Lotus Notes and Domino 6.5 focus on users
Latest release improves user experience and server manageabilityFollow @infoworld
Less than a year ago, IBM released Version 6 of the venerable Lotus Notes collaboration software, and promised that Lotus Software would henceforth be shipping major releases along a 12-to-15-month timeline. Not only did the new release show up in the twelfth month, but it contains worthwhile features for shops just beginning or finishing the move to version 6 from R5 and earlier Notes/Domino installations. IBM is pitching release 6.5 of Lotus Software's Notes and Domino as a client-focused release, but there are plenty of useful innovations on the back end as well.
Although the Notes 6.5 client doesn't add anything nearly as nifty to an e-mail view as release 6's color-coding feature — based on address book properties — it does add something that GroupWise and Outlook users can only consider old hat: a follow-up flag, which also allows a user to flag an e-mail he or she wants to follow up on. It's useful for flagged items to show up in a separate pane of the mailbox view, but this has the effect of creating a second to-do list. I am disappointed that no one on the Notes development team thought to make the flagging feature accessible through a right-click on the message; forcing users to go to the pull-down menu simply means that fewer people will take advantage of what would otherwise be a useful feature.
Users will appreciate other new features, including the capability to set Notes as the Windows default mail client, and launch a new Notes message window when clicking on a Web site e-mail address link. There's also additional time on the Inbox mail view. Again, these features are not terribly flashy, and nothing that Outlook hasn't been able to do for years, but they remain subtle tweaks to the interface that make users more productive. But I'm still holding out for a sort-by-subject option for mail views -- one that users don't have to program themselves. After all -- everybody, now -- Outlook's done that for years.
Enterprises that use Lotus Instant Messaging (formerly Lotus Sametime) will be able to make use of Notes 6.5's built-in IM capabilities, which are solid in their surface skimpiness. Although the Lotus IM client application still retains most of the valuable functionality, basic chat features are available through the new Notes client. Presence awareness is the feature of the year in collaboration applications, and Notes can include the now-obligatory online status indicator in the user's mailbox view and elsewhere; developers are even promised "one-click" additions to IM capabilities in their own applications.
On the back side of the equation, Domino 6.5 plays very nicely with previous releases -- or so I found on my own testbed of Domino 6 mail and Sametime 3 IM servers. As with previous releases, it's strongly recommended that the Domino domain's Administration Server be upgraded to release 6.5 before adding a new server or upgrading an existing one. Management tools are enhanced to improve load testing, monitoring, and fault resolution. Administrators will love a new feature in Domino that enables automatic storage of changes to server-configuration documents in XML format, easing monitoring of configuration "drift." Another server-side feature, but one with great import for clients: Document-read marks are now replicated across servers, giving users a more consistent view of their data.