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An Average Bloomer
Apr 26, 2003 08:44 PM 3607 Views
(Updated Apr 26, 2003 08:44 PM)

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The recent trend being exhibited by many leading integrated groupware package makers to bundle up an internet browser along with their multi-purpose tasking software may mean that a host of smaller stand-alone e-mail software makers might soon have to shut shop. The increasing preference being shown by their corporate clients across the world to avail of a single product that encompasses many communication applications at a reasonable cost sends out a clear signal – shape up or ship out!

Large players like Lotus, Microsoft and Netscape have been testing and launching newer versions of Lotus Notes (LN), Outlook and Communicator respectively. These integrated software all have the ability to manage mails over large networks, enable the user to browse the internet without having to switch applications and offer the additional incentive of storing all personal information and other memoranda thus acting as PIMs (Personal Information Managers) as well.

Of the three packages mentioned before, Lotus and Microsoft hold nearly a 60-70% stranglehold of this fast expanding market. I have not used either Netscape Communicator or MS Outlook on a long term basis in the recent past but have been using Lotus Notes (Version 5) at office for the last 2 years or so prior to which we were still patronizing Lotus Development Corp by using its “Lotus Cc Mail” from the pre-Neolithic age.

What is Lotus Notes?

As I mentioned earlier, it is an integrated software designed specifically for use over LAN (Local Area Networks), meaning that it can be used ideally by companies having a staff strength of 50 and above because anything lesser than that would not result in economies of scale. A fully scalable package would comprise an e-mail management client, a personal information manager, an inbuilt Internet browser, a business meeting scheduler, calendar, etc. Most of us use different applications to perform each of these tasks at the work but Lotus Notes combines all this and more to provide a truly integrated package.

1. Installation Process (4/5)

To install LN, the basic system requirements required are a main server running on any of Windows 98/2000/XP/ME/NT platforms and a minimum RAM of 128 MB. This is dependent on the number of users/client machines and other factors like speed of the main server and client machines, bandwidth, etc. The installation process is extremely simple and takes about 5-10 minutes depending on the speed of the PC and the options selected for installation. The installation process is a breeze – no glitches whatsoever. After installation, the main server configuration needs to be set because all the incoming/outgoing e-mails pass through it and then its ready for use.

2. Interface And Other Trivia (4/5)

Open it for the first time and an attractive welcome page greets you. It looks quite confusing at first sight but take some time to go through the contents and then the view options can be customized from a set of pre-installed alternatives. The Menu is organized well, considering the numerous tasks that are handled by LN and the icons look sleek and stylish without being too loud in appearance. What I liked the most here is the clear separation between the icons for different purposes. There is a new-look toolbar with 6-8 icons on the extreme left of the screen which can be used for switching between mails, calendar, address book, scheduler, Replicator, etc. The Internet browser icons have been placed on the top right hand corner so as not to get mixed up with those of the other applications.

3. Applications And Their Utility Value (4/5)

I use the e-mail manager and Internet browser extensively throughout the day and find it very convenient to switch between these two without having to open IE at all. The e-mail manager is 100 times better vis-à-vis “Lotus Cc Mail”, both in terms of applicability and the options available. All the basic options like preferences, templates, setting the fonts and appearance of mails, mail priorities (the “Return Receipt” feature is very helpful in my line of work), etc. are excellent. There is no restriction on the number of attachments, obviously because that will be set by the system administrator.

The Internet browser is deceptively simple and has all the features that we find in an IE. Since LN client is compatible with POP3, SMTP and IMAP protocols, one can send and receive e-mail to and from the inter-LAN LN users as well as with Internet based mail servers.

Among other applications, I use the Calendar and Scheduler for keeping track of important dates, Birthdays/Anniversaries and important client meetings. The Meeting Scheduler has this very helpful feature of not only notifying the staff of the date and time of the meeting but also conveys back their response to the convenor.

4. Ease of Use (1/5)

This is one of the pitiable factors about LN. Try as you may, certain things need the IQ of above 150 to figure out how to do them. This is all the more confusing for first time users (including yours truly) who will invariably take a long time to figure out what is what and how the various applications operate.

Unfortunately, even the “Help” section fails to provide succor by being too complicated to understand and handle. Look for something simple like “changing templates” and it is sure to take you through the history of LN and other unrelated matters and still not being able to help the user out. From my previous experience (with Lotus Cc mail), Lotus was never any good at designing its help files to make life more peaceful for users.

TiC’s Overall Rating (3/5)

All in all, LN is a fairly decent package and satisfies all my communication needs at office. Another problem area is that it guzzles up a lot of memory, especially when the “Replicator” is at work with the main mail server periodically to check for new incoming/outgoing mails. Towards the latter half of the day, my PC actually becomes so sluggish that it takes me about 10-15 seconds to open an MS Word window.

Lotus announced the release of version 6.0 (beta) and is scheduled to come out with the commercial launch anytime now (or may be, it’s just done that). If LN 5 was such a drastic improvement over its predecessor, I can’t wait to see what will unfold in version 6. I only hope the Help section is better organised there.

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Lotus Notes R5