One of the most important and robust features of the Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino client-server collaboration software is Lotus Notes Email, the mail application that allows communication inside a company as well as to other companies over the Internet. There are many features in Lotus Notes Mail, including the following:
Ø New Message Creation includes the following fields:
o To, Cc and Bcc
o Attachment (paper clip icon)
o Send options include the following:
§ Send and File, to send and save in a folder
§ Save as Draft, to save a copy in the Drafts view without sending it
o New Message by Reply and Reply to All. Options exist to reply to just the person who sent a message or to all recipients of a message. Additional options include the following:
§ Reply with History or Reply to All with History. Sends reply with original message and all previous messages.
§ Reply without Attachment(s) or Reply to All without Attachment(s). Sends reply with original message and all previous messages, but not file attachments.
§ Reply or Reply to All. Sends reply without any previous messages.
§ Reply with Internet-Style History or Reply to All with Internet-Style History. Sends reply with text of original message formatted in line length marked with left-margin character (> is the default) specified in Internet mail preferences. This does not include pictures, attachments, OLE objects or collapsible sections.
o New Message by Forward. You can forward a message from Notes mail or a document from another application with the following options:
§ Forward. Forwards whole original message.
§ Forward without Attachments. Forwards original message but without attachments.
§ Internet-Style Forward. Forwards original message formatted in line length marked with left-margin character (> is the default) specified in Internet mail preferences. This does not include pictures, attachments, OLE objects or collapsible sections.
Ø Views/Folders include the following:
o Inbox. The Inbox folder is where you see all messages that arrive. Messages can be sorted by sender, subject, date and size using the corresponding buttons.
o Draft. This view has all messages saved using the “Save as Draft” option.
o Sent. This is where you can view messages you have sent, copies of which are automatically saved here. Using the “Send only” option will not save copy of the message.
o All Documents. This view has all documents and mail, which makes it easy to search for something if you can’t recall where you put it.
Ø Archive. Both users and server administrators can have documents that meet specified criteria copied to an archive database, deleting or reducing the size of the original documents. Once deleted, replica stubs remain so that deletions can be restored if there are replicas of the database. Archiving criteria can be based on days since the document was last read, last modified, last accessed, and/or marked as expired. Users can use this function to prevent exceeding their mail database quota.
Ø Archive database. Messages and documents can be manipulated in the archive database similar to what you do in the mail database (forwarding messages, replying, etc.) including restoring to applications or permanent deletion.
Ø Attention indicators. This lets you specify various foreground and background colors to messages from particular senders and other types of messages. You might assign different colors to messages in which you are the only recipient, primary recipient, secondary recipient, whether your name is in the “to” or the “cc” field and so on.
Ø Follow Up. Messages can be marked with flag icons to indicate that follow-up action is needed. This puts them in the Follow Up view Follow Up mini-view that can be kept open in the mail navigation pane. Three follow-up preferences include the following:
o Default priority flag
o Default follow-up date and time
o Default alarm for flagged messages
Ø Spell-Check. Notes mail includes built-in spelling checks for both messages and chats. Spelling can be checked in eachmessage or you can set spell checking to occur automatically for all messages before sending them. You can also set up instant spell-check to occur as you type. If you installed different language dictionaries, you can switch to any other installed dictionary.
Ø Delivery options. Note that some delivery options may or may not work with Internet mail depending on what the recipient’s email system supports. Some common delivery options include the following:
o Setting message importance
o Delivery confirmation
o Delivery priority
o Return receipt to confirm opened
o Addition of confidential prefix
o Prevent group recipients from seeing group membership
Ø Signatures. A personal signature can be automatically added to all messages you send, and there can also be alternative signatures if you want to have something different for internal versus external messages.. Additional options here include the following:
o Automatically append a signature to the bottom of my outgoing mail messages. This has to specifically be enabled for it to happen.
o Rich Text. Allow for use of rich text features including graphics and attachments.
o Plain Text. This will not allow for any graphics or attachments, but also not have your message ending up blocked as spam or junk.
o HTML or Image File. This allows you to use HTML or an image as your signature. It has to be a TXT(.txt), HTML(.htm or .html), JPEG (.jpg), bitmap(.bmp), or GIF(.gif) file.
o Append My vCard. This will append your vCard just after your signature, or anywhere else you want to cut and paste it.
Ø Addressing mail. To address mail, you can type a name or address manually or use the type-ahead that completes names based on the first few letters you type.
