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Common Lotus Notes Problems - and A Few Solutions

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.


Lotus Notes has been voted among the top 10 hated software applications by multiple surveys. It was rated the fourth worst in a 2012 Tech Radar survey.

In that same year, Lotus Notes, a company purchased for 3.5 billion dollars in 1995 earned about a billion dollars in revenue. Lotus Notes in entrenched with many companies that don’t have the money to migrate or don’t want to pay more for a separate email service in addition to their payments to IBM for ERP software.

Despite its large market share, Lotus Notes has a reputation for problems. Lotus Notes tried to solve the problem by renaming itself to IBM Notes. (This is a standard solution for IBM, who renamed the Lotusphere 2013 conference to Connect2013.) Instead, let’s look at some of the more common Lotus Notes problems and a few solutions for them.

Lotus Notes was developed in the era of networked corporate PCs, prior to the cloud, SaaS or much use of the internet.

Lotus Notes was developed in the era of networked corporate PCs, prior to the cloud, SaaS or much use of the internet.

A Proprietary Tool in a Standards Driven World

Lotus Notes is a proprietary software solution in a world dominated by standards based software applications. Many user problems come from trying to copy their standard habits to Lotus Notes, which only creates confusion. Lotus Notes doesn’t refresh when you hit F5 like most other software – you have to hit the refresh button.

Hitting F5 locks up Lotus Notes, which you can only unlock by re-entering your password. Using control-enter won’t send an email as would work with Outlook and web mail applications. Instead, you have to use Alt-1. And the Insert key toggles messages between read and unread.

Why does Lotus Notes have its own tricks and controls? Lotus Notes doesn’t always run off of Windows standard shortcuts. In part, this is because Lotus Notes was developed independently of the Microsoft OS, and IBM has cared as little about Microsoft’s shortcuts as standard internet ones. To make matters worse, Lotus Notes requires expensive specialists to customize the application.

Lotus Notes Instability

Lotus Notes is rather unstable. It also has a tendency to lock up, leading to the development of the KillNotes application. Recovering from a system crash may require the surgical deletion of cache NDK or the bookmarks.nsf file.

Post crash messages in Lotus Notes that were opened when the application crashed revert back to an unopened state. Opened messages revert to their previously saved location and state.

Limited Lotus Notes Integration with Other Tools

Lotus Notes doesn’t handle meeting invites from Microsoft Outlook. Users often get an error “You cannot process this notice because this meeting is not in your mailfile or has not been accepted”. A work around is creating your own Lotus Notes meeting with the information from the Microsoft meeting invite so that the time is blocked out on your calendar and the information is saved locally to your machine.

You can view your Google Calendar through Lotus Notes, though verification must be enabled. However, viewing webmail through Lotus Notes is difficult if not impossible. Lotus Notes has PIP3 and IMAP email interfaces but typically doesn’t play well with Internet mail clients.

Lotus Notes does not play nicely with Microsoft tools.

Lotus Notes does not play nicely with Microsoft tools.

Limited Search Capability in Lotus Notes

Lotus notes don’t give you the ability to create complex queries of messages. Quick filtering is limited to single attributes like the person the message is from and the subject line. When you filter by a subject line, you can’t exclude additional criteria.

The “All Mail” option only searches the currently selected archive or mail folder.

When you want to do an advanced search with more search criteria, click on the “More” button on the Search bar. On the Basic preference panel, select the “Use Notes (not Web) query syntax in the view search bar”. It is buried in the Advanced Options section of your Notes Preferences, and unfortunately, it is hard to find and not well advertised.

Lotus Notes won’t let you save the results of a complex query search and save it to a virtual folder.

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Lotus Notes only indexes emails upon command. If you index the messages and do a search, a new message meeting the search criteria won’t show up until after you clear the results and search again.

You can have an archive of your emails to save them somewhere that they don’t get deleted by regular sweeps. However, you cannot search across multiple archives, just one at a time.

Handling Messages in Lotus Notes

Lotus Notes lacks a “come back later” option for received messages. Unread messages remain in Lotus Notes in the order they were received. Users must be careful not to continue working on the latest received messages neglect messages received earlier.

There are complaints that you can’t reply to a message you’ve put in the Lotus Notes trash bin before it disappears in two days. However, you can reply to it without restoring it. Simply select “Create” and “Reply” or “Create” and “Reply with History”.

When you select several messages, Lotus Notes doesn’t give you the total number of highlighted messages. This is more of an inconvenience than a serious problem.

Lotus Notes Mail Filtering Rules

Mail filtering rules tend to start to malfunction after a fifth rule is added. You cannot just edit the mail filtering rule. If you have more than one action according to your mail rules and you find it necessary to change one of the rules, you have to delete that item. Then re-add it.

Lotus Notes Message Threads

Lotus Notes shifts message threads around with indentation and keeps the headers. The hard part is cutting and pasting message threads, where Lotus Notes makes it hard to cut out part of a thread and forward only that section. Lotus Notes won’t let you manage messages individually through a virtual ghost.

Problems with Lotus Notes Meetings

Lotus Notes meetings sent to people without Lotus Notes tend to look bad. Lotus Notes has poor integration with meeting room invitations even generated within its own application. It doesn’t always properly process meeting room invitations, permitting several people to book the same room.

When you schedule a multi-hour meeting in Lotus Notes but only require a particular person for an hour of that time, Lotus Notes will block out that whole multiple hour block of time for the person though they are only needed for a portion of it.

When you delete a meeting invitation, it doesn’t always allow you to delete the files attached to the meeting invitation. This is annoying when it takes up space in your inbox and Lotus Notes warns you to reduce your mailbox size. Even deleting the attachment itself doesn’t always mean that Lotus Notes recognizes that the object’s file size is smaller.

Task Management Problems in Lotus Notes

Deleting recurring tasks is hazardous, since failing to go back to the original task and instead selecting to delete all of the tasks results in an error and a recurring task that cannot be deleted from Lotus Notes.

Updating Mail Templates in Lotus Notes

Mail template updates can be painful. Lotus Notes cannot update the user’s Mail template for an individual folder within an archive. Users must apply the update from the Lotus Notes Workspace. This creates problems if users only update a few archives and folders and miss one.

If a mail template is applied to the user’s active mail folder but not immediately propagated to the archive, users risk a replication or save conflict error for all messages in the archive.

Lotus Notes Backups

Lotus Note backups are slow. This is partially due to its segmented file structure, not necessarily large database size. And due to its file structure, users of backup software like Connected must be careful to deliberately include the Lotus Notes mail file in their backup.

Lotus Notes Color Coding Limitations

Lotus Notes doesn’t have a simple way to handle color coding. You can make meetings in Lotus Notes a specific color, but you don’t have the option to color code meetings for different groups their own colors.

You can color code messages such as by sender by selecting “Preferences”, “Mail”, select the Mail tab, and select “Sender Colors”.

Spell Checker

Lotus Notes has a spell checker. If it finds a word it considers misspelled in the subject line and is told to ignore it, it often flags it again in the message body. This is more of an annoyance than a serious problem. A long term solution is to add commonly flagged terms to Lotus Notes’ spell checker dictionary.

Why Do People Still Use Lotus Notes Despite All Its Problems?

Given all of these problems with Lotus Notes, why do they still purchase and install it? First and foremost, IBM is one of the large enterprise software solution providers. IBM software is standard for data management, data analysis, purchasing, human resources and content management. If you’ve already bought most of your ERP software from IBM, why not install their email solution, too? The convenience of Crystal Reports may be worth the hassle of Lotus Notes.

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