Latest Domino release primed for intranets

With the latest release of Notes and Domino its companion World Wide Web server platform Lotus Development Corp. has turned this once-proprietary groupware application into a viable platform for standards-based intranet solutions.

Lotus' impressive Notes groupware was in danger of being made unnecessary by the burgeoning market for open intranets based on standard Web browsers. The company has added to Domino 4.6 support for standard Internet mail clients Web browsers and news readers in addition to Lotus' own Notes clients. These additions make Domino much more competitive against open intranet platforms such as Netscape Communications Corp.'s SuiteSpot.

Now Domino users can have their proprietary cake and eat open systems too - to a degree. The improvements in Release 4.6 now available on the General Services Administration's schedule make Domino a solid option if you're looking for a standards-based intranet server.

However Domino continues to fall short as a high-end application server for large distributed applications or as a Web server outside the firewall. I evaluated Domino 4.6 and Notes Designer for Domino which is companion software for creating applications for Domino and found both of them to be very good.

I was struck by the product's much-improved initial configuration options. With previous versions administrators had to perform extra steps to enable advanced options such as the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol mail connector and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)-rendering engine and to enable the product to load as a service on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT Server. Domino 4.6 automates the configuration of these and other features with a four-step guided template that gives default suggestions for many configuration options.

I also was impressed with the improved integration with Windows NT Server's User Manager for Domains application. Now users can synchronize new accounts created in Domino with Windows NT's domain directory migrate Windows NT groups and assign a default Windows NT group for new user accounts created in Domino.

Domino 4.6 now supports Internet Mail Access Protocol 4 (IMAP4) Lightweight Directory Access Protocol 4 2.0 Secure Socket Layer v3.0 and Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) as well as x.509 v.3 certificates. Support for HTTP 1.1 also means better performance for Web browser-based clients accessing Domino databases.

Support for these standards worked fairly well. IMAP4 is particularly nice if you want to give users access to their Notes e-mail using Internet mail clients such as Netscape's Communicator.

The NNTP support let me create an incoming news feed from an NNTP server on the Net so that I could host a local copy of Internet news groups while filtering out any objectionable news groups. I also was able to create Domino discussion databases that allow NNTP clients to participate in discussions.

However because NNTP relies on a specific format for compatibility you will not be able to provide NNTP support for just any Domino database. Lotus does provide discussion database templates in the product that let you quickly create a new NNTP discussion.

Domino 4.6 also includes a Java Virtual Machine that runs on the server which means Domino can now support server-side agents and back-end classes written in Java. Lotus also uses Java to provide a remote administration console. This allows administrators to monitor server performance and perform server management from Web browsers that support Java. I though this tool was pretty slick. However I ran into problems with Netscape Communicator 4.03 and Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) 4.0. Based on my tests I do not think this feature is reliable yet.

You'll need at least 64M of RAM if you want to load all the additional protocol support. You will still need to add memory for better performance as the number of users-per-server you support climbs.

On Windows 95 and Windows NT clients Lotus now supports the use of Microsoft's IE within Lotus' Web Navigator. Web Navigator hosts IE as an ActiveX control enabling better ongoing support for Internet technologies such as ActiveX Java applets and JScript.

For a list of contracts carrying Lotus Notes see www.fcw.com.

-- Symoens is a senior analyst focusing on enterprise platform and services products at the InfoWorld Test Center in San Mateo Calif. Dan Carney a free-lance writer based in Herndon Va. also contributed to this review.

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