Lotus Notes is getting the message-the instant message. Lotus Notes 6.5, to be announced Monday, adds integrated instant messaging to its e-mail and collaboration tools.
Lotus Notes 6.5 is the company's first major update to its messaging client since release 6, which was unveiled last year. The latest version is designed to make users more productive, says Tim Kounadis, a senior product marketing manager with IBM Lotus Software.
"We looked at this as a way to empower productivity. We looked at the user who gets 75 to 150 e-mail messages a day, and said, 'What can we do on the Notes side to make that user more productive?' " Kounadis says.
To that end, release 6.5 has a "unified interface" that brings together a number of the different elements of collaboration. In one screen, a user can see the in-box, to-do list, calendar, and instant messenger buddy list, as well as a window for searching the Web and a launcher to open documents, URLs or applications from within Lotus Notes.
Key among the new features are the enhanced instant messaging functions. Lotus Notes 6.5 revolves around "presence awareness," the capability to see whether contacts are online and available. For example, when a message arrives in your in-box, Notes displays an icon if the sender is online and available to chat. You can click on the e-mail message and select "chat with" to open an instant message window.
Lotus Notes 6.5 also lets you send instant messages to several buddies at once, enabling you to open a Web discussion of sorts. For example, you can open an e-mail message and send an instant message to all of the recipients in the "to" and "cc" fields.
"Sometimes, you get an e-mail message and realize that you need more information, or need to get in touch with that person right away," Kounadis says. "This improves productivity because you don't have to spend time making phone calls."
Release 6.5 also supports single sign-on, he says. As soon as you open your Notes application, you're logged on to the IM client as well. You can set lockdown times and away times to block instant messages, however.
The integrated messaging features have some limitations, Kounadis acknowledges. The stand-alone IM application, Lotus Instant Messaging (formerly called Lotus Sametime), enables users to chat with users of America Online's popular AOL Instant Messenger service, but the client integrated into Lotus Notes 6.5 does not offer that feature. For now, users can only chat with other users of Lotus's service.
Lotus also bolstered its spam controls in release 6.5. The antispam features added to release 6 focused on stopping spam at the server level through use of blocklists, Kounadis says. Release 6.5 focuses on spam control at the client level, adding a feature called "Block Mail from Sender." This gives users more control over which messages are automatically delivered into the junk mail folder.
The update also simplifies the rules engine built into earlier versions of Lotus Notes. A new feature, called Quick Rules, is a wizard-based interface that gives users a simpler way to set rules regarding certain messages and keywords. For example, you can set rules to delete messages from a certain sender, or automatically send to a select folder any messages that contain a particular word in the subject line.
Release 6.5 adds some productivity tools, including the capability to tag items to which you've replied and those that you've forwarded. You also can tag items that require follow-up attention. For example, when you get a message that needs a reply or further attention, but you can't handle it immediately, you can tag the message with a follow-up mark and set a date for further action. You can also set an alarm to remind you that the item still needs to be addressed.
Lotus has also made improvements to Domino Web access, which gives users Web-based access to their Lotus Notes mailboxes. Domino Web access now includes all of the features available in the desktop client. Also, the company is extending support beyond Internet Explorer to include Mozilla running on Red Hat for Linux users.