Do Wednesday mornings get much better?

Do I give Lotus Notes enough love? Does it deserve any? To be honest, it doesn’t get any at all from me. In fact, most of the time I hate it with a passion bordering on clinical insanity.

Occasionally, though, there’s a little ray of metaphorical sunshine.

Holy Crepuscularity, Batman!

I’ve posted before on the joy of the tooltip that is perfectly informative and yet utterly useless at the same time.

It’s seemed as if Lotus (or IBM) have a standard that requires icons to have a tooltip, but the designers leave it to the developers to figure out what text should be displayed in the tooltips themselves. (Actually, they probably don’t call them “tooltips” at all, what with the snazzy comic-book voice-bubble shape and everything). If the developers are nine-to-five cubicle drones then they’re going to exercise minimum levels of creative thought and frankly, the feeble result is less than surprising.

The other day I spotted two more closely-related gems, again offering a beautifully terse description of what they are, when I was rather hoping to discover what they mean. Cue vocal expressions of Joy.

Here’s the first:

It’s clearly a “Collapsed Twistie Icon” and I’m glad they were able to make it so clear. What it signifies is less transparent, neither does my mouse pointer change shape to give me any clue as to whether or not something might happen should I be brave enough to click on it. Some icons, such as the “Message replied to Icon”, for example, do nothing, mutely displaying their feebly-composed tooltip (how about “you replied to this message” as a more useful alternative, perhaps wirh a click taking you to the reply?)

I clicked. Turns out this indicates that there’s a threaded “conversation” to be displayed and my action causes the thread to be expanded. What do you think the icon changes to?


What Time Is It? Bah.

It’s a long time since I last wrote about Lotus Notes and the unlimited joy that is its, er, idiosyncratic interface, not least since IBM’s decision1 to host the client in Eclipse.

Too long, really – it’s such a rich source of oddness. For example, today I recevied an invitation to join some colleagues (located in Frankfurt) in a video conference. The heading in the message informed me that:


Which seemed a little odd, since a quick phone call earlier had seen some time on Wednesday morning identified as the preferred time. No matter, I opened the message to accept the invitation (it’s not clear why I couldn’t do that from the inbox/preview, but I can’t). Clicking “Accept” put the meeting into my calendar:


Whoops! Well, it was more in keeping with what I expected. To settle myself, I went for a coffee (you can tell Christmas is coming, btw: Starbucks are using the Red Cups). When I got back, Notes had been busy – the Inbox message now had this:


OK, it’s now accurate, but I’m not sure how I feel about a message being modified in any way after I’ve opened and read it.

Of course, we’re 0.5 of a release behind the current version, so maybe stuff like this has been fixed by now.




The BBC reports that, in an Australian Science magazine article, an Australian psychology expert “who has been studying emotions has found being grumpy makes us think more clearly”.


To which I can only say “hmph”.


1 I’d love to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting.


Programming for (programmer) convenience

Here’s another piece of idiocy from Lotus Notes. I should say that I found this in version 6.5 and in the version that has now been inflicted on me, 8.0.1, it has been fixed. But I won’t let that stop me, it’s still a marvellous example of an entire development team failing to make that one last simple connection:

Could you just for once actually do it, could you?

Could you just for once actually do it, could you?

Have you spotted the idiocy? Notes has recognised that I have the post (sort of) open in the Preview Pane (much as in Outlook) and it doesn’t feel that it can delete it, perhaps because it might leave a decision about what to do with the empty space. So it closes the preview and invites us to try the delete again. Duh.

Just in case anyone’s struggling, I’ll spell it out: the program tells us it will do something we may not have known it could do (automatically close the Preview Pane) and then tells us to manually repeat an action that we know it definitely can do: delete a post. It says “document”, which might offer a clue, but I’m a user here – these are just emails as far as I’m concerned.

In the time it took to code the “problem” identification and the explanatory dialog, the developer could have just deleted the damn post.

Software like this does wonders for my self-esteem, I tell you.

A Lot From A Little

As may well become apparent over time, I’m not too enthusiastic about Lotus Notes. It’s fair to say that, had I remembered that my current employer is a corporate Notes user, I would have tried to negotiate a higher salary by way of compensation.

Be that as it may, for a developer Notes is a glorious nugget-laden river of blogging opportunities. The client software on my work PC was recently upgraded to version 8.0.1, which seems pretty current. I think, therefore, that it’s fair game.

Let’s look at one aspect that I noticed and delve a bit. In a mail folder, there are columns, as you would expect, some of which use small graphics to provide information. It’s a common UI metaphor. These are the column headings I see:

Lotus Notes message list headers

Lotus Notes message list headers

Nothing surprising there, I think we’d all agree. Look at the paperclip toward the right side. What would you expect it to denote? If you muttered “attachment” then award yourself a small non-monetary prize.

A slightly harder question, now: what would you expect to see when a message has an attachment? A paperclip? Another prize. Moving swiftly on, and for the hat-trick, what do you expect to see if you hover your mouse pointer over such a paperclip icon? Something like “1 attachment(s)” or “114K attachment enclosed” or some such? Whoops, hit the bar.

What you get is this:

Perfectly accurate and perfectly useless


…which, I trust we can all agree, is exactly what it is. Perfectly accurate and utterly useless.

What can we glean, in a sort of software-archaeological sense, from this? I’m thinking we can make the following predictions, in vaguely ascending order of likelihood:

  1. Within the Notes team at IBM there’s a standard that says non-textual elements should have tool-tips (or whatever the Eclipse/Java name for such things is).
  2. If there was a formal specification for this element of the program, it was incomplete. Or worse, the spec’s author thought “Paperclip Icon” was appropriate and nobody thought to question it.
  3. QA within Notes is non-existent or pitifully understaffed.
  4. The Notes development team is woefully inexperienced and/or has very little interest in delivering a quality product, choosing instead to ship a (bad) copy of Outlook (which has its own flaws, let’s not deny it) to institutions who have yet to acquire the corporate gumption to obliterate it.
  5. The Notes team don’t eat their own dogfood, for email at least. Let’s face it, who would?

Which is quite a lot for one funny little tooltip.