Monday, July 04, 2005

Secret Agent? ... Software Sucks!

I just came across yet another non-specific message in Lotus Notes. Maybe if I continue my mini-crusade and mention enough of them it'll shame IBM into doing something about it.

By the way, it's not just Lotus Notes that's bugging me -- in fact, Notes is one of my very favorite bits of software! So to be fair to IBM Lotus Software I'll add some posts about other stupid designs/implementations and will put all software developers under notice (including myself).

The specified agent does not exist.

Today's little gem is "The specified agent does not exist" that appeared out of the blue when I was testing a Web app.

Well now, Mr Notes, why on earth could you not find this "specified agent"? You obviously knew its name, so why not share it with us? That way, we should know just where to start looking for this secret agent, and more rapidly fix the app!

In this case, there was no major problem but merely a misspelling of the agent's name. It was entered in the code stream as: NotesTrackerWebQueryOpen

It should have been entered as: (NotesTrackerWebQueryOpen)

So why didn't the error message come out something like this ...
The specified agent does not exist:

Even better, as something like the following (so that we know at once which of all the databases on the server the problem relates to):
An agent with the following name does not exist in database travelrequests.nsf: NotesTrackerWebQueryOpen

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It's not just Lotus Notes that has some really awful functionality and usability shortcomings. To a greater or lesser extent, ALL software products have bugs, usability issues, points of silliness and quirkiness. It's up to the product developer to fix bugs and enhance usability with each new release, not just to pile on new features while leaving the old issues unresolved.

There are books (even series of books) and Web sites dedicated to pointing out product weaknesses, inconsistencies and absurdities. The better of them adopt a positive attitude by giving workarounds and usage tips. One of these is the classic Windows Annoyances.

The Lotus Notes Sucks site tends to give the impression that Notes is quite bad, which simply is not the case! But Notes certainly could do with a careful clean-up/workover in some ways (such as silly/misleading error messages). There are some postings by Dennis Howlett and Damien Katz along these lines, with comments adding a broad range of opinions about the matter.

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