IBM Polishes Collaboration Platform

 
 
By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2006-01-16
 
 
 

IBM Polishes Collaboration Platform


With Version 7 of the Lotus Domino server and Notes client, IBM continues to make the case for an integrated collaboration and application platform.



Click here to read the full review of Lotus Notes/Domino 7.

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With Version 7 of the Lotus Domino server and Notes client, IBM continues to make the case for an integrated collaboration and application platform.

Released in the second half of last year, IBM Lotus Notes and Domino 7 is available through six different licensing options, each offering its own set of messaging, collaboration and database application capabilities. The Enterprise Server edition, which eWEEK Labs tested, costs $3,705 per processor.

IBM also offers per-user pricing for smaller organizations, with the $96-per-user Messaging Express and the $133-per-user Collaboration Express. Collaboration Express allows organizations to run messaging and collaboration features, as well as database applications, while Messaging Express provides messaging, calendar and scheduling applications.

Domino compares favorably in price with its two closest competitors: Novell Inc.s GroupWise 7.0, which costs $130 per user, and Microsoft Corp.s Exchange 2003, which costs $3,999 per server for the Enterprise Edition and $67 per user.

Most of the major improvements in this release of Lotus Notes and Domino affect administrators and developers. However, IBM has made a number of improvements for end users as well, making Version 7 an excellent upgrade for existing Notes and Domino shops.

For companies looking for a messaging solution, Notes and Domino is the most flexible one available. Not only does Domino run on a wide range of operating systems and server hardware, but it also provides a platform for delivering database-driven applications, e-mail and group calendaring, scheduling, and instant messaging.

Furthermore, the integration between the Notes client and IBMs IM and Web conferencing application, Lotus Sametime 7, is very well done.

More effective management

Domino is now less costly to manage because of improvements IBM has made to the servers unified, domainwide administration and policy-based management, as well as to the Notes clients remote update capability.

Click here to read reviews of four groupware servers that support a wide range of OS, Web and desktop-client options.

During tests, eWEEK Labs could manage an entire group of Domino servers using the Domino Administrator client through domain monitoring. The Administrator client allowed us to create a unified administration database for multiple servers on a single server.

We also could monitor databases on a domainwide basis so that we could view database access across replicas of databases on other servers. Domain monitoring also allows administrators to create probes that check database ACL (access control list) security across multiple databases.

Domino now supports private whitelists and blacklists, as well as DNS (Domain Name System) whitelists, to help companies manage spam. While we believe companies should dedicate most of the messaging security efforts at the network perimeter, these new features give companies a way to easily add another layer of protection at the server level.

Dominos ability to manage Notes client updates and policies makes it unique in the way the entire client/server architecture can be managed without the need for third-party tools.

IBM introduced remote client updates and policies in Version 6; in Version 7, IBM has made some enhancements that bring the tool up to par with dedicated third-party applications. For example, with Version 7 we could set thresholds to limit the number of client downloads from a single server. We also could set up failover servers and take advantage of clustering.

Domino now supports user-modifiable policies. This allows administrators to create and manage Notes and Domino Web Access client policies from the server but still give users the ability to customize the client to their work preferences.

Next Page: Broad client support.

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Like Novells Groupwise, Lotus Domino provides a broad range of client options.

In addition to the Notes client, Domino has a Web-based client, Domino Web Access, for accessing e-mail and calendars. Domino also supports Microsofts Outlook, but GroupWise still does the best job of providing native client support for Windows-, Mac OS- and Linux-based desktop operating systems by providing a native Mac OS and Linux client as well as the Evolution Linux client.

Read more here about Evolution.

Although the Notes client supports only Windows 2000 and Windows XP, IBM has done a good job of providing feature parity for Mac OS and Linux users through Domino Web Access on Mozilla Foundation browsers. The Domino Web Access user interface resembles the Notes client and provides a rich client experience through drag-and-drop capabilities and the ability to view mail threads.

IBM updated the Mac OS Notes client with Version 6.5 of Domino and Notes; that version can be used with Domino 7.

While most Web mail interfaces are still progressing from a tool of convenience to something that could be used all the time, Domino Web Access includes the kind of core functionality and convenience features that make it a very usable client. For example, we could import holiday lists, create stationery, and bring e-mail and calendar information offline.

Changes to the Notes client largely refine the user experience and will be welcome for companies that tap the full capabilities of the client. The resource and room scheduling function has been changed so it works in the same way as in calendaring and scheduling, eliminating the possibility of double-booking resources. In addition, users can now transfer reservations so that, for example, long-standing reservations can be passed to a successor when a user role changes. Users also can set up the client so that preferred lists of resources come up when scheduling.

We particularly liked that Notes can now automatically open any windows that a user had open the last time he or she logged out, as well as its ability to close all tabs using a single menu option.

We also appreciated some of the tweaks IBM has made in the mail client views, as well as some of the shortcuts that have been added. For example, IBM has added a number of iconic elements that will help users quickly see to whom message replies were sent, as well as the relative size of a distribution group. In addition, the right-mouse-button menu now supports follow-up actions, making it easier to flag messages.

DB2 debut

One of the biggest changes introduced in Version 7 of Lotus Notes and Domino is also one that isnt widely supported.

With this release, IBMs DB2 Universal Database can be used as a back-end store for Notes application data. IBM currently is offering only limited support for this capability. Companies can test the feature for internal development, but applications using DB2 as the store cannot be deployed.

DB2 support will allow companies to build more scalable and robust applications than they would ordinarily be able to by storing data in Notes native NSF (Notes Storage Format) data structure. The use of DB2 wont eliminate the need for Notes-specific development expertise, however, as developers will still need to work within the Domino Designer 7 client to create views and forms.

Developers will get better access to Notes data, however, which can be stored as NFS data within DB2 tables. And, rather than using Notes view formulas to present data within a Notes application, developers will be able to use SQL to present the data using DB2 Access Views in Designer.

IBM has done a good job of putting the necessary tools at hand for integrating Domino and DB2. We liked the DB2 Access Views tools within Domino Designer, and the Domino Administrator client has the necessary form for managing a users credentials that the Domino server will pass to the DB2 server.

Companies shouldnt expect to suddenly be able to move core Domino applications to DB2, however, as databases must be specifically created as DB2 databases.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

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Evaluation Shortlist

Bynari Inc.s Insight Server 4.2 Provides well-integrated open-source tools but lacks good deployment tools (www.bynari.com)

Microsofts Exchange Server 2003 Defines groupware in the Outlook world; allows forms-based applications in Outlook (www.microsoft.com)

Novells GroupWise 7.0 Excellent workflow and IM integration with broad client operating system support (www.novell.com)

Scalix Corp.s Scalix Server 9.2 Brings good Exchange and Outlook feature fidelity to Linux and Outlook, with an excellent Web mail interface (www.scalix.com)

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

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