What's New with IBM Lotus Notes 8.5?

Posted by Brett Young | Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

There's no shortage of Lotus Notes haters out there. If you believe what people are saying on Twitter, you'd think Notes was akin to an annoying rash that just won't go away. However, its also clear that most of these people are still using an older version of Notes and Domino. IT shops are just now starting to upgrade to the latest 8.5 release.

I have to admit that I'm a fan of Lotus Notes. I have been one for a decade. It has not been the best email platform. However, it is so much more than email. Its one of the best rapid application development platforms ever conceived. Its replication, security, and integrated address book where ahead of their time. The applications may not have been pretty to look at or even the easiest to use. However, for better and for worse, it let the business power create a quick application that would solve a business problem in a matter of days, without the involvement of IT.

With release 8, Notes and Domino received an extreme makeover. This time around IBM put real focus on usability and end-user functionality, an area that Microsoft traditionally excels. The resulting Notes 8 client is built on the Eclipse framework. Its well-appointed interface not surprisingly looks a lot like the Microsoft Outlook client. Indeed, many of the new usability features that Notes users have been asking for have been found in Outlook for years.

The purpose of this post is to list and describe my favorite Notes 8.5 enhancements. Actually, these are enhancements since Notes 6.5. I'll not attempt to identify which interim release between 6.5 and 8.5 included the new functionality. Just know that it was not in 6.5 and it is in 8.5. I've been using the Notes 8.x client since it was released nearly two years ago.

Please note that my list only contains major enhancements that end-users should notice. It is not meant to catalog every minute change. You can go to IBM for that. Here they are in no particular order:
  • News Reader - A news reader is available in the new Notes right side-bar. It supports any RSS or ATOM internal or external feed, providing it does not require authentication.

  • Integrated instant messaging "buddy list" - The instant messaging "buddy list" is now integrated into the Notes interface, instead of floating over it and getting in the way. The "buddy list" is part of the new right side-bar feature in Notes.

  • Instant messaging history - You can now enable a feature that will save your instant messaging conversation to your email file. You can access prior instant messaging conversations in the Chat History folder.

  • Day-at-a-glance - Now, no matter where you are in Notes email, you can see a day-at-a-glance in your right side-bar. For example, from your inbox you can see what meetings and appointments are scheduled for the day. This also makes it easy to look up a specific date without closing your current email message. You can even update your calendar entries from the day-at-a-glance view.

  • Improved search interface - Search has an enhanced look in the toolbar, as well as a new Web-style user interface. I now run off a local, full-text indexed replica. The search feature is accurate and fast!

  • Message recall - If you've ever sent an email, only to wish you hadn't, then message recall is for you. It lets you retrieve a message even though you sent it, and even if it was already opened by the recipient. The feature generates a report that will tell you whether it was successful and whether any of the recipients had already opened the message.

  • Conversation view - It can be a challenge to keep track of a complex email message thread. Now, from the inbox folder or all documents view you can see every message that is part of a conversation, all grouped together. It automatically replaces the subject line with the first line of the body making it easier to find the message you are looking for.

  • Improved address type-ahead - The Notes client now keeps track of the people with whom you interact the most. When you begin typing a name in the To:, Cc:, or Bcc: fields of an email, the more frequently used names display at the top of the list. This makes it less likely that you will send an email to the wrong "John Smith", since the John Smith you communicate with most will appear on top.

  • Thumbnail viewer - With one click you will see a small thumbnail of each of the current Notes applications you have open. This makes it easy to quickly move from one application to another.

  • In-line spell check - Notes will now tell you immediately when you have misspelled a word by underlining it. Right-clicking the misspelled word lets you choose the correct spelling, ignore the word, or add it to your dictionary.

  • Collaboration history - The collaboration history lets you see every interaction you have had with a specific person, including common meetings, instant messages, and emails.

  • Calendar ghosted entries - Before you accept a meeting, it appears on your calendar as a "ghosted" entry so you can visually see which meetings are pending your review. This helps prevent the problem where you are invited to multiple meetings at the same time, and accept a less important meeting before you see the invitation of the more important meeting.

  • Calendar clean-up - Calendar items have always been a challenge to clean up, since repeating meetings will break if the original meeting is deleted. Consequently, we tend to leave calendar entries in our mail files indefinitely. Over time, these entries consume a lot of storage. With Notes 8.5 you will be able to clean-up old calendar entries without fear of breaking repeating meetings.

  • Notes/Windows password synchronization - Although there was a feature to synchronize Notes and Windows passwords in Notes 6.5, the password synch feature in the new Notes 8.5 client is much more robust and user-friendly.

  • Domino Web Access 8 - The new web client for Notes email has been completely redone. It supports most of the features present in the rich Notes client, including instant messaging integration. A new "lite" version of the web mail client can be used over low bandwidth connections. There is even an "ultralite" version for the iPhone.

  • Overlay other public and private calendars - In addition to seeing your own calendar entries, you can overlay the entries of other calendars to which you have access. This could be very helpful for an administrative assistant or a team that works very closely together. Additionally, you can overlay public calendars from Google Calendar. A checkbox makes it fast and easy to choose which calendars are visible.

Remember, this is my list, and it is probably incomplete. If you have a favorite feature of Notes 8.5 that I missed, let me know.

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