GoogleIt Mail IT Print IT PermaLinkA Month With Outlook - What This Long-Time Lotus Notes User Likes And Doesn't Like
09:36:33 PM

I've been an email user for 28 years. For the first 7 of those years, I was just a very occasional user of primitive command-line mail clients, but for the last 21 years I've been, for all intents and purposes, a daily user of one advanced client or another. For the past 13 years, from release 3 to release 7, I've been a daily user of Lotus Notes. I became a Microsoft Outlook user for the first time last month. I still use Notes for blogging, for a few personal applications, for some collaboration, and for my personal email and calendar, but for the new job it's all Outlook 2003. As I've been getting to know Outlook, I've been recording my impressions -- both pro and con. For a bit of irony, I've been recording these impressions in a personal Notes doclib database. The list has already gotten to lengthy to squeeze into a single blog post, so I'm going to have to spread it out over several

Let's start with what I like about Outlook:

  • It's fast. It's very fast. Now, it may be the case that this is because my mailbox is small, and I've been diligent about filing messages to get them out of the Inbox. Or, it may be that it's fast because I'm working on a world-class network that belongs to one of the world's premiere server vendors, so although I've not seen the servers and in fact I have no idea where they are (which in and of itself is a very strange feeling for me), I have to imagine that they have plenty of horsepower. But in 13 years I've worked with plenty of mailboxes besides my own, -- many of which are very small, on servers that are far more beefy than the little old Domino server that holds my personal Notes mail, on great networks, and in all honesty I don't believe I've ever seen a Notes client respond as quickly as Outlook does. For speed of user response, Outlook wins, hands-down.

  • It lets me schedule multi-day appointments. It does them easily, and intuitively, with a simple start date/time and end date/time. Notes teases you into thinking you can do that. It shows you date and time fields for start and end, but you can't use them the way you want. Your appointment can span midnight, but it can't be more than 24 hours long. If you want to schedule something across multiple days, you have to create a repeating appointment, or worse... individual appointments if you're starting at 3 PM on the first day, going all day on the second day and then ending at 1 PM on the third.

  • It's easier to work with follow-up flags. It only takes a single click in the folder index to set a follow-up flag -- you select a message and flag it with a single gesture, and with a little more work, you can select from many different colored flags. Another single click removes the flag. In Notes, you have to select the message first, and then click the "Follow Up" action button and select "Quick Flag", "Add or Edit Flag", or "Remove Flag" from the drop down . Or, you can right-click the message, select "Follow Up" (the 20th of 25 picks on the context menu!), and select "Quick Flag", "Add or Edit Flag" from the sub-menu. You can't remove a follow-up flag via the context menu in Notes. You only have three choices of flag color in Notes (for urgent, normal, and low), as opposed to six in Outlook (without defined meanings), and although I'm only using two right now I can conceive of good reasons to use more.

And now, for some things I don't like about Outlook.

  • Alt-C M doesn't work. This one, of course, is only something a keyboard-centric Notes user would care about.

  • Unread mark behavior bugs me. Everybody seems to use Outlook with the "Reading pane" (i.e., the preview pane in Notes lingo) enabled. In fact, it's the default configuration, and the way to turn it off is not particularly obvious. I've never been a preview pane user in Notes, but I am in Outlook. I have more screen real-estate to work with on my monitor at work than I've had at home or on my laptops, and Outlook makes good use of it. The "unread" status of a message in Outlook doesn't change to "read", however when you preview the message. It does change to read when you preview the message and then click away from it. I find this behavior incredibly annoying, and I can't find a setting to change it. In Notes, there's a settable preference that determines whether or not previewed messages are marked read or not -- and it happens at the time the message is opened in the preview pane, not at the time you navigate away from it.

  • Search is inadequate. Before I added the Lookout add-in, search was abysmal. I mentioned above that I'm being diligent about filing my mail to get it out of my Inbox, and the primary reason I'm doing that is that because the search facility, which in Notes lets me quickly zero in on anything in my Inbox, is so incredibly weak. Even with the Lookout add-in, search in Outlook is sub-standard. It finds deleted documents that you can't open (duh!), and it doesn't highlight the location of the search target strings.

  • Follow-Up lacks the ability to attach a note. I mentioned above that I like Outlook's follow-up flags because they're easy to use and they give you lots of colors to choose from, but they lack a key piece of functionality: the ability to attach a brief note as a reminder of what your follow-up action needs to be. I take advantage of this capability in Notes about half the time that I use the follow-up feature.

