Lotus Notes and Domino 6 excel

With the advent of peer-to-peer technologies offering persistent messaging and collaboration capabilities, many industry pundits are predicting the demise of e-mail for day-to-day communication.

However, peer-to-peer technologies have yet to prove themselves as mature, reliable and secure tools that are dependable for mission-critical communication and collaboration.

It has been some time since IBM Corp.'s Lotus division released a new version of their Notes and Domino messaging and collaboration tools. But the newest release of this suite — Lotus Notes and Domino 6 — has proven to be well worth the wait.

The tools demonstrate that emerging peer-to-peer technologies will likely not sway users from relying on e-mail. Instead, e-mail and collaboration platforms will likely continue to gain peer-to-peer capabilities.

Current users of Notes and Domino will definitely want to upgrade to this release, while agencies that have adopted other messaging and collaboration platforms should consider this release as a potential way to reduce costs and increase productivity, security and workflow automation.

Lotus Notes 6

The most visible changes are in the Notes client interface. In particular, the Welcome Page has finally become the personal communications and collaboration portal that it was meant to be. In previous releases, I used to skip the Welcome Page because I found it confining.

With Version 6, however, the Welcome Page is easy to set up and change using the included tools. Administrators can also define and control the Welcome Page to ensure uniform views across the agency. Users can go to the Welcome Page to launch applications such as Sametime for instant messaging, to access content stored in the file system or to perform tasks such as creating e-mail messages and viewing e-mail reminders without having to open databases first.

Wizards in this release make it easy to convert Qualcomm Inc. Eudora mail and address book entries to Lotus Notes. The wizards also support migration from Microsoft Corp. Outlook, which is useful for agencies that want to migrate to a more secure e-mail client. I also found it very easy to connect to various newsgroups with the included Notes tools.

Bookmarking is also improved in Notes 6. Users can bookmark favorite Web sites, desktop applications and data files on the file system. Lotus Notes now supports drag-and-drop bookmarking as well.

Another simple enhancement will save users time: Notes 6 lets you add senders of e-mail to your address book in much the same way that other e-mail clients do. This is a welcome change from having to add a new card to the address database.

Users can also sort incoming messages by color. For example, I set high- priority messages to green while I flagged any messages from a manager's e-mail account with red. These visual cues can help staffers focus on the more important items first.

Another great new feature is the ability to access a Notes account from several computers rather than being constrained to just one. If an agency uses flexible working arrangements and mobile cubicle setups, this feature will save time and administrative effort. Once the administrator defines a person as a "roaming user," a directory is set up for him or her on the Domino server. The user can then log on at any workstation that has access to the Domino server and access his or her mail, calendar and more.

Lotus Notes also provides useful support for document creation, modification and storage. Agency staffers can migrate Microsoft Office documents to a Notes document library quickly and easily. In addition, users can now create Microsoft Office documents within Notes. This saves users time by not requiring them to launch additional applications.

The calendar and schedule functions in Notes are as robust as ever. For example, the embedded scheduler can suggest meeting times that will accommodate all the attendees' schedules. In the calendar and schedule area, I found Notes to be far ahead of its rivals.

Notes 6 supports Microsoft Windows platforms, including Windows 95/98, Windows NT, 2000 and XP. In addition, the Notes client is available for Apple Computer Inc. Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X. The only downside we see is that Notes 6 still does not support a Linux-based Notes client. With the strong growth of the Linux desktop, I'd like to see the inclusion of Linux as a supported Notes platform.

iNotes Web Access

Agencies that do run Linux desktops can access Domino-hosted communication and collaboration via the iNotes Web Access client, which supports Microsoft Explorer on Windows systems and Netscape Communications Corp. Navigator on Windows or Linux systems. The Mozilla Organization's Mozilla browser can also be used to access Domino-based user accounts.

The browser interface offered by iNotes Web Access features a tabbed layout for easy access. Creating, sending and receiving e-mail is very easy to do in the browser. Users can also set their out-of-office agent using the browser interface, as well as access their calendar and schedule meetings.

