IBM's new Lotus Notes/Domino 6.0 contains myriad features for better administration and usability. Yet if you're planning an upgrade from Release 5.x -- or a migration from Microsoft Exchange, for instance -- is it better to go ahead now, or to wait for a while? Analysts see advantages to either approach.
"R6 is a very healthy upgrade. It offers the usability and scalability we've been waiting for since 5.x., and it takes care of the major things we were concerned about," maintains Joyce Graff, vice president and research director at Gartner Group.
In the heated battle between Notes and Exchange, Microsoft has been trying to lure away Lotus users through mechanisms such as Microsoft Application Analyzer, a new software product for planning migrations to Exchange.
Notes/Domino R6, however, heightens certain advantages that Lotus already held over Exchange anyway, in the opinion of some analysts. In fact, some Exchange customers will leave Microsoft Outlook on the desktop, while transitioning to Lotus as the server engine, according to Jasmine Noel, who is principal at JNoel Associates.
"Lotus runs (well) on consolidated or clustered servers. Because of the weak economy, IT departments have been told to consolidate. Distributed systems have a lot of excess capacity that is not being used, and they're more expensive to manage than a single server, or a few clustered servers. IBM believes that if it can spread this technology around far and fast enough, it can break the lock Microsoft Exchange has on back end servers," contends Noel.
Domino also continues to hold leadership over Exchange in terms of workflow management, according to Gartner's Graff. "You can build more applications with Lotus," she adds.
'You can even make it look like Outlook'
Moreover, the user interface in 6.0 is competitive with Outlook, in Graff's view. "You can make (6.0) look like anything you want. You can (even) make it look like Outlook. I think people will find the user interface very attractive."
"The user interface enhancements will be important to administrators because they'll make Domino and Notes easier to manage," concurs Craig Roth, vice president of Web and collaborative strategies at the Meta Group.
Roth also points out that, with the release of R6 in early October, Lotus has successfully met IBM's recently set 18-month release schedule for new editions of Notes/Domino.
Where is 'roaming user' support?
Lotus, though, did leave out certain features originally planned for R6. In the Release Notes to Notes R6, inclusion of these capabilities is promised for the first maintenance release.
"Since the beginning of the Notes/Domino 6 development cycle, we have clearly stated that quality is paramount. To demonstrate our level of commitment, each and every feature of the product is tested against a strict set of quality metrics," according to the release notes.
"As a result of this thorough testing, we have decided that the Single Copy Template server feature, the Roaming User feature, and the ability to read encrypted mail for iNotes Web Access will be deferred to the first maintenance release of the Notes/Domino 6 code stream."
Analysts don't consider these omissions to be that significant, overall. "R6 had to meet stringent criteria in order to be released. One of the criteria was that IBM should be able to run its business on it. So I would think that the features Lotus left out were areas that still needed some work," says Graff.
Of the features deferred to the maintenance release, roaming user support seems to have the most impact. "Roaming access would be nice, but the call might have been more intense for it before, anyway," according to the Gartner analyst. The current economic climate isn't as conducive to travel and "roaming," she explains.
Meanwhile, some systems administrators have suspected a bug or two in either the final release of R6 or the prerelease candidate.."It appears that Notes 6 has a bug when spacing (the) outlines page. It removes any spaces in between the outlines. The original (R5) page is much clearer and easier to use than the Notes 6 one that destroyed all the vertical spacing! Notes Designer still shows the page correctly, however," writes one user, in the Notes/Domino 6 Forum on Lotus Developer Domain.
"R6 Bug?" is the title of another message, posted to the comp.groupware.lotus-notes.admin newsgroup. "I have rules set up in R6 to move new messages to folders. Sometimes, a folder is bolded and shows a count of 'X' number of unread messages and other times it doesn't show that there are unread messages in the folder. I am using the release candidate on a win2K machine," according to the posting.
If glitches exist, analysts aren't worried
Bug reports are normal, though, particularly in "dot zero" releases of "huge, complicated programs" such as Notes/Domino, according to Roth. "A lot of companies typically wait till the maintenance releases come out anyway," he adds. In some cases, suspected software bugs are actually problems caused by user errors, experts say.
Another alternative to the R6 maintenance upgrade is to wait even longer - for the release of Notes/Domino 7.0, targeted for another 18 months from now, or for RNext, planned by Lotus for mid-2003.
"When RNext comes out, Domino will work on two entirely different platforms. RNext will provide a totally modern architecture, based on (products) like WebSphere and Tivoli," Roth predicts.
Lotus users on faster track
So far, though, Notes/Domino customers have been relatively quick to upgrade, according to Graff. "Gartner's research indicates that more than 80 percent of Lotus users are already at Release 5.0 (or above). In comparison, only about 10 percent of Microsoft Exchange users have moved to Exchange 2000," says the Gartner analyst.
Administrative enhancements could act as a further prod to R6 upgrades. Some of the most prominent improvements include policy-based management; remote server set-up; automatic fault recovery; built-in span control; and easier replication, says Tim Kounadis, senior market manager for IBM Lotus software at Big Blue.