Ø Mail rules. These can be used to automatically do something with new messages that meet certain criteria. You could create a rule that takes messages from certain senders and puts them a particular folder, copies the messages to someone else, or deletes them before you ever see them. In the Rules folder you can create, edit, order and delete rules..
o Deleting mail. A deleted message is a “soft” delete that puts it in the trash folder, where they stay for a specified time (48 hours by default) or until you then delete them from the trash folder.
o Restoring mail. Documents and messages can be moved out of the trash folder.
o Emptying the Trash. Emptying the trash folder is a non-recoverable deletion of the contents therein.
Ø Out of Office. The Out of Office (OOO) feature sends an automated reply to incoming messages when you're away. It can also tell them when you’re returning.
In addition to all of these basic features, Lotus Notes Mail has been enhanced in the most recent versions with the following improvements:
Ø New mail notification option providing a pop up preview with both sender and subject of new messages as they arrive.
Ø Improved sorting on subject field content ignoring "Re:" and "Fw:" prefixes for more accurate sorting.
Ø Search by sender or subject available by right clicking a message.
Ø Managed mail replicas for those who want to optimize mail usage by working around the server but do not know much about creating and maintaining database replicas.
Ø Better naming of archive windows so you can tell which archive you have open among multiple archives.
Ø Save mail messages to an EML file format with extension .eml.
Ø Manage personal allow and block lists from within your inbox by integration with Lotus Protector for Mail Security.
The history of Lotus Notes through its development and more than 8 different releases mirrors, to some extent, the development of computing in general.
The Genesis of an Idea
The original idea leading up to the development of Lotus Notes actually begins well in advance of the creation of the personal computer. It began at the University of Illinois in 1973 with the creation of PLATO Notes, a simple program that tagged bug reports with user ID and date as a way to secure the files and prevent other users from deleting them. By adding the date, a list could be kept in reverse chronological order so that technical staff would take on the next problem at the bottom of the monitor. Secure, real-time communications among users was the key idea. By 1976, PLATO Notes became PLATO Group Notes, which expanded on the first concept with such additional features as creating private notes files that could be organized by subject, creating access lists, creating anonymous notes, sorting notes by defined date ranges, marking comments in a document, creating director message flags, linking notes files with other systems and using multiplayer games. It remained popular into the 1980s, but because it was based in mainframe computing technology, the development of the personal computer in the early 1980s made such programs less cost effective and other Notes-style products soon hit the market. Ray Ozzie, one of the people who helped develop PLATO Notes in the late 1970s, had the idea of creating a PC-based software package in the Notes style. It was Lotus Development Corporation who saw the potential and mad the investment into its further development.
Development of Lotus Notes
It was towards the end of 1984 that development of Lotus Notes began through a team of developers familiar with collaboration and messaging technologies. Many still considered such ideas on the fringe, but they persisted. The first version of notes they developed featured on-line discussion capabilities, email, phone books and a document database. One challenge early on was the constraints of computer networking, which was cumbersome and slow by today’s standards. The developers thought that perhaps Lotus Notes would best be released as a personal information management system that included sharing capabilities. Also, because operating systems for personal computers were still in their infancy, Lotus developers had to spend inordinate amounts of time writing system-level code to enable the features they desired. As networking capabilities continued to evolve, the Lotus Notes style of software came to be known as groupware, software that enhances coordination, communication and collaboration among groups of workers. To get around the challenges, the developers came up with the Local Area Network (LAN) concept and client/server architecture wherein a group of PC workstations all communication with a central server that housed the databases. Servers could then also communicate with each other, synchronizing the data replicated in multiple locations, allowing for communication and coordination between branch offices. At a time when most people had never even experienced communication via email, Lotus Notes was far ahead of its time.
Early in the development stages, the creative minds working on Lotus Notes debated whether or not to allow users to develop the product further to meet their unique needs. They opted to do so, and the flexibility customers enjoyed in applying Notes to their unique situations was a major factor in its initial success. They also took additional time develop the software to work with the newly released Macintosh operating system, mimicking its user-friendly graphical interface. It was essentially ready to go by August 1986. Lotus bought the rights in 1987, and it was finally released to the public in 1989. Even before the release, however, Price Waterhouse could see the potential uses through a demonstration and purchased 10,000 copies – the largest sale of PC software at the time.
Lotus Notes Release 1.0
Shipping of the first release of Lotus Notes occurred in 1989. During that first year it sold more than 35,000 copies. The Loutus Notes client needed DOS 3.1 or OS/2, while the Lotus Notes server had to run on either DOS 3.1, 4.0, or OS/2.