  • Inviting people to a meeting is harder. It never even occurred to me that I would have to click the "Invite Attendees" button before I could add recipients to my invitation. This is only true if I just click "New" while in my calendar rather than selecting the drop-down right next to "New" and select "Meeting Request", or if I double-click on a time-slot on the calendar -- but in Notes the double-click behavior is a settable preference and in Outlook I don't see any way to change the default behavior. I find it especially odd, by the way, that the attendee fields are hidden initially but there is a visible tab labeled "Availability". I will give credit for the fact that if I click on "Availability", add a name, and when I return to the "Appointment" tab the To field is exposed and populated -- and the window title even changes to "Meeting" (although the "Appointment" tab is not also re-labled.).

  • OWA works differently than Outlook for meeting scheduling. OWA rocks. In most areas, it is superior to Domino Web Access in terms of fidelity to the fat client experience. Don't get me wrong... DWA is very, very good but you still feel like you're using a different application, and in most respects with OWA you do not. But, in meeting scheduling with OWA, there are some warts. If I create a new calendar event in OWA, and click on the "Availability" tab before I click on "Invite Attendees" button my name will show up as the first in the list of attendees, but if does not show up there if I click on "Availability" after clicking "Invite Attendees". Furthermore, there's a blank line on the Availability tab and I can add names there, but if I navigate back to the "Appointment" tab without clicking "Invite Attendees", the names I entered don't go anywhere. Even if I then click on "Invite Attendees", the name(s) I entered on the "Availability" tab are not populated. An even bigger inconsistency between OWA and Outlook, though, is that "Invite Attendees" reveals only a single "To" field on my invitation in Outlook, whereas in OWA it reveals three fields with buttons labeled "Required", "Optional", and "Resources". I'm running Outlook 2003, but I don't know what's running on the server for OWA. I imagine it could be a version inconsistency that I'm seeing, although it hardly seems likely that OWA has more features than the current version of Outlook!

There's quite a bit more that I've taken notes on, but it will have a wait a few days for me to put together a follow-up post.

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Comments :v

1. Chris Whisonant05/01/2006 01:08:41 PM

Good to see some comments that are thought through so well!

It's fast - It ought to be. It was designed by the same company that designed the Operating System. Much easier to make it a speed demon... Also, no Java.

Alt-C M doesn't work - I always just do Ctrl-M in Notes. New memo! It also works in Firefox by creating a new memo in your default e-mail client.

Search is inadequate - I wonder if the MS or Google desktop searches would perform better. I keep my Google desktop searchbar at the top of my screen. I can then just type and either hit enter for Google web results or Ctrl-D to get desktop search results. I find myself using this more often than native Notes search for email. Not sure how it would work with Outlook, though.

2. Carl Tyler05/01/2006 03:36:19 PM

You findings are similar to what I discovered when using Outlook. Search had to be the biggest pain as I am a big user of the Full Text index. I resolved it by buying X1.

Looks like they have addressed the short coming in the next version, they've even added preview of files, reminds me of my old Notes V3 demos See this demo...

3. Scott Gentzen05/01/2006 08:50:55 PM

I've been a Domino admin for 8 years and have never worked for a company that used Domino for email. Oddly enough, my wife doesn't do technical work but has spent most of her career in Notes shops and is traumatized about her upcoming org's Exchange migration.

* Click Tools then click Options
* Click the Other tab
* Click on Reading Pane

The options in this window are what you're looking for. Check the "mark items as read when viewed in reading pane" box and then set a delay time (default is 5 seconds).

4. Richard Schwartz05/01/2006 09:54:58 PM

@Scott: "Other"!? Wow! An amazing example of how Outlook is so much more intuitive!

Thanks for the tip. Not sure I like that delay time idea. It could be even more disturbing than the default behavior. But I'll play with it.

@Carl: I'll check out that demo when I have a chance. Thanks.

@Chris: Ctrl-M is something I've known about all along, but I've never useed it. In fact, I rarely use control-key shortcuts. As for desktop search... I'll use it if and when I want to search my desktop, but I don't think I want to use it to search my mail.