Staffers can drag and drop e-mail attachments from received e-mail messages and to messages they are preparing to send. Moreover, a Gantt chart view of to-do items has been added. The iNotes Web Access browser-based client will prove useful for agencies that are dependent on alternative desktops, such as Linux.

Lotus Domino 6 Server

A number of useful additions and improvements in this release of the Domino server make it more cost-effective to operate and maintain. Domino supports the IBM zSeries and iSeries platforms as well as IBM AIX, Sun Microsystems Inc. Solaris, Linux and Windows NT and 2000. I tried several upgrades as well as fresh installs of Domino 6 and had no trouble setting up things.

Administrators can now set up policy-based management that can control user registration, initial settings, archive settings and desktop preferences. Using the Smart Update feature, server managers can enable automated, silent upgrades of Notes clients.

Overall server performance has improved in this release, thanks to enhancements in network compression and replication activities. It also is easier to set up and maintain Domino clusters with this release.

Domino's console has also been improved in this release, offering administrators color-coded event displays and more in-depth monitoring and statistical tools. A Sun Java-based remote-access administration client is also included and provides a wealth of information. This client will be useful for administrators who need to manage multiple servers.

Agencies that might be sharing server resources will find that Domino 6 can easily support multiple organizations on a single server. By configuring the included Lightweight Directory Access Protocol Access Control List support, a Domino administrator can ensure that multiple agencies can share server resources while securing sensitive data.

Also included in the bevy of changes and updates is support for Microsoft's Active Directory, internationalization enhancements, improvements in mobile device access, single sign-on capabilities and improved encryption methods.

Development and Integration

Developers working with Domino 6 will find continued enhancements in the LotusScript Language, such as the ability to call Java classes and perform remote debugging operations. Support for Sun Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition and Extensible Markup Language are included, allowing developers a way to embed communication and collaboration into a wider array of agency applications.

One of the most impressive elements of this latest Notes and Domino suite release is the Lotus Enterprise Integrator for Domino 6, which enables real-time access and modification of data stored in enterprise databases and applications. The Enterprise Integrator enables the user to set up virtual documents and attachments in Domino and Notes, while the data or applications that house the data and attachments are actually outside of Domino and Notes. The integrator also includes support for virtual agents that enable developers to build powerful applications using existing Domino workflow capabilities.

The only downside to the Enterprise Integrator is that it is limited to AIX, Solaris and Windows NT and 2000.

Take it for a Test Drive

There is a lot to like in this release of Notes and Domino 6. Good cost reductions can be achieved via its productivity enhancements and administration improvements. Agencies may also want to examine new releases of Sametime for internal instant messaging and QuickPlace for collaboration. Lotus developers are already at work on the next release of Notes and Domino, which promises tighter integration and greater Web services capabilities. Agencies looking to reduce the cost of communication and collaboration should definitely take Domino and Notes 6 for a spin.

Biggs is a senior engineer in the financial sector and a freelance high-tech journalist based in northern California.

REPORT CARD

Lotus Notes and Domino 6

Grade: A

IBM Corp.

(800) 333-6705

www.lotus.com

Prices are listed at $894 per server for Domino Mail Server; $2,308 per server for Domino Application Server; $70.08 per client for Notes; $48.65 per client for iNotes Web Access; $586 per developer for Domino Designer. Available via IBM's Passport Advantage.

The newest release of the Notes and Domino suite boasts useful productivity improvements for users, tools that help reduce the cost of administration and increased support for standards, such as Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition and Extensible Markup Language. In addition, agencies will find tools that simplify real-time integration with databases and enterprise applications. This release is well worth the upgrade and highly worthy of consideration for agencies that need a secure and flexible vehicle to support communication and collaboration.

Notes clients are available for Microsoft Corp. Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000 and XP, and for Apple Computer Inc. Mac OS 9 and OS X. Domino server software is available for Windows NT, Linux, Sun Solaris, and IBM AIX, zSeries and iSeries.

We tested this suite with Linux, Windows 95/98, NT, 2000 and XP. Other Notes and Domino platforms were not available for evaluation at the time this article went to press.

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