IBM's collaboration tools evolve
Lotus Notes and Domino 7 integration improvements advance productivity for admins, developers
Introduced in 1989, IBM Lotus Notes 7 stays true to the original’s ideals of efficient collaboration. In this release, Notes e-mail and calendar entries are even easier to manage, and the Domino 7 server embraces more standards, including Web services, so developers can expose Notes databases to external systems. The already outstanding platform support is broadened with desktop Linux for e-mail and calendaring -- as well as systems management.
Although many changes are within Domino 7, the improvements to Lotus Notes 7 are far from cosmetic. For example, a Mail Thread view let me look through a long message trail to see who already responded, which saved me time. Icon indicators mark the importance of messages; you can, say, set a half-solid circle (marking it as semi-critical) if there are more than three names in the To: field, as this is likely a common broadcast distribution. I also liked new right-click options for common tasks such as flagging a message for follow-up, as well as the amount of customization possible.
The general user experience is better in Notes 7, compared to version 6.5. Asynchronous data transfer updates database views in the background, so you can continue to work in another window. AutoSave protects documents in the case of a system problem.
Notes 7 continues to blend presence awareness and instant messaging, but updates in these areas helped me work more efficiently. For instance, chat transcripts are saved in a separate view, so I could go back and find information discussed in a previous IM session.
Calendar and scheduling are also smoother and more integrated. When selecting a meeting time, the same form is used to reserve a room; previously this was a separate function that could result in double-booking resources. Moreover, after configuring Lotus Sametime Web conferencing, I could set up online meetings without leaving Lotus Notes.
Lotus Notes Web Access, a browser client for accessing Domino-based mail files, was fast and provided a very good experience on Internet Explorer and Firefox. I had no problems creating rich text messages, scheduling meetings, and collaborating with colleagues. Like the Notes client, Web Access also provides icons indicating the online status of co-workers, and mail threads are available along with one-click flagging of messages for follow-up.
Domino Web Access 7 works with Firefox on both Windows and Linux -- including drag-and-drop functions and offline mode. Although not quite as functional as Scalix or Zimbra AJAX browser clients, IBM’s Web solution does a good job of mirroring the Notes client and will be a valuable alternative for many office and mobile workers.
In addition to the aforementioned Linux alternatives, IBM offers Lotus Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook -- a plug-in that allows Outlook users to view their Domino mail file. This solution replicates Domino data to an Outlook personal folder (.pst) file, but does not provide live communication to an Exchange server.
For developers, Domino Designer 7 has several usability and programmability enhancements. The UI has been rearranged so developers don’t have to scroll or change windows. Further, I used the new Profiler to measure the time that Java code required to open databases and perform other tasks, helping me identify bottlenecks.