Bells and Whistles Add Up With Lotus' Latest
Lotus Notes/Domino 6.0 introduces some important new features for administrators, including Domino Console, Web Administrator, and policy-based management. There are practically countless smaller bells-and whistles, too, largely aimed at giving administrators and end users a smoother and more flexible user interface.
"It's the 1,000 little things Lotus has done that make R6 a value proposition," contended Craig Roth, vice president of Web and collaborative strategies at Meta Group. "Side-by-side time zones" is one of Roth's personal favorites.
Tim Kounadis, senior market manager for IBM Lotus Software. pointed to color-coded e-mail as another usability feature. "You can tell immediately whether an e-mail comes from your boss or from other team members."
Many of the changes in R6, though, are much more sweeping. "R6 uses network compression to reduce the number of bytes. This (lessens) waiting time for clients and generally improves performance," observed Joyce Graff, a VP at GartnerGroup
Aside from Domino Console, Web Administrator, and policy-based management, the bigger changes in R6 include remote server set-up; fault recovery, easier replication, and an "intelligent" mail assistant..
A chorus of bells & whistles
The Notes R6 client, administrator client, and designer each feature a new toolbar which totally replaces the SmartIcons in R5. Multiple rows of icons can now be displayed at the same time. Drag-and-drop is simpler now, according to Kounadis.
When Lotus introduces support for roaming users, these toolbar settings and configurations will start following end users between PCs. Roaming user support is currently planned for the first maintenance release to R6.
Lotus's smaller GUI enhancements have been extended to welcome pages, calendar and scheduling, and even spell checking, for example. In both client and designer, the redesigned default Welcome page now includes Personal Journal, Tip of the Day, and New Item buttons. End users can turn Tip of the Day on and off. Administrators can modify the Tip of the Day list.
Other "welcome changes"
Lotus now offers 13 different frameset styles for the Welcome page. In a new Welcome page wizard, end users can now select between one to six frames. If they opt for the single-frame home page, they can select from a gallery of different layouts. Some sections can be customized by the user with different themes and colors.
For users choosing multiple frames, Lotus has added a "switcher" for each frame, which enables users to select between Notes databases, file systems, and Web pages.
Administrators, though, can now lock the content of any frame in their customized Welcome pages. When this happens, individual end users can no longer change the content of the locked frame.
Color-coded calendar, medical spell checker
In the calendar view, "to do" and all-day events now appear up top. Lotus has added color-coding to the calendar, too, to make it easier for users to distinguish between various types of entries.
When spell checking documents, users can now switch to a foreign language dictionary. English-speaking users will also be able to switch to supplemental dictionaries, but "medical" is the only supplemental dictionary supported right now.
New Domino Console
The new Domino console for systems administrators consists of two Java-based application modules. The Controller module operates on the server. The Console module, on the other hand, is designed to run separately on any machine.
To connect from the Console module to a Controller, administrators need to have their names input into the server document in NAB under the Security tab. Access rights should be designated, too. Options include "full access administrators; full remote console administrators; view only administrators; systems administrators; and restricted system administrators."
"Restricted systems administrators," for instance, are only able to issue commands contained on a "restricted systems commands" list, which is also accessible from the Security tab.
For administrators to access Controller from remote machines, the Console must be operated on a publicly available port.
You can use the Domino Console to view Domino server statistics, and -- on several different operating systems -- OS level statistics such as CPU, memory, and disk I/O. Platform level statistics are available for Windows 2000, Windows NT, Sun Solaris, and IBM AIX and OS/400.
To see the platform statistics, use the Domino Console command "show stat platform." You can view individual network names, along with network adapter names.
Domino Set-Up Program
In earlier versions of Domino, server configuration was database-driven, via setup.nsf and setupweb.nsb. An administrator needed either a Notes client or a Web browser to hook up to these databases. In R6, however, the configuration GUI is also written 100 percent in Java.
Lotus has also gotten rid of the previous distinction between "Quick and Easy" and "Advanced" setup. You can now customize some items on each setup screen by clicking on the "Customize" button for the screen.
The new Domino set-up program is launched in the same way as the old one. On Windows systems, you can either select "Lotus Applications Domino Server" from the Start menu, or, from the command prompt in the Program Directory, run the 'nserver' command.
On Unix systems, you should "change directories to the data directory (default is /local/notesdata) and give the full path to the 'server' command in the bin directory (for example, "/opt/lotus/bin/server.'"
Lotus, though, has also left the old setup databases from previous releases of Domino in the server installation for R6. So if you run into any problems with the new user interface, you can always go back and use the old setup procedure.
Remote Server Set-Up
The new Domino Java Setup program contains a subset of files for configuring servers remotely over a network from any machine. Remote administrators can configure Domino running on any of its platforms.
"Right now, though, you can only set up one server remotely at a time," Kounadis acknowledged.
As in previous editions, R6 continues to offer Domino Administrator. For management of Domino Web servers, though, you can now use the browser-based Web Administrator instead.
