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Oct 08, 2002 08:02 AM 5518 Views
(Updated Oct 08, 2002 08:02 AM)

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Lotus was a company which first came into the limelight back in the early 80’s with their revolutionary spreadsheet package called Lotus 1-2-3, which brought PC’s in the forefront of enterprise computing. Two decades have passed ever since, and though Lotus no longer figures as serious competition in the spreadsheet category, it is back with a bang, in the enterprise Groupware domain.


Lotus Notes R5 client is a mail client (much like Outlook Express or Netscape Messenger) designed almost exclusively for large and medium enterprises. Apart from the usual characteristics of any mail client, it’s collaborative/workflow functions keeps it way ahead from the rest of the pack. Of course, Notes has to work in conjunction with Lotus Domino Mail server, which forms the messaging platform and framework for the enterprise. Since my review is catered mainly to the non-technical community here, I will abstain from elaborating much on Domino or Designer.


The Client is designed well with an attractive interface. Apart from Mail it has advanced group scheduling functions. An employee can make an entry on his calendar, and if he wishes so, the S/W automatically collates the event with other members in the group. It also notifies the person initiating the event if it coincides with events in the calendar of other group members. The Mail features are rather extensive but simplistic in approach. What I like most about Notes is that it has a single screen interface, and all windows (Inbox, Compose etc.) open within the main Notes interface. This avoids cluttering up the taskbar and allows easy switching to and from Notes and other applications.


Notes also makes use of attractive stationary and letterheads. Since users are able to use a letterhead of their own choice, it becomes easy to distinguish internal mail from within the organization with external mails. Using Domino designer, one can create exciting logos and stationary specifically for the enterprise. The address book is an exciting tool. Users have the option of creating their own address books as well as using the default address book(s) which contain the information of the users in the enterprise. It is also easy to import data from an existing mailing infrastructure such as Microsoft Exchange.


File management in Notes is terrific as well. Once in a while users are encouraged to archive their mails, which basically imply that the Client backs up and compresses all old information so that it takes up comparatively a lower amount of space, thus saving up on disk space.


Let’s now focus our attention on the most exciting aspect of Notes; namely the workflow and collaborative functions which help it to blow the competition away. A workflow process is basically defined whenever information has to flow amongst users in a predefined order and format. For example, let us consider a typical case of a leave approval system which is prevalent amongst most organizations. An employee applies for a leave (say a casual one) on Notes. His application is automatically forwarded to his immediate superior, who has the option of accepting it or rejecting it. In case the application is rejected, the employee receives a mail stating that his application has been rejected and causes cites thereon (if any) . In case the application is accepted, the application moves on to the next person up the hierarchy and so on. Finally after reaching the last stage, Notes can be configured to make requisite changes in the Employee/HR Database without manual intervention. Sounds great doesn’t it?? Compare that with a traditional paper-based process and you will realize why the business world is so gung ho about Lotus Notes. It is important to note that collaborative licensing for the clients is a bit more expensive than regular mail licenses. Also, a Domino Application server is required in lieu of a generic Domino Mail server.


Lets now move onto the some of the infrastructural aspects of Notes. Lotus is a wholly owned subsidiary of IBM. This effectively means it runs of a multitude of different platforms such as Windows (Client only), WindowsNT, AIX, Solaris, Compaq Tru UNIX and Linux. It can be configured over leased lines, ISDN or even dialup connections (with the aid of a 3rd party S/W such as POP@Gift) Notes is also an important S/W Pillar for IBM (The others being Websphere, Tivoli and DB2) and so users are entitled to comprehensive onsite support from IBM and their S/W channel implementers/partners.


Did I mention about Lotus Sametime?? If I didn’t, Sametime is a real-time videoconferencing tool which integrates seamlessly with Notes to provide real time chat and audio/video conferencing. There’s also Domino.Doc, a document management system, which realizes the vision of a true paperless office, but that’s another story. I’ll be writing on these products soon.


That’s that, now for the bad news. Notes is kind of expensive (Collab version), and henceforth feasible only to medium and large organizations. But in spite of the formidable costs entailed, the fact Notes is so overwhelmingly popular and boasts of a clientele list comprising of the who’s-who of the Business world is ample testimony of it’s reliability, scalability and effectiveness.


On an ending note, if you are interested in Lotus Notes (or any other IBM S/W) and are based in either Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata, drop me a line at ddutta@dvlp.com


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