Lotus Notes isn't for everyone. This enterprise-level e-mail client--a label that doesn't really do justice to this application's expertise--is really more of a competitor for Microsoft Exchange, not Microsoft's standalone Outlook. On its own, without a server deployment, Notes is no match for the slicker, easier-to-use Outlook. Likewise, if you're collecting POP or IMAP e-mail from a home or small-business PC, Notes 6.0 is overkill, pure and simple. But Notes 6.0's new features make it an impressive corporate upgrade. If you work for a company that already relies on Notes--or one that's thinking of switching--run, don't walk to your IT staff to tell them about Notes 6.0 (or at least try out the free 90-day trial).
Despite Notes' enterprise reputation, you won't need a knowledge of corporate software to configure this app. The Connection Wizard, which walks you through the initial setup, is dead simple. If you're connected to a Domino server (Domino is to Lotus what Exchange is to Outlook), all you need is its name. Setting up the client for standard Internet mail--POP and LDAP--is straightforward, too; it's a simple matter of entering mail server names and your username and password. We had Notes ready to grab mail in five minutes.
Notes 6.0's new customizable Welcome page serves as the launchpad to your in-box, calendar, and even your hard drive.
Notes 6.0 looks different than earlier editions--completely different. This version is flashy, customizable, and very Web-like. For starters, the new Welcome page (similar to Outlook's Outlook Today pane) provides a customizable starting spot for e-mail, scheduling, and tasks. You can tweak the page to show everything from your in-box and calendar to your to-do list and shortcuts to folders for easier document access, and you can arrange these components in a slew of different layouts. Administrators can even configure Notes to show all of the worker bees a particular Welcome page--great for standardizing e-mail work flow across an enterprise.
Other interface features of note (pun intended) include the new history bookmarks to show what Notes bookmarks you've viewed in the last seven days, tabs galore for all Notes navigation, and customizable toolbars.
You can populate Notes' Launch pad--it's the section at the bottom--with URLs, links to Notes databases, and as shown here, frequently used applications.
Although Notes 6.0 looks sharp, it's easy to clutter. Open too many frames on the Welcome page--for us, five is too many on a 15-inch flat-panel, for example--and Notes looks crowded, messy, and confusing. You'll need to play with the customization features a while before you get something usable.
With scores of enhancements and additions, Lotus Notes 6.0 is a major upgrade. Among the most welcome changes are message color-coding (by the sender) for better mail organization, and elementary antispam tools on the administration end only.
Notes sends and receives mail and replicates Notes databases from one simple screen.
One of our favorite Notes 6.0 tricks is its in-place attachment editing. While Outlook makes you save a file to disk before editing (and re-attaching for, say, forwarding), Notes 6.0 lets you open the document from the message, make changes, and save, all within the doc's native application. Notes then updates the attachment automatically, and you're ready to send the edited version in a reply or a forward--slick, especially for anyone who exchanges docs constantly.
Notes' e-mail now includes four quick-check boxes above the address area for fast access to the four most common e-mail commands.
Like Microsoft Outlook, Notes is more than an e-mailer. Notes 6.0 boasts tight integration among its calendar, to-do list, and e-mail, letting you, for example, copy messages to the calendar for later reference. Its group-scheduling skills handily beat Microsoft's and include such nifty tools as multiple time zone displays (great for scheduling East Coast-West Coast meetings), a sophisticated free-time sniffer that detects free blocks for attendees, and a slew of tools that make an assistant's job easier. Notes 6.0 also integrates with Lotus SameTime, the company's online collaboration application, to schedule e-meetings.
You'll probably have to ask your IT department for assistance installing Lotus Notes, but luckily, said IT department will find help in a well-organized and thorough online-knowledge database, plus e-mail tech support (through a link on the Lotus site), and telephone support via an 800 number. Depending on the support plan you purchase--Lotus offers several--you may be able to reach a real person 24/7. Standard hours at the help desk, however, run a more limited 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays ET.