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Inside Lotus Notes 4.0

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On January 22, 1996, IBM and Lotus Development Corp. announced the first phase of a new office automation strategy. The announcement outlines how IBM's aging OfficeVision suite of calendaring and scheduling products will be integrated with Lotus Development's Notes Release 4.0. At the same time, IBM has released a statement of direction to make Lotus Notes run natively on the AS/400. All these press releases give us a tantalizing peek at the long-term strategy by which IBM may completely replace the OfficeVision suite with Lotus Notes.

But what exactly is Lotus Notes? There's a lot of confusion within MIS generally. Is it merely a PC LAN incarnation of the old OfficeVision product? Or is it, as some in IBM have intimated, the Holy Grail of the virtual office?

In this article, I'll give a little tour of Lotus Notes Release 4.0 to show you what it is, how it works, and how it will impact your users' lives. In the process, I'll investigate some new paradigms of databases and programming environments. What you'll uncover are some powerful new tools in Lotus Notes that might just release a new feeling of creativity in your staff. At the same time, you should be able to see exactly why IBM's fascination with Lotus isn't as simple as 1-2-3.

Lotus Notes describes itself as a "workflow automation tool." What is workflow automation? Isn't that just putting everything on computers? Not quite! Let's dig deeper!

In the virtual office, the fundamental denominator of communication is the "electronic document." An electronic document can be anything: an E-mail message, an expense report, a spreadsheet, a word processing document, or a simple memorandum. The workflow in the electronic office is the movement of these various electronic documents from one desktop to another through some form of E-mail.

Once these documents arrive at their destinations, however, something usually has to be done with them. All need to be read. Some need responses. Some need to be saved. Some need to be thrown out. If the volume of messages is great, the process gets overburdened. Sometimes, things get neglected, lost, or inadvertently misfiled.

Notes' workflow automation is a process by which electronic documents are automatically organized, routed, and communicated between desktops. The documents hold the intelligence to route and deliver themselves, to slip into appropriate databases, and to respond to their senders with preformatted, predestined responses. Lotus Notes provides integrated tools to build entire databases of documents that contain these embedded, intelligent, preprogrammed instructions. It also provides a means to program Agents for negotiating the workflow and transversing the virtual office. It includes an integrated E-mail system that can be interfaced to MS-mail, cc:Mail, or any E-mail that supports Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). This includes, according to IBM, the AS/400's OfficeVision/400 product.

So how does Notes build intelligence into its database? Lotus Notes' database model differs completely from the relational model of the AS/400. It's based upon the concept of the document. To fully appreciate this difference, I'll walk through some of the design aspects of a typical Notes database. And to show how Notes can be useful, I'll design a simple E-mail response system that handles a typical and humorous problem plaguing most busy executives today: how to handle thank-you notes to Mom.

First of all, a Notes document is a data container that binds together various fields, formulas, and functions into a self-contained, atomic entity. A Notes document first builds upon an E-mail hierarchy of three different basic document types: It can be an original document, a response, or a response to a response. This hierarchy allows Notes to present a natural E-mail "discussion" thread, similar to discussion threads on a BBS. But that's only the beginning.

Inside the Document Database model, each document has a self-defined and unique structure that is controlled by the Form that created the document. Notes allows the programmer of the Form to internally define individual fields within a document. The fields may be numeric, text, time, keyword, Rich-Text, or one of several other special types. These fields exist only within the structure of the unique document and aren't externally described, as in DDS. (Fields can also sometimes be shared between documents, but that's a separate feature.)

I'll create a hypothetical document to show how this works. Let's imagine that you routinely take a piece of 8 1/2-by-11-inch typing paper to jot down thank-you notes to Mom for your birthday presents. Most of the note will usually be pure text, but you want to track two things: the day it was written and the actual gift itself (that fancy pair of argyle socks). And, since this note is just one of the many you'll send her during the year, you'll also want to categorize it specifically as a thank-you note. Later on, when you're feeling guilt-heat, you'll need this info to defend yourself. 1 shows how such a completed Notes thank-you document might appear to Mom.

