New and Improved: Lotus Notes!

Collaboration & Messaging
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Are you on an old version of Lotus Notes and considering doing "something"? Maybe you're on MS Outlook and thinking about switching to a cloud-based mail provider like Google Apps for Business? Consider the newest Lotus Notes.


About 18 months ago, I wrote about the then-current IBM Lotus Notes 8.5.2 and gave an overview of some other IBM Collaboration Solutions products like IBM Connections, Lotus Quickr, and IBM Sametime. While Lotus Notes 8.5.3 has been available for almost a year now, there are many functions that you may not be aware exist.


So what's new in the newest version?


Slide-In Mail Notifications


Previous to 8.5.3, a modal "You have new mail" notification would indicate new mail. This notification is quite intrusive and doesn't really tell you much. Every time you got a new message, you'd have to click the OK button to view your mail.


Now, you can use the slide-in mail summary, which shows you the subject, sender, and date/time of new messages. What's really jazzy is that if you're working in another application, the new mail message slides into view on the bottom right side of your screen. You can glance to see if it interests you enough to actually view it. If so, you can click on it and the message is displayed. If not, you can ignore the notification and it slides back out of view again.


In the interest of saving time, minimizing interruptions, and making better decisions on the fly, this feature is fantastic.


You can enable this by clicking File > Preferences > Mail > Sending and Receiving. Then choose "Slide in a Summary" under the Alerts section. See Figure 1.



Figure 1: "Slide in a Summary" is easy to set up.


Managed Replicas


While actually a feature as of Lotus Notes 8.5.2, it's one to mention if you're not aware of it. This is my favorite update to Lotus Notes in the last few years because it simplifies and minimizes the work I have to do to make drastic improvements to the user experience.


This feature allows you to, via policy, enforce a local managed mail file replica on your user computers. This means that mail is downloaded in the background and users work on the local replica. What's the difference between that and a normal replica? Well, for one, the server can be polled for new mail independently of the replication schedule. When you have new mail on the server, it's automatically downloaded locally for the user. Also, if you send mail from the local replica, it's sent automatically outside of the replication schedule.


This significantly improves the user experience in terms of speed and performance. It's night and day. Think about it: if you have a 5MB image attachment that you open, it's actually being downloaded from the Lotus Domino server before it's opened in your favorite image viewer. This takes time, if only a few seconds on a LAN, but potentially and most usually much longer over a WAN. Now, with a managed replica, the user can open the same 5MB attachment instantly because it's already been downloaded.


Users also have a seamless experience when going offline. They can access their mail and create new mail messages, replicating instantly when they resume network connectivity.


Also, if the managed replica becomes corrupted, it can be automatically repaired while the user can work from the server replica.


Here's a great video presentation about managed replicas that shows you how to set it up.


Updates to Recent Contacts


In my opinion, this feature was introduced before it was really useful. What if everyone I correspond with shouldn't appear in my Recent Contacts view? I had no way to control it.


In 8.5.3, you get more granularity with what addresses get auto-populated into Recent Contacts. Also, you're able to keep Recent Contacts but disable them from showing in your recipient typeahead if you so desire.


Sametime Client Updated from 8.0.2 to 8.5.1


The Sametime client integrated with the Lotus Notes 8.5.3 installer is now on version 8.5.3, which offers support for Windows 7, Mac OS 10.6, and Linux and a number of performance and user interface enhancements.


Symphony Updated from Version 1 to Version 3


The Lotus Symphony suite that comes with Lotus Notes 8.5.3 is now on version 3. If you haven't used Symphony since version 1, then please have a look. It's a great alternative to MS Office simply because it works and it can be installed along with Lotus Notes. I've used it for the last two years, and only once have I seen it fail to properly open a file. It's very stable, and it supports the new MS Office formats of xlsx, pptx, and docx. No need for Office with compatibility packs, etc. for me.


Multi-User Migration Assistant (MUMA)


Another favorite tool is MUMA, which gives you an automated way of migrating a user from a single-user installation to a multiple-user installation. Many environments have mixed installations, and MUMA can help you standardize everyone to a multi-user installation. This is very handy especially when configuring Lotus Notes Smart Upgrade.


Multiple Signatures


Now, you can choose between your default signature, a signature on your computer, or no signature at all. If a user primarily collaborates with internal company contacts, perhaps having a signature turned on by default may seem a little ostentatious. A user can have his Lotus Notes use no signature by default, but be able to add a stored signature by just clicking Signature > Default Signature to add it.


Updates to Calendar Processing


There's a whole bunch of updates to what Lotus Notes does best: calendaring and scheduling. You've got automatic processing of meeting updates, placeholders for cancelled meetings, and support for merging duplicate calendar entries. Also, you can update meeting participants when attendees are added or removed. 


Why Would You Choose Lotus Notes?


Lotus Notes is a world-class business collaboration platform. Notice I didn't say e-mail platform. Notes does e-mail, yes. IBM i has integrated DB2. Like DB2 on IBM i, one feature does not a platform make.


The great thing about Lotus Notes is the integration, which should sound familiar to you IBM i enthusiasts. With Lotus Notes, I have one platform where I can create flexible custom applications, manage my social world (Facebook, Twitter), send instant messages and set up online meetings (IBM Sametime), collaborate using team-based tools like IBM Quickr and IBM Connections, access local files and folders using free plug-ins, as well as manage my calendars and task lists.


I also use the embedded Lotus Symphony productivity suite to manage my spreadsheets, documents, and presentations in both traditional xls, doc, and ppt formats or the standard Open Document formats. Plus, I've also integrated (very easily) widgets to connect me with IBM i Access for Web and IBM Systems Director Navigator for i for when I need access to my IBM i in both user or management capacities.


Oh yeah, I get my e-mail in there too.


A no-cost Lotus Notes Traveler server can give you the ability to securely extend your Lotus mail, contacts, calendar, and more to Android, Apple, and Windows Mobile devices. Just recently, support for high availability on Lotus Notes Traveler was announced.


There are many days during which I don't leave Lotus Notes at all because I don't need to. I have a messy Windows desktop...because I never minimize Lotus Notes to even access my desktop! Everything I use on a daily basis is integrated into one incredibly powerful interface: Lotus Notes!


Lotus Notes Next (Social Edition) and Beyond


IBM is committed to Lotus Notes and is preparing the next release of Lotus Notes in the next few months. This version, which you can see photos of here, is a radical redesign of the familiar color scheme and user interface.


One very awesome feature, which got the biggest round of applause by far at Lotusphere 2012, is the ability to run Lotus Domino applications in a Web browser by way of a plug-in. You can right-click a document and get the same menu that you'd get in your rich Notes client. This means there's a consistent user interface no matter whether you're in Lotus Notes or on the Web.


Keep an eye out over the next few months for the new version of Lotus Notes. It's worth your consideration.


Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly


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