly. Sound familiar?

I’m not picking on Dave. As I said, I don’t think that Notes sucks. My point is that we’re all end users and we all encounter software that doesn’t work the way we’d like. When we’re forced to use it, as I was with the source control system and many people are with Lotus Notes, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear a “this sucks” from time to time.

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