I'll create a hypothetical document to show how this works. Let's imagine that you routinely take a piece of 8 1/2-by-11-inch typing paper to jot down thank-you notes to Mom for your birthday presents. Most of the note will usually be pure text, but you want to track two things: the day it was written and the actual gift itself (that fancy pair of argyle socks). And, since this note is just one of the many you'll send her during the year, you'll also want to categorize it specifically as a thank-you note. Later on, when you're feeling guilt-heat, you'll need this info to defend yourself. Figure 1 shows how such a completed Notes thank-you document might appear to Mom.

Notes created this document through a Form template. A Form is a structure that contains the unique elements and fields of the database. The Form that created this Dear Mom document is shown in 2. The programmer has developed a number of different fields, including the Subject field, which is highlighted. Notice that the Subject field, represented on the Form, has a formula defined; it's shown in the definition window below the layout. This formula provides an initial constant value of "Thank You Note" for the Subject field. Also, notice the Properties for this field (shown in the folder window) identify this as a computed text field. Other fields in the Form have their own unique values, embedded formulas, and associated functions. Finally, notice that the Form has two other fields: Gift and Body. The Gift field is the area in which you, the author of the note, will key in "argyle socks." This is a unique custom field of this particular Form. The Body field is the area in which you will key in the text of the message. The Body is usually a standard field in all Notes E-mail messages.

Notes created this document through a Form template. A Form is a structure that contains the unique elements and fields of the database. The Form that created this Dear Mom document is shown in Figure 2. The programmer has developed a number of different fields, including the Subject field, which is highlighted. Notice that the Subject field, represented on the Form, has a formula defined; it's shown in the definition window below the layout. This formula provides an initial constant value of "Thank You Note" for the Subject field. Also, notice the Properties for this field (shown in the folder window) identify this as a computed text field. Other fields in the Form have their own unique values, embedded formulas, and associated functions. Finally, notice that the Form has two other fields: Gift and Body. The Gift field is the area in which you, the author of the note, will key in "argyle socks." This is a unique custom field of this particular Form. The Body field is the area in which you will key in the text of the message. The Body is usually a standard field in all Notes E-mail messages.

All Notes documents can have this finely honed level of field control. As the user navigates through this document, the values of these fields can trigger embedded events that activate unique hidden formulas or functions within the document. For instance, you can create a View of the database that automatically selects this document for your use.

A Notes View is sometimes mistaken to be something akin to a DB2/400 (also known as DB2 for OS/400) logical file or a query: It is, after all, a means of identifying and selecting fields from a document database.

However, a Notes View is really more like a spreadsheet, and the process of designing a Notes View can be as unique as the process of creating a document Form. For instance, 3 shows a sample View designed to pull the entire document database into a columnar format and to display any documents that reference a field called Gift. This is the ultimate Birthday Gift Protection Database. If Mom calls you up next week to ask you if you've received your birthday gift (hint, hint, hint), you won't have to strain your overworked memory trying to remember the silly, useless things she sent you. Instead, you can quickly open the "Gift" view of your E-mail, look at your correspondence, and say, "But Mom, don't you remember? I sent you a note thanking you for those beautiful argyle socks."

However, a Notes View is really more like a spreadsheet, and the process of designing a Notes View can be as unique as the process of creating a document Form. For instance, Figure 3 shows a sample View designed to pull the entire document database into a columnar format and to display any documents that reference a field called Gift. This is the ultimate Birthday Gift Protection Database. If Mom calls you up next week to ask you if you've received your birthday gift (hint, hint, hint), you won't have to strain your overworked memory trying to remember the silly, useless things she sent you. Instead, you can quickly open the "Gift" view of your E-mail, look at your correspondence, and say, "But Mom, don't you remember? I sent you a note thanking you for those beautiful argyle socks."

"Oh," she'll invariably reply, "I forgot to check my E-mail."