Screen shot of user interface in Lotus Notes 1.0 – Source: IBM
The out-of-the-box applications that could be used in Lotus Notes 1.0 included Group Mail, Group Discussion and the Group Phone Book. It also included templates that helped users build custom applications. This in turn spawned a whole group of people in the business community who specialized in building Notes applications. Notes fulfilled two important functions with this style of software – robust applications that could be used right out of the box or custom-built applications that would run on tope of Notes. Innovative functionalities included the following:
Ø Security: By utilizing new RSA cryptography technology, Lotus Notes allowed documents to be encrypted, signed, and authenticated through public-key technology, ensuring on the other end that documents were not modified during transmission.
Ø Dial-Up: This allowed users to dial up interactive access to the server, specification of modem strings, operator assistance in calling and auto-logging of statistics related to phone activity.
Ø Import/Export: Graphics files could be imported from Lotus Freelance Graphics; data could be exported via ASCII or Lotus spreadsheets (1-2-3 or Symphony worksheet).
Ø User Setup: Setting up new users was made easy for system and server administrators through a variety of dialog boxes and options.
Ø Email: Allowed for sending mail without opening a private mail file, reception of return receipts, new mail notification and auto-correction of recipient names in new messages.
Ø Online Help: Very few products offered this feature in those days.
Ø Formula Language: This was included to facilitate development of custom applications.
Ø DocLinks: Provided rapid access between different documents.
Ø Keywords: Helped track documents via checkboxes and radio buttons.
Ø Access Control Lists (ACLs): Allowed administrators to control who has access to which databases as well as the level of access granted for each database.
Ø Data Replication: This allowed administrators to manage replications of data from one place, including the replication of ACLs to multiple copies of databases regardless of their location.
Lotus Notes Release 1.1
The revisions contained in the 1990-released version 1.1 were largely behind-the-scenes changes to the code that allowed for greater cross-platform performance. Code was written for each different operating platform rather than attempting to port the code from one platform to another. Lotus operated smoothly in the various MAC OS, Novell and Microsoft Windows environments.
Lotus Notes Release 2.0
Initially intended for smaller and medium-sized companies, it quickly became apparent that Lotus Notes needed to be scaled up in order to handle at least 10,000 users for the larger businesses that were buying it. That was accomplished with version 2.0.
Screen shot of user interface in Lotus Notes 2.0 – Source: IBM
Enhancements included in version 2.0, released in 1991, included the following:
Ø Viewing of column totals
Ø Styles applied to paragraphs and tables
Ø Support for rich text
Ø New formula language for devleopers
Ø Address search capability in mail
Ø Multiple address and name books
Ø Mail memo return receipts
Ø Document forwarding via mail
Ø Accommodation of larger desktop files and databases
Lotus Notes Release 3.0
By 1993, there were more than 2,000 companies housing 500,000 people using Lotus Notes. It was once again scaled up further, allowing up to 200 users per server. They continued to update the user interface style, maintain cross-platform performance and aimed at an even larger market share, allowing for a decrease in price.
Screen shot of user interface in Lotus Notes 3.0 – Source: IBM
The 1993 release of version 3.0 added in the following features:
Ø Search full text
Ø Hierarchical views, names, filters and forms
Ø New mobile capabilities such as background replication
Ø Alternative mail handling
Ø Common API methods for cross-platform Notes application development
Ø Selective replication
Ø AppleTalk network support
Ø Improvements to assist with deployment and administration
Ø Macintosh client support
Ø Microsoft Windows compatible server
Lotus Notes Release 4.0
In 1995 Lotus Development Corporation was purchased by IBM because it wanted to acquire the Notes technology. This gave Lotus access to much greater financing, a huge sales force, and the HTTP server that subsequently became Lotus Domino. Rather than selling to isolated departments, Lotus Notes was now selling to whole corporations, and many of those were on the Fortune 500 list. 1996 saw a brand new user interface developed for version 4.0. The changes were very well received. Expanding into ever increasing networking capabilities through additional processors, the price was cut in half, allowing for an even greater share of the market. Lotus also began offering two different versions with each release: One would contain new features for companies wanting to be on the cutting edge of technology while the other contained fixes primarily aimed at larger corporations who were looking for stability as the pushed the outer edges of server capabilities.
