Feb 7, 2006

Lotus Notes and HTML Email: Annoying As Ever

Anybody that has any experience coding HTML email knows what a pain Lotus Notes can be. But since so many large corporations use Lotus Notes, you really can’t ignore it.

We were just recently working on some generic HTML Email Newsletter templates to give away on our MailChimp site. It’s been a while since we’ve actually created brand new email templates (once you build and test a set that "just works," you hardly ever change things up). During testing, we were quickly reminded about the challenges of working with Lotus. Click the link below for a list of all the new things we discovered (again) that won’t work in Lotus…

So we build these 3 HTML email templates, and we keep them fairly simple. We check them with our quick email application checklist, and they work perfectly in everything. Except Lotus. In particular, the 2-column layout template had some serious issues. Here’s what we saw, and how we worked around each issue…

  • COLSPANS. We’ve always preached to keep your tables simple, and not use too many colspans. We got kind of spoiled over the years, because Outlook 2003 and all the browser-based email applications can handle complex and embedded tables pretty decently these days. So we didn’t think colspans mattered anymore. Well, they do in Lotus. If you check out this layout, you’ll see that there’s some "unsubscribe" text across the top. That used to be in a table cell, with colspan set to 2. Nope, won’t work. Blew out the table in Lotus like you wouldn’t believe. We had to separate the header, body, and footer into 3 different tables to eliminate colspans as much as possible.
  • CENTER ALIGNMENT. Using <TABLE ALIGN="CENTER"> worked great in Lotus Notes 6.5.3. But not at all in Lotus Notes 6.5.4. Greeeeeeaaaat. Sticking <CENTER> tags around the tables didn’t work in 6.5.4 either. So we had to rig things so they’d look ok as left-aligned in 6.5.4.
  • BAD MATH. This one’s my fault, but I had specified incorrect widths for one of my table cells, and Lotus Notes took it very literally, while every single other email application out there corrected for my mistake. My fault, I know. Why does math have to be so exact?

If you don’t have Lotus Notes installed on your machine, and you send lots of HTML email, you should probably go to the IBM website and download a trial of Notes. It’s free, and it’s definitely worth checking your email templates in (especially if you have lots of "at-work" recipients at big companies).

And here’s an article we posted with all the different email applications we like to test on, and we included a handy little checklist you can download for testing.