This custom View will also automatically organize any responses that come back from Mom. You won't have to do a thing. As soon as your E-mail receives Mom's response, it will automatically be organized into the View. The View columns will expand showing the hierarchy of document types-original, response, or response to response-displaying the entire message workflow history.

Now, if you extend this rather simple example to a business environment, you might start to imagine the benefits of a Notes E-mail Document Database. By building and customizing document Forms and Views, your E-mail starts to do a lot of the manual work of tracking and organizing your workflow. Documents are sent out with unique categories and returned and sorted automatically into their appropriate locations. You can have Notes Mail automatically update multiple Notes databases for both you and your recipients. The tools to build these intelligent communications systems are all robustly developed in Lotus Notes.

In addition to Documents, Forms, and Views, Notes provides facilities to create individual Folders, Navigators, and Agents. A Notes Folder has much of the same functionality as a View-it organizes the fields of the document database into a columnar format-but has an added function: It physically separates the documents into like-groups. For instance, you can programmatically instruct Notes to organize all of your documents with the Subject field of "Thank You Notes" and selectively place them into their own separate Notes Folder. By programming the selection parameters of a folder, documents can automatically move to their predestined locations without manual manipulation by the user.

A Notes Navigator is like a menu module that allows the user to access the various Documents, Views, and Folders that have been created for the database. It too has internally described functions and formulas that are connected to visual graphical objects and icons.

Notes Agents are the only externally described functionality of the system. Agents in Notes are user-written macros that perform preprogrammed functions against the entire document database. The syntax for the Agents is written in a form of BASIC called Lotus Script. Lotus Script is a full object-oriented and compiled programming language, and its interface to Notes is through predefined object classes. The scope and power of Lotus Script is quite robust. For instance, it provides three object classes for ODBC: connect, query, and result-set. This obviously makes the capability to connect directly to DB2/400 on the AS/400 very straightforward.

Finally, Notes also provides a facility to automatically connect and organize communications across the World Wide Web. Using this facility, you can create and extend a global Notes E-mail archetype that transcends almost every electronic barrier.

Now, with so many finely tuned structural functions residing within the innards of each document database, you might wonder how a developer or administrator could possibly implement a Notes application? Where would you start? How would you handle change management? How can a database be maintained, modified, or distributed? The Notes approach is very different from what we in the AS/400 community might expect.

Lotus sells Notes with complete sets of prebuilt databases that are skeletal templates of fully functioning applications. Over 20 are included, and they're divided into five functioning groups:

o Discussion Workflows

o Approval Workflow

o Broadcast Workflow

o Reference Workflow

o Tracking Workflow

The process of creating a new database is simple: A Notes administrator selects a Workflow template that approximates some desired functionality. The administrator copies the template as a unique database. The programmer modifies, customizes, and tailors the new database's Forms, Views, Navigators, and Folders to fit the specific requirements of the project. Finally, a new production document database is generated from the modified template and then is published across the network.

When all the power and functionality of Notes is tallied, a Notes-based OfficeVision product on the AS/400 is a truly exciting prospect. And since Notes already functions under OS/2, it's a natural for the FSIOP and LAN Server/400 (see the sidebar, "Notes Cross-platform Specifications"). But will Notes take over from OfficeVision/400?

OfficeVision is a product with a long history, and many OfficeVision sites have preexisting applications with highly functional customized document management systems in place. So the real challenge for Notes and IBM will be the conversion and reengineering of these preexisting OfficeVision/400 applications. Consequently, the success of Notes on the AS/400 may have more to do with IBM's ability to migrate OfficeVision than with any inherent strengths of Notes itself.

For new workflow applications, Notes is already a proven winner. It's robust, scaleable, and highly functional. It works across multiple platforms and provides an excellent platform for highly sophisticated workflow automation systems. It's no wonder that IBM was so impressed with the product that it bought the company. IBM has chosen the right tool for the right job of bringing OfficeVision/400 into the realm of true client/server computing. You'll be hearing a lot more about Notes and the AS/400. We'll keep you informed as the workflow automation market heats up.

