Notes and Domino

Eating the opposition's dogfood

Three months ago I switched my company hosting agreement from Domino hosting company E-Apps to a UK based generic hosting company called Fasthosts. The reasons are too boring to go into, cost and reliability being the main factors. The new lot don't use Domino so I had to switch away from using Notes mail. A bit of a wrench but not the end of the world. When I logged into the admin application on the website for the first time I noticed that part of the new package was an Exchange 2003 mailbox. Great I thought, over the years I have been spouting the line that Notes was a great mail client without ever having actually used Outlook / Exchange (my employers have always been rather enlightened). The idea was that I would use Outlook and get to know the opposition. Now let me say from the outset I have tried, I really have, to be as objective as possible. Obviously things were going to be a bit painful at first because I know Notes so well and there are all sorts of habits which I would need to break. But after 3 months of trying I have finally given up, Outlook is just not for me and I am genuinely confused as to why anyone would actively choose to use it over the Notes client.

Now obviously I am not an expert in Outlook so there may well be solutions to my problems but there was nothing obvious to me...

Speed. Starting Outlook when I am online takes an age, it seems that the Outlook client has to negotiate with the Exchange server for quite a while before I am prompted to log in, then after logging in and before I can do anything all of my new mail is downloaded. And people complain that the Notes client isn't multi-threaded enough.

Security. The point about logging in when online is an important one for me, the point being that I am not prompted to log in when I start Outlook offline but I am still able to access all of the locally cached mail. So if someone stole my laptop they would have access to all of my mail with no security.

Stability. I don't know whether I am just unlucky but Outlook would crash on me several times a week, normally when waking my laptop from standby. There didn't seem to be a common factor other than that but it would just hang before I gave in and killed it. Now in the past Notes was not at all stable but in the last couple of releases (6 and 7) it has gotten orders of magnitude better. I can't remember the last time I saw a RSOD.

Spam. My understanding is that Outlook 2003 is a lot better than previous versions but for the inexperienced user it would be very very easy to get caught with a dodgy file attachment or spam email. But that isn't my biggest concern, more worrying is the spam filtering. The default filter is, in a word, rubbish. After two weeks of use it was missing 50% of the spam that I get. So I tried out Cloudmark (a third party add-in) which improved things quite dramatically. Well done guys.

Configurability. The first thing I do when I get a new Notes mail account is change the Inbox folder to show me mails which have a read receipt on. (One of my pet hates is people wanting to know when I read a mail that they sent me, so I always remove the flag so that they don't know). A simple question - how do I do that in Outlook? to be fair this is a problem for all mail clients other than Notes as far as I am aware.

Usability. This is probably the biggest subjective issue and is more based around the way that I use software than anything else. But I just couldn't get used to Outlook. from the way that sorting works by grouping things into categories instead of straight lists to the way that searching doesn't seem to return the mail I am expecting. And then the biggie - why does Outlook Web Access only work in IE. I don't use IE for anything else these days and yet I have to use it or I am reduced to the appallingly poor non-IE web mail in Firefox

The most obvious comment for the objective reader is that I am biased towards Notes, this is undoubtedly true. However let me say that if I were asked to pick a pure email client with no other considerations at all, in my experience the Mail.app client on the Mac is the best I have ever used with Thunderbird a close second. Indeed it is Thunderbird which I have now switched to even though I could have used Notes as a POP3 client. There is no point in using Notes (IMHO) unless your mailfile is on a Domino server, it's the combination of the two which makes such a strong contender. I'm also not a raving anti-Microsoftie - I use Windows almost exclusively, MS Office not Open Office and MSN not any of the other competitors.

I would be very interested to hear from Outlook advocates to see what I am missing - there must be something which makes people get so "religious" about their choice of Outlook as email client.