Fundamentally, Lotus Notes and Domino 8 aren't about new mail and calendar features. Rather, this release is about a change in the desktop client. The inbox is now home base for integrating all types of business applications. A lot has already been said about the programming model, Lotus Expeditor 6.1.1, which employs eclipse.org open standards. So let's spotlight the user experience and collaboration.
Notes 8 has a clean new look, logical menus, and customizable layouts; this design makes the client easier to use than Microsoft Outlook. Still, current Notes users should feel comfortable with the mail client. Users can now preview documents in a vertical pane to the right, and recall messages - two features that Microsoft Outlook has offered for ages.
Where the new Notes beats Outlook, though, is in ability to arrange messages as a conversation thread - and these can span an entire mail file, not just one user's inbox. Just highlight one message and all related ones automatically become part of the thread. Moreover, we really liked how Notes can move the entire thread to a separate folder, which makes managing your mailbox much easier.
Calendar isn't radically different. There's better colour coding of events, and users can see meeting invitations on the calendar before accepting them. Contacts (previously called the personal address book) are more visually appealing in the new release, with a business card view and hooks into instant messaging.
Hovering over a message shows if the sender is online and then lets users start an IM chat. But we found the IBM Lotus implementation more elegant than Microsoft's, and here's where Eclipse plays a big role. Lotus Sametime instant messaging is integrated as a plug-in (written with Expeditor) that's accessed from an expanded sidebar. From the end-user standpoint, we found this arrangement greatly reduced screen clutter while providing quick access to many other features, including a mini-calendar view and the new RSS feed reader.
The plug-in approach is also compelling from an IT standpoint. With relative ease, developers should be able to create plug-ins (with Lotus Domino Designer 8 or Eclipse-based tools) that mashup data from in-house systems (such as CRM and HR systems) and outside Web services.
For search, Notes 8 has its own engine for IBM Lotus files, including email and other local Notes databases. Yet for real value, kudos to IBM Lotus for embedding open document format (ODF) editors for presentations, spreadsheets, and word processing, which users can access without leaving Notes 8.
One important capability is optional, yet relevant to collaboration. Enterprises may add the Activities component of Lotus Connections as a sidebar. This lets team members create a shared space for working with email, IM discussions, and documents related to a project - without involving IT administrators.
Lotus Notes and Domino 8 aren't written in Eclipse but C++. But elsewhere, Eclipse open standards abound, from Web 2.0 plug-ins to working with documents created with Microsoft Office and Open Office. Upgrading from Notes 6 to 7 wasn't a "must do" for many customers. Lotus Notes and Domino 8 are more compelling. The new release not only freshens up the platform with modern Web 2.0 features, but also represents a substantial shift in approach - toward a modern services-oriented architecture.
IBM Lotus has delivered a nice upgrade that existing customers will embrace. Compared with competitors such as Microsoft's unified communications and collaboration platform, Lotus Notes and Domino 8 appear easier for IT staff to manage and develop solutions around, providing opportunities for server consolidation while integrating various collaboration capabilities in a rich Web 2.0-style client.