The fifth version of Lotus Development's Domino and Notes products, called Release 5 or R5, appears poised and ready to deliver what customers have been asking for, and then some. The bevy of new options for both traditional and Web-based clients, application serving, and improved and expanded development tools mark this as a must-have upgrade for current customers. IT shops seeking a solid choice for messaging, collaboration, and application serving should also keep an eye peeled for the production release, which is expected in the fourth quarter.
Lotus does have plenty of work to do to this release before it can be delivered as promised. My copy of this beta version exhibited the typical signs of an early test version, with several bugs and features that were not yet completed or implemented. The company does plan further beta versions to completely flesh out the promised features.
There are three products in this release: the Notes client, Domino Server, and Domino Designer. As such, all three products deliver a good dose of competition to multiple rivals.
On the client side, Notes R5 offers a good blend of features for both traditional and Web users. Support for simultaneous Notes and Internet mail access, application usage, and Web browsing within a single interface stiffens the competition with other groupware products, such as Novell's GroupWise, and offers more than the typical Internet mail client, such as Microsoft's Outlook.
Domino Server's platform support goes well beyond that of other groupware offerings to include the likes of the AS/400 and S/390. The addition of stronger Internet standards support, clustering with fail-over and load balancing, real-time access to relational data, transactions, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems will expand Domino's appeal as an application-serving platform.
Domino Designer has been overhauled significantly and now blends both Domino and Web development into a single interface. This pits Lotus directly against application development tool offerings from multiple vendors in both the client/server and Web arenas.
The Notes client interface has been completely redone, and I was delighted with the new look and feel. Navigation is quite similar to a Web browser with navigation aids, tabs, and bookmarks. The Notes client's size is also smaller than in previous versions, thus making it easier for end users to download and update.
I especially liked being able to access my Notes mail and my Internet mail accounts from the same Notes client interface. I also tried the reverse and accessed my Notes mail from the browser with more mixed results. My Notes mail access seemed to work fine, but my browser's access of the calendaring and scheduling component didn't seem to work right.
Those on the go will like the new Lightweight Directory Catalog - a compressed version of the Domino Directory (formerly known as the Public Address Book). Millions of user entries can be downloaded to a laptop and take up a very small amount of storage. Portable devices, such as PalmPilots and pagers, are also supported.
E-mail usage is easier due to scroll-down support for addressing messages and due to the separation of the message header from the text for easier reading. Searching capabilities are also greatly improved with search tools that originated at IBM's laboratories. Users can search for information on the Web, on the Notes network, and across domains.
There are actually three server options available during installation: Domino Mail Server, Domino Application Server, and Domino Enterprise Server. As you might expect, Domino Mail Server supports typical groupware functions, such as e-mail, calendars, and scheduling. Domino Application Server adds application serving, while Domino Enterprise Server adds fail-over and load-balancing features.
Although I had no trouble setting up any of these server options in new installations, I did experience some difficulties while migrating from some prior Domino versions.
Migrations from Domino Server 4.6 seemed to work fairly well, but migrating releases prior to Version 4.6 produced some strange results. Lotus is still working on bolstering the migration effort and expects to make it fully streamlined prior to final release.
The Domino Directory size has been expanded in R5 to accommodate as many as 1 million users; there's also support for LDAP 3. Those concerned with security will find support for Secure Socket Layer 3, X.509, Common Data Security Architecture, and Secure MIME.
The greatly improved graphical interface sports a number of useful tools. For example, the Outline Designer was helpful for designing my Web site structures, and the Frameset Designer made it easier for me to build some multipaned test applications. Many Notes user interface components, such as views, are available as Java applets in this latest version.
I found a lot to like in the Domino Enterprise Connection Services (DECS) tool. I was able to use a wizard to add access to relational data sources, such as Oracle, in my applications. DECS also supports ERP systems, such as SAP and PeopleSoft and transaction systems, such as CICS.
Although this beta version is still in need of a lot of refinement before it is ready for prime time, the future looks promising indeed for the R5 version of the Notes client, Domino Server, and Domino Designer.
Lotus has added and enhanced more features in this version than in any of the previous releases I can remember. IT organisations interested in purchasing or upgrading to R5 will definitely want to take a test drive during the fourth quarter.
The Bottom Line
Domino Server R5, Beta 1 Notes R5, Beta 1 Domino Designer R5, Beta 1Lotus is packing a punch with the fifth version of its groupware, application-serving, and development software. If delivered as promised, Lotus stands a good chance of further securing and even extending its IT reach.
Pros: Good feature support for both traditional and Web users; server-side enhancements bode well for high-end sites; expanded development options wrapped in an improved graphical interface.
Cons: Some features not yet implemented; many bugs in this beta release; migration from previous server releases not yet solid.
Platforms: Domino Server: Windows NT 4.0; AIX, HP-UX, Solaris, OS/2, AS/400, S/390; Domino Designer and Notes client: Windows 9x, Windows NT 4.0 Workstation. (Power Macintosh OS 7.6, OS 8.1 in Beta 2.)Price: Not yet announced. Ship date: Fourth quarter.
Lotus Tel (02) 9350 7700