Thomas M. Stockwell is a senior technical editor for Midrange Computing. He can be reached by E-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Inside Lotus Notes 4.0

Figure 1: Sample Document


Inside Lotus Notes 4.0

Figure 2: Sample Form


Inside Lotus Notes 4.0

Figure 3: Sample View



Inside Lotus Notes 4.0

Notes Cross-platform Specifications

To facilitate Workflow Automation, Notes uses a client/server model in which Notes documents are stored in one or more Notes databases on a server. Lotus supports the server portion of Notes software on AIX 4.1.3, HP-UX 10.01, OS/2 Warp, and Warp Connect, Sun Solaris SPARC 2.4, NetWare, and Windows NT 3.5.1. The addition of a native OS/400 server will round out the server offerings quite nicely.

A user accesses the database through the Notes Client or Notes Mail Client program on the user's desktop. Lotus provides Notes Mail clients for Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT, Macintosh, OS/2 Warp, AIX, HP-UX, and Sun Solaris. This makes a very robust cross-platform workflow and mail system.

From within the client, a user can access multiple custom-designed databases using the integrated Notes E-mail system. IBM already has a method of technically integrating this mail with OfficeVision/400. It's called AnyMail/400, and it's said that Rochester has had Notes running in the lab for some time using this facility.

The Notes Client software allows the user access to multiple databases that can exist on multiple servers running many different operating systems. Beyond that, though, a single Notes database itself can simultaneously exist on multiple clients and servers. This allows remote and mobile users of Notes to access and maintain their Notes databases even if they're not directly connected to the network.

To handle this distributed model, Notes provides an integrated replication service. Replication is a straightforward process: The user clicks on the Replication tab of a workspace folder and then chooses the databases that need to be reconciled. Notes makes the appropriate contacts to those databases through the network and then automatically handles the versioning of information (see A1).

To handle this distributed model, Notes provides an integrated replication service. Replication is a straightforward process: The user clicks on the Replication tab of a workspace folder and then chooses the databases that need to be reconciled. Notes makes the appropriate contacts to those databases through the network and then automatically handles the versioning of information (see Figure A1).

Inside Lotus Notes 4.0

Figure A1: Database Replication


Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is an independent IT analyst and writer. He is the former Editor in Chief of MC Press Online and Midrange Computing magazine and has over 20 years of experience as a programmer, systems engineer, IT director, industry analyst, author, speaker, consultant, and editor.  

 

Tom works from his home in the Napa Valley in California. He can be reached at ITincendiary.com.

 

 

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    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericToo much paper is wasted. Attempts to locate documents in endless filing cabinets.And distributing documents is expensive and takes up far too much time.
    These are just three common reasons why it might be time for your company to implement a paperless document management system.
    Watch the webinar to learn more and discover how easy it can be to:

    • Capture
    • Manage
    • And distribute documents digitally

     

  • IBM i: It’s Not Just AS/400

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic

    IBM’s Steve Will talks AS/400, POWER9, cognitive systems, and everything in between

    Are there still companies that use AS400? Of course!

    IBM i was built on the same foundation.
    Watch this recorded webinar with IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will and IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington to gain a unique perspective on the direction of this platform, including:

    • IBM i development strategies in progress at IBM
    • Ways that Watson will shake hands with IBM i
    • Key takeaways from the AS/400 days

     

  • Ask the RDi Experts

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericWatch this recording where Jim Buck, Susan Gantner, and Charlie Guarino answered your questions, including:

    • What are the “hidden gems” in RDi that can make me more productive?
    • What makes RDi Debug better than the STRDBG green screen debugger?
    • How can RDi help me find out if I’ve tested all lines of a program?
    • What’s the best way to transition from PDM to RDi?
    • How do I convince my long-term developers to use RDi?

    This is a unique, online opportunity to hear how you can get more out of RDi.

     

  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using NodeRun.com as a pre-built development environment

     

     

  • Inside the Integrated File System (IFS)

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.

     

  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.