Lotus Notes and Domino boast new features

Every now and then, IBM Corp. proves that it deserves to be in the office suite market by revamping its Lotus suite.

I took a look at IBM's Lotus Notes and Domino 6.5.1, having reviewed Version 6 of both products last year. The latest release is a big upgrade in both features and usability.

The e-mail component of the suite has several advances, some of which play catch-up to the dominant Microsoft Outlook, but Notes does have nice touches missing from Outlook.

If a Notes message has been forwarded or is a reply, it says so. Of course, most other e-mail systems already do that. But in the 'not seen before' category, a follow-up button launches a square text box where you can type information in sticky-note style. It pops up each time you look at the e-mail.

You can also set alarms from the e-mail program to remind you of meetings or tasks related to a message.

Administrative workers will adore the new drag-and-drop calendar interface. When a message arrives that seems to merit scheduling a meeting, you drag it over to the calendar icon and specify the meeting time. Lotus automatically fills in invitees from the message in the 'To' field and fills in optional others in the 'cc' field.

This new fill-in-everything technology helps you set mail rules elsewhere within the suite. Mail rules are nothing new, but few people actually use them because they are so awkward to create.

With the new Lotus, however, most of the info is already filled in when you click to set a rule. Depending on what message is open when you make a rule, the software fills in sender name, domain and subject line. All you have to do is make the rule you want to apply to that category of mail.

The Notes calendar can do something that a lot of software developers talk about but have never quite perfected before: the delta shift.

Say you hold meetings in your office every other day from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., except on Monday when the meeting is 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Then something happens that causes a Monday meeting to be pushed back an hour.

The program knows that all the meetings are related because that is how you set it up. It presents several options when you start to change the time of one meeting. You can apply the change to Monday only and leave the rest alone, push all the meetings back an hour even if they're scheduled for different times, or move all the meetings to the new time.

This is a terrific feature if you have long-term meeting plans where one change affects the entire schedule. It's neat to watch the Notes calendar automatically bring your schedule back into sync.

Lotus is also out in front in the new game of spam control. You can block a sender, which most e-mail programs do these days, but you can also block an entire domain.

Say you are receiving frequent spam from a domain in Eastern Europe, but with different user names every day. Simply block that domain and eliminate the problem altogether.

IBM has set its sights squarely on Microsoft Corp.'s business with Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook. If you have a large user base accustomed to Outlook but you would prefer to administer with Domino at the back end, now you can. Outlook will work just as it always has, but with an interface to Domino.

I didn't notice any difference in the operation, and I suspect none of your users will, either.

The reason IBM put the .1 at the end of the version number was to emphasize that the suite is now cross-compatible in both design and look.

Microsoft has been bragging for some time that users need learn only one program in the Office suite to have at least mild proficiency with the rest. Things look and feel the same no matter what suite program is open.

That's a big selling point, and IBM/Lotus has finally caught on.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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