Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My name is Erin and...I am a notes geek

for the past... eek... 10 years, I've been a Lotus Notes programmer. Now, with all the respect and adulation that this career choice brings me (for those that don't know... it's NONE), I have something to say and I'm sure you're all gonna want to hear it.

Yes. Really.

Today I read a blog entry from the lead product designer for Hannover (Lotus Notes 8). Basically they want to get rid of an old Notes feature because it's hard to implement in the new version. The suggestion that this feature be removed has been met with shouts of dismay, some could even be described as screams of pain. Even the odd threat to drop the Lotus Notes platform and move to (gasp!) Microsoft.

What kind of feature could cause this much turmoil? This much heartache? What could make loyal Notes developers and users threaten to lay down their weapons and march to the other side of the long battle?

Right Double Click. Ok... let's hear it... the collective "what the hell is right double click?"

In Lotus Notes - a long, long time ago (v2?) - wise developers decided that a right double click should close the window you have open. It doesn't close notes, but it will close any window open in the tabbed interface. And the Lotii (ok, back then it woulda been Iris devotees) bowed down and offered up virginal sacrifices to these sage developers. Well, ok, that's just made up, although I'm sure whoever came up with the idea really hoped for the virginal sacrifices. Or maybe just a future release code-named after him (or her).

As the years passed, this feature went from default setting to a preference you have to go dig up and set when you start a fresh Notes install. New users were never indoctrinated into the cult of the right double click. I'm well aware of that as whenever I have to connect to client computers, it takes me a couple of right double click attempts before I realize that the preference has not been set. I then bite my tongue and narrowly avoid going and setting the preference.

Many will argue that right-double-click closing a window is not standard behaviour. In fact, no other application supports this pretty little feature. There are tools you can download that will allow you to implement the functionality for other applications, and firefox supports a middle click to close tabs - which supports the argument for a mouse shortcut for this purpose. I'd like to also add that there is no standard right-double-click behaviour so it isn't like a right-double-click is suddenly formatting someone's hard drive when they least expect it.

What I don't understand is how something becomes a standard. I can agree that in the 15 years that Notes has existed, right double click has not become a standard. It can be argued that 15 years is plenty of time to gain a following and become standardized. The problem? It's Lotus Notes. And while it holds approximately 42% of market share (the remaining 58% held primarily by Outlook and Novell), it is a corporate solution. It isn't something that Joe is going to use at home to read his mail. So, like SAP, Peoplesoft, and Oracle databases, it's something that stays at the office.

With the feature turned off in post R4 versions, many new users didn't know about this funky little feature. It became a source for "Notes Tips and Tricks" documentation or end user training sessions. Most of the user community remained unaware of the capability unless some geek walked by determined to change the way the world closes windows.

Myself? I use it religiously. Sure, ESC works and apparently there are other shortcut keys to close the window, but for me a right-double-click is second nature. AND if I happen to have something else that considers itself the active window (an MSN chat window for example), a right double click doesn't affect it at all, while ESC closes the window. I forget that it's a feature that has to be enabled, so in a fresh install, it takes me a moment of disbelief when RDC does nothing. Then off I go to make my world a happy place again.

A quick conversation with my coworkers shows that they, too, use the feature extensively and would miss it if it went away. These are the people who have been notes users, developers, and champions for years. They're the ones who stuck around and suffered the slings and arrows of clients who believe Microsoft is the only way and anything else is pure trash. These are the people who have kept Lotus Notes steady at 42% market share.

I understand that in rewriting the app from the ground up (based on the Eclipse framework), some things are going to be different. And it isn't like they're talking about removing Access levels for databases or the ability to code in HTML, Java, Javascript in addition to proprietary Notes languages. They aren't removing basic email functionality or CSS.

But they are removing a simple little feature that may not be heavily implemented, but for those who have implemented it, it's a heavily used feature. They are making a big mistake by ignoring the user experience. Sure, using Ctrl-V to paste from the clipboard can be done with windows menus, but removing that keyboard shortcut would result in screams of pain from those who use it regularly. Or removing Ctrl-B to change your font to bold. These are things your users are accustomed to. And these are the little things that keep them using your product.

If RDC goes away, I won't walk away from Notes. I likely won't have a choice as my company is currently evaluating Lotus Notes' role in our organization. The decision is out of my hands, and the right double click functionality obviously isn't even on the radar for the evaluation. Yet, I wonder what else will be deemed unimportant because it poses a design or a coding problem.


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