Product review: Notes expands its client options

Lotus Development's second public beta of Release 5 (R5) of the Notes client and Domino server adds impressive improvements that will help dispel the notion that Lotus is a proprietary groupware solution. With the addition of Internet standards, the Notes client can now be used with or without a Domino server. Likewise, the Domino server can support clients other than Notes.

Internet standards support in the R5 version of Notes, Domino, and the development tool known as Designer pits Lotus against some familiar as well as some new rivals. In some areas, such as the addition of lightweight directory access protocol support, Lotus is playing catch-up with rival clients from Microsoft and Netscape, which already have the feature.

This beta version adds integrated search capabilities to the Notes client. This feature allows the end-user to seek data whether stored locally, on the Web, or in Domino databases. These searching capabilities raise the ante for rivals such as Microsoft Exchange and Outlook.

Adding Internet standards support to Domino R5 increases the pressure on Exchange. However, Domino can now compete as a Web server or as an application server given its Web connectivity and back-end hooks. This support pits Lotus against Microsoft, Oracle, Netscape, and even IBM's WebSphere Application Server, among others.

The same is true of Lotus Designer R5. The development tools included in Designer support Web-page creation, frames, Java, JavaScript, and LotusScript. Developers can use Designer to build Web applications that don't use Domino, to build Domino applications that extend to the Web, or to build Domino-specific applications.

This flexibility places Lotus in contention with a bevy of development tools from the likes of Inprise (formerly Borland), Symantec, and others. Designer is well-equipped to compete as a Web development tool -- even for non-Domino shops.

Most of the new features in Beta 2 of R5 can be found in the almost completely overhauled Notes client. Lotus seems to have worked out a lot of the kinks, such as those found in the bookmark feature in the first beta release.

To compete against Microsoft's Outlook, the second Notes beta version sports a Headlines feature. With the Headlines page, users can choose the content they wish to see. For example, users might configure their Headline pages to check e-mail, receive automatic Web site updates, and check the company's internal news applications upon arriving at work.

The second beta release also contains a new Notes client setup wizard that is fairly straightforward. The wizard is especially useful for those setting up Notes as an Internet client, however, large sites will probably want to take advantage of centrally configuring clients.

Lotus expects to ship R5 by the end of this year -- even with the amount of features that have been changed and added. The company still has some work to do to iron out the usual beta bugs.

Current customers will want to upgrade to R5 once it is ready. Others seeking a flexible client, solid application serving, and Web development tools should give R5 a look, too.

Maggie Biggs (maggie_biggs@infoworld.com) is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Centre who evaluates application development and database technologies.

The bottom line

Notes Client Release 5, Beta 2;

Domino Server Release 5, Beta 2;

Domino Designer Release 5, Beta 2

The second beta release of Lotus' groupware client, server, and development tool shows impressive ease-of-use for both end users and administrators. However, the completely overhauled interfaces will require user training prior to their implementation.

Pros: Impressive end-user interface enhancements; new administrative client simplifies management; high-end server features, such as clustering, bode well for large sites; develop Web or Domino applications with Designer.

Cons: User training a must; beta bugs.

Lotus Development Corp., Cambridge, Massachusetts; (800) 343-5414; www.lotus.com.

Price: Not available.

Platforms: Domino Server: Windows NT 4.0; AIX, HP-UX, Sun Solaris, OS/2, AS/400, S/390; Notes Client and Domino Designer: Windows 9x, Windows NT 4.0 Workstation; Macintosh PowerPC 7.6, PowerPC 8.1.

Ship date: Fourth quarter.

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