Lotus Notes Release 5

Officially, the term groupware applies to software that businesses can use to promote collaboration – in the real world, it tends to mean "email plus scheduling". The name Lotus Notes was virtually synonymous with groupware a few years back, but the program wasn’t available for the Macintosh. After several twists and turns following IBM’s acquisition of Lotus, Notes landed on the Mac, first as a Release 4.6 and now as a Release 5 (R5) client. The corresponding Domino server is still primarily a Unix and Windows product. The Mac version does an excellent, but idiosyncratic job of handling email and scheduling – it even functions as a Web browser. The Mac client is available in two slightly different versions. Notes for Collaboration is used on both remote servers in general, and Domino R5-based servers, so it supports database features specific to Domino. Notes for Messaging offers many impressive collaboration functions – including group scheduling over the Web – but lacks Domino-specific functions.
Well thought out
The basic architecture of Notes was developed before the rise of the Internet and the appearance of Web browsers, so it’s not derived from Mosaic, as other Web browsers are. But, the original programmers had the luxury of really thinking through what works, and what doesn’t in the way of business email and scheduling. Notes can combine all a company’s email sources in a single in-box, works with all Internet email protocols, and implements more and better security features than Outlook Express and Netscape Communicator. Notes’ email component also sports a cool "soft" Trash function, a lifesaving feature that can recover deleted mail during a specified calendar interval. When Notes is installed, it reads Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator bookmarks and makes them available through icons on Notes’ Welcome page – which can be customized with news headlines, stock quotes, and other Web components.The scheduling functions support network-wide time management for interactive-group calendars, detailed task prioritization, and alarms. Total integration with to-do lists, contact lists, and Web elements – such as bookmarks, images, and links – is also supported. If you talk to users, you’ll hear lots of enthusiasm for and loyalty to the program’s scheduling features – when compared with online scheduling software, Notes really stands out.Compared with other products at this level of complexity, Notes offers nearly effortless installation – it takes about 15 minutes. The client installer simply asks what connections you have – Domino server, standard ISP, or other remote connection – and ferrets out all other pertinent email and Web information on its own. Installing the Domino R5 server software is another matter. We tested it on a Windows NT 4.0 Intel-based workstation, and installation was a serious matter requiring attention to dozens of settings – a business will need someone with a solid systems-administration background to install and maintain the Domino server. And, whereas the client manual is thorough and easy to read, the server manual is stronger stuff. Missing memory
The Macintosh client is much slower than its Windows equivalent on comparable hardware. It also displays two of the problems characteristic of software ported to the Mac from Windows code. First, are the "mystery hangs" – when the remote online connection is terminated, the system crashes about one time out of six. Second, are the memory-management problems. If the Internet Explorer icon is clicked during a session, the memory used isn’t recovered when the window is closed. To be fair, the problem of not recognizing free memory when a function is closed is probably Microsoft’s fault, since it happens in Office as well. Still, if Lotus puts an Internet Explorer icon on Notes’ Welcome page, it should make sure it works. Also, strangely, the labels for items on the Welcome screen are sometimes missing letters, so that Mail appears as "ai" and Calendar appears as "Ca endar". Finally, one minor interface complaint stems from Notes’ long pre-Web history – what Macintosh user would expect the icon you click on to get email to be labelled not Mail but Replicator? Realistically, there are no alternatives to Notes in its class. There are other schedulers, but none provide comparable flexibility and cross-network viewability to all groups. And, there are other email systems, of course, but compared with Notes, they’re awkward and short on features. If Microsoft keeps adding Notes-style features to Outlook, Notes’ nearest competitor as far as email is concerned, Outlook 6, might be competitive with Notes R4.6, but it won’t catch up to Notes R5 anytime soon. When Office 2000 hits the Mac, some VisualBasic programming will be possible to implement a few Notes-like group-scheduling features, but very few PC users have successfully implemented groupware in Office.

OUR VERDICT

If you need to co-ordinate communication and activities across several groups or offices, Lotus Notes Release 5 is superior to all other products currently available. The only wrinkle for Macintosh users is that some of Notes’ features require that an IT professional implement the £1,586 (excluding VAT) Domino server software on a non-Mac platform. For businesses large enough to have systems administrators, the power of Notes justifies the price – if your business is small, look elsewhere.

Find the best price