Under Linux, Web Administrator must be used with the Netscape 4.7x browser. On Windows 98/XP/2000/NT 4 PCs, you can use either Netscape 4.7x or the Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 browser.
If you're using the IE browser, make sure the setting "Check for newer versions of stored pages" is set to Automatically." Otherwise, the browser might hand when drawing screen icons, according to Lotus's R6 Release Notes.
For authentication, administrators get a choice of Internet name-and-password or SSL. Name-and-password authentication is enabled by default.
Web Administrator has almost the same user interface as Domino Administrator. Most of the menu options, dialogs, and information boxes are the same. Web Administrator, though, lacks a few of the functions performed by Domino Administrator. It also presents certain information in a different way from Domino Administrator. For instance, details about mail routing statistics, mail routing schedules, and mail retrieval statistics are displayed from Web Administrator's Mail tab.
Moreover, Web Administrator's Replication and Mail Messaging tabs contain a Task tool, which can be used to enter Tell commands as well as to start, stop, and restart.
Functionality present in Domino Administrator, but absent in Web Administrator, includes the Domino Server Monitor and performance charting.
To be managed via Web administrator, a server must be set up as a Domino Web server. It must also be running the HTTP task. The server, though, doesn't necessarily need to be used as a dedicated Web server. According to the Domino 6 installation guide, the Web server can also be used for tasks like mail routing and directory services.
On the other hand, you must run the Administrator Process (AdminP) server task on the Web administrator server, and you must setup administrator access to the Web Administrator database.
Upon setting up administrator access, you can also restrict access rights. You do this by using the Manage ACL tool on the Files tab to limit assigned roles, corresponding tabs, and associated commands.
Roles can be restricted to one or more of the following: People&Groups; Replication; Configuration; Files; Mail; MsgTracking; ServerStatus; ServerAnalysis; and ServerStatistic.
Policies go automatic
"The new policy-based administration in R6 can be a real timesaver," maintained Meta Group's Roth. Examples of policies that can be automated in this way include passwords and mail archiving, for instance.
Beyond eliminating repetitive tasks, the new feature also makes uniform policy enforcement a lot easier to achieve, according to IBM's Kounadis.
After creating policies, administrators can use an established hierarchy to automatically distribute the policies across a group, a department, or a whole organization.
Policy-based administration calls for the use of both Setup Policies and Desktop Policies The Setup Policies are executed just once per client, during the initial client configuration. The Desktop Policies, on the other hand, are applied only when there is a change in policy. Settings are modified, however, only for clients affected by the policy change. For instance, if a server gets a new phone number, the policy is modified only for clients which use that particular server.
Also in R6, Lotus has added new welcome page customizations to Desktop Policies. Administrators can push out bookmarks to users in whatever configurations they want.
Sometimes, though, the "Default Welcome Page" field in the Desktop Settings from of the Domino Directory may become blank. To correct this, Lotus suggests that you put the Desktop Settings document in edit mode, click on the "Corporate Welcome Pages database link, and cycle through each custom Welcome Page to refresh the list.
"Save & Close the Desktop Settings document. Now, open the Desktop Settings document in edit mode again and the 'Default Welcome Page' field will display the list of custom welcome pages available in the database," according to the release notes.
"In the unlikely event that a server crashes."
"In the unlikely event that a server crashes, Domino will shut itself down and restart on its own," Kounadis said. Available for Windows NT and Unix, the fault recovery feature supports Domino partitions as well as Domino clusters.
Only the affected partition shuts down, according to Kounadis. The others continue to run. If a fatal error is found, the fault recovery feature will restart only the affected partition, rather than the entire server.
On Domino R6 partitioned servers, all partitions share the Domino program directory and an associated set of executable files. However, each partition also has its own Domino data directory and Notes.init file, meaning that each also has its own copy of the Domino Directory.
Replication made easy
"The ability to invoke replication functions is much more straightforward in R6," maintained GartnerGroup's Graff. In R6, users can set the Replication page as either a full page or slide-out bookmark page, for instance. Databases can be organized on the Replicator page into collapsible groups.
Databases can be dragged from bookmarks to either the Replicator icon, or the Replicator page, and Notes will add those databases to the database replication list. If you drag a database to the Replicator icon on the Bookmark bar, the Replicator page will open automatically.
You can now get a replication progress report either directly from the Replicator page, or through new progress bars located on the status bar.
SwiftFile, aka MailCat
Also new on the client side is an add-on called SwiftFile Mail Assistant, described by Kounadis as "an intelligent assistant for mail." SwiftFile "observes and analyzes how you file documents, and makes suggestions about where you might want to file new messages," Kounadis added.
Previously codenamed MailCat, SwiftFile uses a text classifier to learn the "mail filing habits" of individual end users. The software then uses the model it learns to predict the three places where the end user is most likely to file each incoming message. The predictions are then presented to the user as three shortcut buttons.
Even if you're not about to upgrade to R6, you can still play with SwiftFile. A downloadable trial version is available free of charge from the IBM AlphaWorks Web site.