Lotus Notes 8: Mashing up your data

Recently while browsing 43 Folders, I noticed an advertisement for Lotus Notes 8. Having worked with Lotus Notes at work (is there anyone who actually uses this software for fun?) I was curious what might be new with this software. I clicked on the link, and kept clicking on it in frustration, as nothing seemed to happen. Finally, I searched on Google for Lotus Notes 8, and found IBM's site. I'm here now to let you know what's new with Lotus Notes 8.

Lotus Notes, for those of you not blessed to work with this software for your jobs, is on the surface a mail and calendaring application. But, it's much more than that. Lotus Notes is a collaboration tool, allowing departments to create shared workspaces, and electronic forms. The collaboration part is quite good, but the interface is legendarily awful. Intuition is not your friend, and things that "just work" under some mail clients (threading, viewing headers, address books) are there, but at the price of elegance.

So, being the productivity geek I am, I thought I'd take a look at the new Lotus Notes 8. Or, at least it was new. In May, 2007. Much like the aging actors who aren't in the public eye getting constantly told "I thought you were dead", Lotus Notes 8 came out to a blistering fanfare of absolute silence. At least, that's how much I heard about the new release. Apparently Computerworld picked up on a beta version it, but I think both readers gave up on the article after the fifteenth advertisement popped up.

The new features of Lotus Notes read like a reverse Law of Software Envelopment. The law, as quoted by jwz is:

**Law of Software Envelopment:**

-- ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- *\`\`Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.''* -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Lotus Notes has expanded to include a full office suite in the package. That's right, you can now use your word processor, spreadsheet application, and presentation manager all in the same straightjacketly-snug interface you've used for mail. I can't begin to tell you how comforting this is. (check it out)

Have you ever had this happen to you: You've used a word that at one point meant something cool, but then one person used it a different way, and that word no longer was cool anymore? For me, reading that IBM's "Line of Business" can now be turned into composite applications (whatever that means) and having them use the term "mashup" did it for me. I know many people have already deemed mashup to be an uncool word, but this was the tipping point for me.

I could go on about the improvements to the email client and the calendaring application, as well as the contacts application, but honestly I think they speak for themselves. View the demo if you want. Heck, view it two times back-to-back; it's just that good.

What's the old saying for Emacs? ‘Emacs is a nice operating system. The only thing it lacks is a good editor.’ I think that's more than appropriate for Lotus Notes now. Lotus Notes 8 looks like another sad attempt to keep people from jumping ship to other collaboration tools. Unfortunately, Lotus Notes is still doomed with a mail client and a calendaring application that still look like stitched together. Incorporating an office suite in the collaboration application proper does nothing to improve this image, and only exacerbates the ugly interface syndrome so prevalent in this application. There's something endemic in the culture of this application that keeps it from really looking and working well, and it keeps poking itself through release after ugly release. Too bad, as the collaboration piece, when it works, really works well.