By Richard Echeandia
I don't know about you, but over the last six or seven years I've grown tired of apologizing for the Lotus Notes interface. There's something about those guys at Iris that seems to make them rebel against industry standard interfaces. From big things like the Notes workspace and the less-than-intuitive bookmark bar, to little things like the angle brackets that denote the limits of a field, the Notes and Domino interfaces have always seemed a little...well...different. If these complaints sound familiar or if you've put off learning more about Domino off-line services, you owe it to yourself to preview the new version of the iNotes Web Access client from Lotus.
The program has a clean, modern, and more industry standard interface than any Notes or Domino client that's come before it. The current beta isn't without its problems, but if the final product lives up to the promise shown by this early preview, then users will have some powerful new options for Web-based access to their calendars and email.
To begin with, iNotes isn't a product, it's a brand name that Lotus uses to refer to that segment of their client strategy that covers access to the Domino server through a browser or Microsoft Outlook-based clients. For most organizations, the most important and frequently used component of this strategy will probably be iNotes Web Access, code named "Shimmer." Shimmer is a Web client for Domino-based mail, calendar, scheduling, and collaboration services. The Shimmer client also uses the latest version of DOLS (Domino Offline Services) to give you a very good level of functionality in a Web-based client that works without being connected to a network.
Testing process, take 1
There are two ways that you can work with the beta. If you'd like to become familiar with the product from an administrator's perspective, you can download and install a little over 200MB of compressed executables from the iNotes Web Access beta site found at http://www.notes.net/inotes. This gives you two separate programs, the beta version of the server with off-line services support and the latest beta of the Domino Administrator program. With these, you'll be able to set up a test server, register new users, and create new user mail files.
However, unless you need a large number of people to work with the beta, I'd recommend against this option as its fairly difficult to implement in most existing Domino organizations. In my test environment, I used a Toshiba Tecra 8100 laptop with 128MB of RAM running Windows 98SE. As this machine already has an R4 client, an R5 server, and all of the R5 clients, the last thing that I wanted was to add another set of R5 servers and clients. Unfortunately, because the current beta is based on "5.0.5 plus a little more," you need to work with the beta version of the server and the beta version of the mail templates and administration program. If you choose to use this option, be sure to read the extensive cautions in the beta readme document regarding not running the beta in a production environment because your regular mail files could get clobbered.