5. Senthil Kumar05/01/2006 10:44:09 PM

Nice to note down the comparisons. I have only used Notes for corporate mail and never had a chance with Outlook or any other. The point of interest to me is "Its Fast".

Just a little curious. Is that because of the fact in Outlook, you always work in local copies of mail than to access the server everytime. Cos my local copy of mail file works at lightning speed or rather i don't see any significant delay even if i open with larger attachments.

6. Senthil Kumar05/01/2006 10:50:48 PM

Some edits to my previous comment

Cos my local copy of mail file works at lightning speed or rather i don't see any significant delay even if i open with larger attachments.

I refer to my Notes local copy of the mail file.

7. Roberto Boccadoro05/02/2006 06:30:09 AM


the add flag option is in the right click menu in Notes. So get rid of that point in the "pros" for Outlook, you can do this as easily in Notes. I do concede we do not have 6 colors, but based on my experience 3 are enough.

8. Richard Schwartz05/02/2006 07:10:02 AM

@Roberto: Sorry, but I can't remove that from Outlook's pros. There are 25 picks on the right click menu. You need to find the right one (the 20th pick -- not easy to find), click it to expose a sub-menu, move your cursor into the sub menu, and move your curson again to select "Quick Flag" (the 2nd pick). That's not as easy as a single click on the flag icon.

@Senthil: That's a fair point about working in the local replica. Notes can be nearly as fast as Outlook if you work that way; and maybe just as fast. I'll try and do some side-by-side testing to verify that as best as I can, but on the other hand working loclly while on the network has never been the way that I actually use Notes. I don't tend to think of it as the "natural" configuration, and in most cases users would have to set this up for themselves since I doubt that many Notes admins make it the default configuration for their users -- though some do.

9. Scott Gentzen05/02/2006 09:35:43 AM

I didn't say it was intuitive, I just said where it was. :)

I've always thought intuitiveness is relative. My wife's never used Outlook at work and only recently started using Office, and so I'm expecting that she's going to suffer greatly in the transition in her office.

For someone that's used other Microsoft software they do have a little bit of a head start as there is some consistency in the interface from application to application (yes, with some significant exceptions). There's an advantage for Microsoft that almost 100% of people that use computers use their software at some point, so they have some familiarity with how MS does their UI. Lotus doesn't have that.

I'm a Domino admin (I have to keep pointing that out, as most Domino bloggers seem to be developers or consultants ) so I spend a lot of time in the Admin client. By now, I'm as used to Lotus' UI issues as Microsoft's.

I just don't think that for someone that's never used a computer before that they're going to be able to pick up on Outlook any faster than Notes mail.

Microsoft and Lotus both could learn a lot from Apple.

10. Senthil Kumar05/02/2006 11:51:04 PM

@Rich - Keeping local mail replica is allowed in my office :) I prefer to use local mail replica even when am in office. I have my replication enabled for my location every 10mins so that all my files will be in sync with the server including mail file.

Firstly its fast, secondly i can work in my mail even when the server is down. Thirdly, i can retrieve my mails back from the outbox if its mistakenly sent. I always feel this is the Mail retrieval feature in LN as Outlook.

I went to one of my users place who is using MSO 2003 (using Outlook connector for Domino) and tried opening some of the mails with attachments. I felt the speed was more or less same as LN.

But i noticed that in terms of UI, MSO looks pretty good when compared to LN although i felt the whole screen looks a little cluttered.

The best option for Lotus is to come out with a simple interface yet glossy looking and productive in the Hannover release. That will keep the competitors displaced. Lets see how it goes

11. Mikkel Heisterberg05/03/2006 12:10:39 AM

@Chris - Please stop using the Java is slow argument - at least make it Java in Notes, due to its implementation, is slow. The "Java is slow" argument just doesn't cut it anymore and undermindes the platform... Otherwise - right on the money!

12. Laurette Rynne05/03/2006 12:39:46 AM

I am just about to undertake the migration to Outlook after 11 years using Notes. In my testing of Outlook the number of things I don't like far outweighs the positives, and I'm trying really hard to use an open mind. I am still waiting to blog a similar post until I've been using it for real.

From my initial testing though I can offer the following:

@ Ctrl-M - this has been my preferred way of creating a new memo in Notes, but in Outlook Ctrl-M refreshes your mail. Extremely frustrating. Ctrl-N does work however.

