New Components suite is just what Notes users have wanted

Plenty of government users already work with Lotus Notes groupware, and more will under
the forthcoming Defense Message System. Lotus' August release of Components could make
Notes a real live-in environment.


I've been a Notes user and developer since Release 1, and it's been a love-hate
relationship all the way. But Components gives Notes almost everything it needs to fulfill
my expectations.


The Components Starter Pack has six slim application modules: Spreadsheet, Chart, File
Viewer, Project Scheduler, Draw/Diagram and Comment. They average just 2M in size. Lotus
marketers say users can accomplish most of their work with these modules, never having to
leave Notes.


In a time of increasing demands on limited computing resources, isn't it great to find
something getting smaller? You use the spreadsheets and diagrams right within Notes--no
need to embed Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) objects from larger applications.


Components is the first collection of ActiveX (formerly known as OCX, or Microsoft OLE
control) modules to be released by a major software developer.


When I first heard about this product, it sounded like a college prank, like seeing how
many people can fit in a phone booth. But the beta Release 2 of Components manages to
strike a balance of usefulness to the end user and to the Notes application developer.


With the prebeta Template Builder in the Starter Pack, a developer can customize
Components to perform tasks within Notes applications. This isn't a panacea for all Notes
development problems, but there is an array of simple tools to develop complex database
forms.


Template Builder lets you alter Components to accomplish specific tasks. Notes
developers will find it handy; ambitious users might find it easy enough.


The Spreadsheet supports most end-user operations and lets developers embed advanced
calculation functions into Notes applications. The interface, as with all the Components,
is integrated into Notes and has a context-sensitive menu, live status bar, InfoBox and
SmartIcons.


The Spreadsheet's support for 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel syntax should make almost
everyone feel at home. You can build 3-D spreadsheets measuring 256 columns by 16,000
rows. You can create, import and export 1-2-3 Release 5 and Excel 7.0 worksheets. No extra
bells or whistles, just solid number-crunching.


The Chart Component is as fine a charting tool as I've ever used, with impressive
perspective, light sources, 3-D text and edge lighting.'20Charts can be exported in .BMP
or .WMF format.


The File Viewer is a good tool for an imperfect world. How many times have you been
asked to ""send that file to me again in a different format''? The File Viewer
shows more than 30 file types within Notes--no need for the source application. This
Component, the simplest of the bunch, will be extremely useful in heterogeneous
application environments.


Project Scheduler is less friendly. It relies on the graphical Gantt scheduling model
to display a project timeline. Any Gantt interface is cumbersome for average users, but
someone who uses a scheduler often will find this one full-featured, with adjustable
columns, a complete selection of time units, and drag-and-drop date entry from a calendar
window. You can link related tasks and customize grid lines and styles.


Most of the problems I ran into are shared by other schedulers. I have yet to find one
that does everything I want.


Draw/Diagram is straightforward and simple. Having used Lotus Freelance since the old
MS-DOS days, I knew the interface. Emphasis is on the diagram side of the equation; you
can construct simple drawings with shapes, templates and clip art, but this product excels
at diagrams and flow charts. Many templates are provided, and customization is easy with
dynamic connectors linking drawn objects.


The Comment Component lets you add yellow sticky notes electronically to any Notes
document. You can attach and launch files directly from within Comment, and the comments
can be expanded or collapsed for viewing a document after it makes the rounds.


The collapsed title bar displays author, date and time of comment. Routing from Notes
has never been so easy, and security features limit reading and editing rights.


The Components Product Warehouse, sent to Lotus Passport customers at no additional
charge, will be useful for installing, distributing and managing across organizations. It
grows as your Components grow.


Lotus plans to port its tiny Components to other "containers"--that is, major
software products.


In contrast, Microsoft Corp. has taken a lot of knocks over the perceived bloat in
Microsoft Office applications. It's interesting to see the diverging tactics of these two
software giants.


In fact, Lotus' SmartSuite could suffer if Components becomes very popular. When a
no-frills product can meet 85 percent of user needs, it's hard to justify paying more for
bells and whistles.


Lotus Development Corp., Cambridge, Mass.; tel. 800-555-5921


http://components.lotus.com
 


Price: $49 per seat; free to Lotus Passport customers with maintenance licenses


Overall grade: A


[+] Seamless Notes integration


[+] Provides for most user needs


[+] Raises the stakes in groupware


Real-life requirements:


32-bit Notes 4 (or higher version) platform with 12M free on drive



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