Having reviewed products for most of the decade, it's not often that I get really excited about a new product release. However, I got excited over Lotus' latest releases of Domino and Notes.
I stumbled on Lotus' Domino and Notes Release 5 (R5), which had been clogging up my mailbox for several days; after playing with the product for a few weeks, I can say that R5 is truly inspiring. Although the product has a couple of elements that need polishing, both the Notes client and Domino server should inspire a renewed interest in the platform. Specifically, R5 adds several features that improve the product as a platform for Web-based applications.
Domino and Notes have been a strong platform for power users, but not so forgiving in the eyes of the typical end user. And, because the product is really a client/server development platform, the end-user experience for custom applications is determined by in-house or contracted developers.
As Lotus has made shifts during the past three years to Web-enable Domino, I have had some concerns about the viability of the product as a competitor in the Web application server market. My stance on the issue is this: if your company already has an investment in Notes-based applications or has a strong pool of Notes development talent, then Domino might make sense as a Web platform.
I find this position justified by the fact that most typical, "open" platforms, such as Netscape's Enterprise Server, Apache, or Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS), provide a much greater choice with respect to development tools and back-end relational data stores. Consistent with basic supply and demand, open platforms provide a larger talent pool.
The release of R5 begins to change the equation, though. There are three factors in the new product line that promise to overcome past barriers.
The most significant factor is the evolution of features on Domino. The addition of Domino Enterprise Connection Services brings better access with relational database systems, and offers better performance scalability. In addition, Domino now supports CORBA and Internet InterORB Protocol, which together allow developers to access objects on remote systems - a critical advance for supporting a distributed application architecture.
Also in Domino R5, Lotus has built in support that lets administrators register Domino as an Internet Server API service. This enhancement allows customers to use IIS as the core HTTP server engine. Thus corporate sites get the benefits of both Domino and IIS as a single, cohesive system.
Second, the addition of IIS integration means that developers get better server-side support for HTML-based authoring tools, including built-in HTTP or FTP posting mechanisms. On its own, Domino supports automated posting only from NetObjects Fusion, via an add-on component slipstreamed some time ago into one of the incremental releases of Domino. Adding the support that IIS brings to the table enables developers to use a wider variety of tools.
Third, Lotus' Domino Designer client now makes it much easier for developers to produce or employ typical Web-based elements, such as frame sets, image maps, and Java applets, in Notes forms and documents.
Domino is now a more compelling choice for deploying Web-based applications. The advances serve to transition the platform to a middle-tier logic server rather than an actual data repository.