@ speed - we are using Outlook in "Online" mode rather than cached mode and it's painfully slow. I suspect this will be a big thing our users will hate. Admittedly we are moving from a local Domino server to a remote Exchange server, but that's the only option available.

My two biggest concerns from a usability perspective:
- no type-ahead addressing (unless you've sent an email to the person previously)
- no Send & File option. By default all messages are saved to the Sent Items. It's not easy to either a) not save a sent message; or b) file the message in a different folder.

13. David Gilmore05/03/2006 01:56:41 PM

@ Senthil
WRT the Notes UI, skinnable would be the ultimate. Don't know if Eclipse does this, but it's pretty flexable.

14. Sean Burgess05/04/2006 02:26:00 AM

There are certain things about Outlook that I liked, but there are many things that just bothered the crap out of me.

Local Mail - Painfully slow startups once your mail files gets to a real size. No field level replication going on here.
Calendaring - It is impossible to figure out whether or not you have accepted a meeting when looking at the calendar entry. The buttons at the top never change, so you can accept a meeting multiple times. And Free Time lookups are not as nice as you are used to nor can you replicate the info locally. Calendar sharing is not something that comes naturally to Outlook users, so don't be surprised if you don't have it.
Views - I never knew how much I used a view until I didn't have All Docuements.
Search - Do I really need to say anything?
Return Receipts - How can you call it a feature when you require the recipient to click on a link to send the read notification back to you.


15. Senthil Kumar05/04/2006 10:41:15 PM

@David - From Jeff Eisen

The answer is yes -- eventually.

By basing on Eclipse, we are enabling Notes to have signficantly more customizations (basic layout, branding, theming, menu items, etc.) than in previous releases of Notes.

The model is that you get a lot of control by just configuring various parts. You get even more control if you write some Java.

Don't expect us to be 100% there for Hannover. Many things will be skinnable but likely that some parts will not be or will not completely be.

But, Hannover is just the first step on a path -- more coming in Hannover+1, +2, etc. and the various thoughts above about being skinnable and customizable is certainly where we are heading.

Jeff Eisen

Lotus Notes Chief Architect

Infact Mary Beth also has a blog where you can suggest things that users like to have in Hannover release.

16. Richard Schwartz05/05/2006 12:04:25 AM

@Senthil: Have you got a link to Jeff's statement, by any chance?

17. jack dausman05/05/2006 03:02:50 PM

This is going to be an interesting dialogue, as you continue to work in a corporate environment that is oriented around MS Exchange.

I do take exception with your statement on OWA vs DWA. I use both, and much, much, much prefer the flexability and sophistication of DWA. Oh, and DWA works with Firefox on any platform.

18. Richard Schwartz05/05/2006 04:14:51 PM

@Jack: Very good point about Firefox support in DWA. I have had to use IE far more this past month than I had in the entire previous year, perhaps two. And don't get me wrong, I love DWA. It is an excellent mail client, but it seems more different from Notes than OWA is from Outlook. I am finding more and more differences between OWA and Outlook though, so maybe I'll change my position on that with further use.

19. Senthil Kumar05/05/2006 09:13:12 PM

@Rich - I read this in John Vaughan's blog and i guess you both had a great lunch in Lotusphere :)

Link is here

20. Richard Schwartz05/05/2006 10:29:08 PM

@20, Senthil: Thanks, for the link; and yes we did!

21. Kevin Schofield05/07/2006 02:19:46 PM

Richard: I also hate the whole thing that you mentioned about scheduling a meeting vs. appointment. I think they got the default wrong.

Fortunately, the toolbar is drag-n-drop customizable. I just added the "new meeting request" button to the toolbar, and then ignore the other one. Nice and speedy.

22. Gerco Wolfswinkel05/08/2006 04:50:34 AM

On OWA: I recently worked at a customer that has mail on Exchange 2003, but apps on Domino. One of the technical guys asked the exchange admin if it was possible to customize the OWA user interface? The answer: yes, but not on a per user basis!

In DWA you can create your own personal welcome page, but apparently this is not possible in OWA.

23. chiz02/19/2009 04:23:32 AM

Thanks for this post. A great plugin/add-on for Outlook that I found 3 weeks ago is <a href="">Outlook Track-It</a>. It basically downloaded a toolbar for outlook, where you can select options to flag your emails and remind you to follow up. It's amazing for followup/GTD functionality in general.

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