Screen shot of user interface in Lotus Notes 4.0 – Source: IBM
In this release, Notes was able to begin integration with the World Wide Web. A new product called Server Web Navigator allowed the server to grab web pages and display them in the Notes client. The InterNotes Web Publisher was another web application that allowed users to convert Notes documents into HTML coding for display in web browsers. Additional features in version 4.0 included the following:
Ø Built-in programming language called LotusScript
Ø User interface modified to three-panel view and document preview
Ø Servers with Pass-through capability
Ø New server administrator graphical interface
Ø Internet integration
Ø Template overhauls and integrated development environment for application building
Ø View, folder, and design features, including the ability to create action bars, the ability to create navigators that allow easy graphical navigation among views, and improved table support
Ø New search features including database searching without indexing, ability to add conditions to searches via Search Builder instead of writing formulas
Ø Enhanced security for local databases and document-specific access restrictions
Ø SOCKS, HTTP proxy, and Notes RPC proxy supports added for improved Internet servers
Lotus Notes Release 4.5
With this release, the server became knows as Domino, which was now an interactive Web applications server combining an open networking environment with the application development capabilities of Notes. Companies could now engage in rapid development of a robust variety of solutions for both the intranet and Internet, including dynamic publishing of Notes documents to the Web.
Screen shot of user interface in Lotus Notes 4.5 – Source: IBM
Lotus Notes Release 5.0
With the release of version 5.0 in 1999, there was no longer a choice between Lotus Notes and the Internet as the two were now essentially inseparable. Even the user interface took on a more browser-like look.
Screen shot of user interface in Lotus Notes 5.0 – Source: IBM
Application development through Lotus Domino Designer allowed for even easier development of e-business applications and streamlined network administration through redesigned user registration, message management and monitoring of servers. Version 5.0 was available on a stunning array of platforms including MAC OS/2, Windows NT, Windows 95, Windows 98, UNIX and Netware. Information from any sever could be easily accessed, whether company information or personal preferences for websites and news groups.
Lotus Notes Release 6.0
In 2002 Lotus Notes 6 and Lotus Domino 6 became available. Companies wanted faster development turnaround times, cheaper prices and great gains in efficiency and productivity. The result was another overhaul of the user interface to make it even simpler and more efficient. The welcome page now showed action buttons for many commonly performed tasks (new calendar entry, new mail memo, etc.). It introduced the customization wizard that allowed users to modify what appears where on the welcome page. This version also incorporated a Notes Tip of the Day to aid users, a launch pad for rapid access to certain items and tasks, and a Quick Notes interface allowing a variety of tasks to be completed without opening each related database.
Screen shot of user interface in Lotus Notes 6.0 – Source: IBM
Version 6.0 also saw greatly improved calendaring and scheduling functions with an array of new features and enhancements that made time management much more effective. On the server side, Domino 6.0 allowed for network compression that could reduce byte usage by as much as 50 % during transactions. It also provided robust real-time monitoring and analysis tools that aided administrators in running their various systems. Security improvements were also made to password management and new certificate authority.
Lotus Notes Release 6.5
Version 6.5 came out in the Fall of 2003. The focus in this release was end-user productivity via the Notes client. A new major feature was Lotus Sametime for instant messaging. By logging into this application within the Notes environment, you could see who was online and initiate a chat or hold online meetings. This was a powerful feature to add in without charging extra for it. Another significant improvement was drag-and-drop calendar and to-do entries from within email by dragging a message to the corresponding bookmark. You could also do the reverse to start an email message by dragging and dropping a calendar or to-do item onto the email bookmark. Another calendar enhancement was the ability to adjust one or several items within a string of repeating events without affecting the others. New flag icons were added in order to help with email management, allowing users to note the need for follow-up actions and quickly see if you had replied to or forwarded a given message.
Lotus Notes Release 7.0
Arriving in 2005, Lotus Notes/Domino version 7.0 had to meet high customer expectations. Enhancements in this release were largely focused on the Domino server. A major advance was better integration with various IBM offerings such as the WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Portal and DB2 databases. Additionally, Domino Domain Monitoring provided 24/7 probing across multiple servers and multiple domains to identify issues for rapid resolution. The Activity Trends feature was added in order to allow for analysis of how database workloads were distributed across servers and followed that up with recommendations for balancing out workloads. This release also improved server crash diagnostics. Security encryption was also upgraded to 1024-bit RSA keys and 128-bit RC2. Server scalability was improved by an impressive 80% over version 6.5.
