Today, instant messaging, custom applications, and calendaring are as common as e-mail, and Lotus has clearly gotten the message of their importance. For instance, Lotus has had an instant messaging product called Lotus Sametime for a while now, yet Lotus has recently changed Sametime's name to Lotus Instant Messaging and designed it to integrate with Domino 6.5.
To help you decide whether to upgrade or switch to a Lotus Notes platform, I will examine how Domino 6.5 integrates with instant messaging, custom applications, and calendaring. Before I begin, you should note that Lotus Instant Messaging integration is not available for those people running Notes on Macintosh. With that said, let's take a look at the new product's integration capabilities.
Lotus Notes / instant messaging integration
The new version of Lotus Notes offers a single sign-on mechanism that allows clients to automatically log into Lotus Instant Messaging at the time they log into Lotus Notes or Domino Web Access 6.5. The user interface has been redesigned to allow you to perform instant messaging activities without having to open a separate window. Such activities include things like seeing who is online, managing your instant message contact lists, and initiating chats with other Lotus Instant Messaging users.
Although I am not generally a big Lotus fan, I think that Lotus has done a great job with this new interface. Suppose for a moment that you wanted to send an e-mail to a group of people, but you wanted to let one of the people on the list know that it was coming and that a certain part of the message doesn't apply to them. You can right-click on any of the recipients in the messages' To: field and a shortcut menu will appear. This shortcut menu allows you to initiate a chat with the person, add them to your instant messaging contact list, invite them to a meeting, or create a memo to the person.
What makes this interface really stand out is the Chat With All option. Suppose that your boss sends a message to everyone in the department and you have a rebuttal. You could right-click on the line showing all the people the message was sent to and then choose the Chat With All option. In doing so, you have just initiated a chat session with everyone involved in the message. Of course, you can always just chat with the message's sender too.
As you work with the new interface, you will notice the colored blocks next to user names within messages. These colored blocks are online status indicators. If a block is green, it means that Domino knows that the user is online and that you can initiate a chat with that user. There is also a button that allows you to control your own instant messaging status from within Domino. For example, you could set your instant messaging status to I Am Away, Do Not Disturb Me, or I Am Active. This same button even contains options for editing your instant message contact list and for logging off of instant messaging.
In fact, there are three different places where you can access the instant messaging interface from the new Notes desktop. In a recent demo, I saw a Notes desktop configured to simultaneously display e-mail messages, the user's calendar, the user's to do list, the instant messaging contact list, a search box, and an application launcher. While the screen did seem a little cluttered, it was really nice to have all of this information available in one location. The interface will only be practical, though, if your users have large monitors and screen resolutions of at least 1280 x 1024.
Integration with custom applications
While the e-mail and instant messaging integration is great, it by no means represents all of the possible types of integration within Domino 6.5. The instant messaging capabilities can be rolled into custom Domino applications as well. A good example of this is a help desk application. In many organizations, when a user has a computer problem, he or she may use a special application to request assistance from the help desk. This application typically asks the user for some basic information, such as the make or model of the PC, the kind of problems that the user is having, and the user's contact information. After the user fills in this information, the system may automatically e-mail the user a trouble ticket number. From there, a help desk staff member may contact the user or the user may present the trouble ticket to a help desk staffer and ask for help.
If such an application were Domino-enabled, the application could receive the information from the user and check to see if any technicians are available. If a technician is available, the application could send a trouble ticket number to the user along with a "Click Here To Get Help" link. When the user clicks on the link, the user would be placed in a live chat session with the assigned technician.
As you might expect, the calendaring feature still exists within Lotus Notes. However, this feature has been beefed up as well. With Lotus 6.5, users can actually drag an e-mail message to the calendar to create an appointment based on the e-mail message.
The calendar has been beefed up in other ways as well. The calendar now contains a single interface for booking any type of meeting (physical or online). Now, when a user books a meeting, the user simply fills in the meeting location fields or selects a check box if the meeting is an online meeting. At the time of booking the meeting, the user even has the option of including attachments that attendees may need to review prior to the meeting.
The pricing for Domino 6.5 is fairly consistent with other Domino releases. There are three varieties of Domino Server: a messaging server, a utility server, and an enterprise server. Licenses for the messaging server start at $1,145 per processor. Licenses for the enterprise server version start at $2,964, while the utility server pricing starts at $15,067 per processor.
Additionally, each user requires a client access license. A standard Notes license costs $125 per user. If a user will only be accessing Notes via the Web, that cost is reduced to $62.80 per user.
The jury is still out
It is obvious that Lotus has put a lot of thought into this new Domino release. While I'm sure that many organizations that are already using Domino will upgrade to Domino 6.5, it remains to be seen whether Lotus will win many Exchange converts. The problem is that many end users simply won't need all of these cool new features enough to make it a cost-effective switch. We will just have to wait and see how this new release is received by businesses before making a final verdict.