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IBM Lotus Notes is one of those Slashdot topics that polarizes opinion into Peace, Love or War. I’ve worked with Lotus Notes since it’s third release and host a Domino Blog (http://www.LeadershipByNumbers.com). I’m in the Peace camp and with the latest release, Notes Domino 8 (ND8), I think the Linux community may have found true love.

IBM has more than 130 M licensed clients, and an independent study has estimated the the accounts will “grow to 606 million in 2011.” If you are not familiar with IBM/Lotus Notes, “Notes” is the client and “Domino” is the server; when referenced together it’s Notes Domino as in the latest release, ND8.

ND8 on the Linux platform makes business sense to me because it is the only OS which is multi-vendor, can meet stringent security requirements, and runs on a wide range of platform hardware. Linux can be deployed on partitioned IBM pSeries, zSeries mainframes, on different chip sets and for Domino, the kernel 2.6+ permits performance efficiencies equal to Microsoft Windows. In short, Linux is the only OS which competes against itself, guaranteeing me a competitive free-market in choosing the best fit for my use.

That said, here are some of the reasons that I find ND8 on Linux to be a compelling messaging solution for any organization sized from SOHO to Enterprise:

“Embrace Heterogeneity !” is not a slogan you’ll find on a T-Shirt, but I think it’s a real-world perspective about real-world IT issues. The supported Notes clients are Linux (RedHat and SuSE), Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows. A Notes Client is not just mail, and with ND8 the full client supports (1) enterprise-grade messaging/calendaring/Instant Messaging, (2) application development, (3) runs as a browser, and (4) comes with “Productivity Tools” which read/write DOC/XLS/PDF/ODF/PPT formats for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. Notes has always supported multiple client platforms, but ND8 is built on the open source Eclipse platform with a completely redesigned UI.

In terms of just messaging, there is support for iCal subscriptions, RSS/Atom feeds, IMAP4, SMTP, POP3 and HTTP. The messaging web client (DWA) can work with Firefox and Microsoft IE. DWA also supports a feature known as Domino Off-line Services (DOLS) which configures a web client to install an off-line component for stand-alone mail processing. Works with Linux. If you have a need to preserve the use of some Microsoft Outlook clients, IBM/Lotus has a connector which can redirect an Outlook client to a Domino mail server (just the connector needs to be installed, not the entire Notes client).

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On the server backend, Domino is supported by AIX (pSeries), AS/400 (iSeries), z/OS, z/OS w/Linux partition, Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Solaris. For Windows and Linux both 32-bit and 64-bit are supported. Domino can cluster between all platforms and supported OSes (and even between releases). To demonstrate heterogeneity to its absolute limit, I turn to Daniel Nashed who runs a Domino website. On Linux. On XBox. Yes, Microsoft XBox as a Domino server. You’ll see pictures where he has clustered his little hi-tech Frankenstein with AIX Domino servers. http://xbox.nashcom.de/nshweb/pages/home.htm

Security James Gosling has termed Microsoft Outlook a “petri dish” for viruses. What a difference with IBM/Lotus Notes: over fifteen years in use and not a single virus. IBM/Lotus Notes is used by the CIA, Exxon/Mobile, as well as many embassies, law firms and accounting agencies. It’s not an accident that IBM/Lotus Notes hasn’t been compromised.

Scalability Domino can scale. Check out http://www.notesbench.org to see the benchmarks for large systems. However, it’s not much of a surprise to learn that a big iron firm such as IBM can create the hardware, and OS to support a massive Domino installation. What is more interesting is to move down in scale.

Does ND8 make sense as a SOHO or SMB solution?

Interestingly, there is a Linux Domino appliance, Nitix, which provides an all-in-one SMB package. IBM also has a DominoExpress licensing which is more suited for a smaller organization. It’s roughly $100 per user, with no Domino charge (or SameTime). This means that if you have a three-person consulting firm, then your licensing for installing a Domino messaging system would be $300. If you are looking to price out your licensing, there are many, highly regarded resellers who are IBM Business Partners. I’ve had good experience with SGA Business Systems (http://www.sga.com/).

Embrace Open Source There has been a renaissance of IBM/Lotus Notes development, with hundreds of blogs and sites that support open-source Domino applications. Because there are so many blog indexes, it’s not difficult to find them. You might like going to http://www.dominoblogs.com/ as a start, and I will also recommend http://www.edbrill.com/ (who is an IBM/Lotus executive) which Network World awarded as the number one IBM blog site. For code you can look at the IBM Sandbox site and the popular, independent OpenNTF.org.

Evaluate ND8 Yourself Download the Domino and Notes Clients for your preferred platform and test it. If you are uncertain about some of the Linux details, there is an IBM/Lotus RedBook on Domino Linux which is still useful, even though it was written for ND6.

I think you’ll be surprised at the straightforward installation for the Domino server. If your Linux skills are modest, and you don’t have a supported commercial Linux release (RHEL or SuSE), then I can witness that http://www.centos.org/ works well. I like to use Ubuntu, but there are few configuration tweaks to smooth over the differences.

An installation of Domino or Notes will include some help files, in the Notes .nfs format (and a short PDF install guide). If you are needing PDF manuals, then you’ll find them under “documentation” on http://notes.net/ For administrators, I’d start with the ND6 section, which has two huge administration manuals.

There is also a 200 page PDF, ND8 Reviewers Guide which will give a much more detailed overview on the capabilities of ND8. IBM does sell support, but they also host an ND8 beta forum as well as an active and vibrant ND6/7 forum for technical assistance.

Extensibility Notes is more than programmable, it is truly extensible. ND8 supports customization using LotusScript (which is a clone of Visual Basic that manipulates the Domino Object Model), Java, JavaScript, a formula language, C, and C++. Domino applications support WebDav, and a complete infrastructure of Web Services with Domino capable of being a subscriber or publisher. Web Services and the DB2 integration punch a couple of holes right in the side of the Domino silo, allowing any Notes application to be accessible to any other development platform that supports Web Services and ODBC connections.

The reason for saying any Notes application can be accessed with these new capabilities is because Notes supports backward capability like no other platform. I still have Notes V2, and I can pull up something which will work on an ND8 server. So, if you have an R5 application, it should run fine under ND8.

ND8 includes a Tivoli Directory Integrator (no extra cost) so that the Domino directory can be more easily synchronized with e-Directory, OpenLDAP and Microsoft’s Active Directory. There is also DB2 integration which makes it possible to choose the DB2 RDBMS structure as a Domino data store. This makes it possible to exhibit a Notes database as if it was purely relational. If your shop runs SAP, then you’ll be interested in the Lotus Access for SAP (which is also offered at no additional cost).

Finally, all Notes clients include at no-cost, integration with IBM’s celebrated Sametime Instant Messager server. Sametime 7.5.1 is also built on the Eclipse platform and can be run on Linux.

ND8 is a game change.