Lotus Notes Release 8
First announced in 2005 but not available until 2007, version 8 was developed in conjunction with the Eclipse framework, allowing Eclipse-based code to run inside of Lotus Notes. This allows Eclipse plug-ins to be put together with Notes applications to create new and powerful composite applications. This transformed Lotus Notes into an open-source, Java-based operating platform. Some of the new features in Lotus Notes version 8 included the following:
Ø Quick access to frequently used applications through the Open button
Ø Sidebar displaying essential information, alerts and feeds
Ø Customization of viewing preferences
Ø Toolbars that adjust to the context
Ø Compatibility of word processing, presentation and spreadsheet applications with Lotus SmartSuite, Open Document Format (ODF) and Microsoft Office file formats
Ø Search and view collaborative activity with specific people
Ø Sort, group and review email threads by subject headings
Screen shot of user interface in Lotus Notes 8.0 – Source: IBM
The main improvement for Lotus Domino 8 is enhanced composite application creation. Composite applications take existing solutions and integrate them into new solutions that present content from multiple systems such as Notes databases, the Web and Java applications.
Lotus Notes Release 8.5
The 8.5 version of Lotus Notes was released in early 2009 and contained yet more new features such as the following:
Ø Streamlined right-click context menus for contacts, mail and to-do views
Ø Auto-compression of images pasted in documents (BMP files will be converted to GIF or JPG)
Ø Drag-n-drop enhancements allow for copying items between rich text fields Notes documents, contacts from Sametime to Notes name and rich text fields and names from external software to name fields in Notes
Ø Roaming user capability means that rather than being tied to a workstation, a user’s desktop data is backed up on the server and synchronized with whatever workstation the user logs in from
Ø Live text functionality has been enhanced with a right-click context menu or a left-click action starter
Ø Improvements to mail functionality include better inbox icons and multiple email addresses displayed in the type-ahead function
Ø The calendar federation feature means calendars can be added from Google, other Note users or iCal feeds and overlaid on your own calendar
Ø A horizontal scroll bar appears when the header information cannot be displayed in its entirety for a day
Ø The Lotus Symphony suite of office applications is now available within the Notes environment with greatly enhanced interoperability with other formats
Critiques of Lotus Notes
Every piece of software has its detractors and nay-sayers. The level of vitriol directed at Lotus Notes, however, is substantial by comparison. There are actually several entire websites and blogs devoted entirely to complaints about Lotus Notes. Below are presented just a few user comments that paint a very different picture of Lotus Notes from what is presented above:
Please don't email me telling me that I don't understand that Lotus Notes is more than just an email client. It doesn't matter what it is. I shouldn't need to know. Secretaries, shipping clerks, CEOs and others shouldn't need to know what's under the hood. A basic understanding of email and what a calendar is should be enough to figure it out. This means no mention of databases, replication and error messages about "invalid replica IDs", etc. This means a program that behaves as a native application of the operating system that it is running on. Frankly, I don't trust Lotus Notes. It has destroyed data without my permission.
[Lotus Notes] is death by a thousand tiny annoyances—the digital equivalent of being kicked in the groin upon arrival at work every day.
Having recently left the company and gone to a place where Google Mail is used, I can say that LN is a bona fide productivity killer. Now I just log into gmail and just start working. 10 seconds. It’s actually pleasurable and makes me happy – a nice start to any work day. LN made me, on a daily basis, get viscerally upset. I will never, ever, ever consider employment with a company that uses LN again.
I love the way there's an entire application "ZapNotes" devoted to, uh, getting Notes to terminate properly. I have to use this monthly. It's that or the wondrous "Error Opening a Window" error at startup. Just yesterday, someone emailed me a link to a notes "database" that, once clicked, caused my Notes session to end immediately with a cryptic dialog about a crash log file. Time to whip out ZapNotes. Again.
Just the rants and ravings of a few disgruntled employees? What if it were millions of users? For a more balanced journalistic critique of Notes, check out this article from UK’s Guardian:
Survival of the Unfittest: Lotus Notes is used by millions of people, but almost all of them seem to hate it. How can a program be so bad, yet thrive? The opening paragraph of this article is illuminating:
Imagine a program used by 120 million people, of whom about 119m hate it. Sound unlikely? Yet that's the perception one garners in trying to discover whether Lotus Notes, IBM's "groupware" application, is - as readers of Technology blog suggested - the "world's worst application". The discussions (at http://tinyurl.com/e4a56 and http://tinyurl.com/d9gdk) suggest that those who have used it are united: to the average person, Notes displays all the user-friendliness of a cornered rat.