Volume: 23
Issue: 2
Edition: Spring 2010
Authors: Bodek Frak
Department: I.T. Services
Position in a view: 9
Lotus Notes Best Kept Secrets, Part 1

This is a first article in a series devoted to exploring some of the less known but powerful and extremely useful features of the Lotus Notes client. Each article will cover five features related to different aspects of the Notes client, such as e-mail, calendar and scheduling, instant messaging, productivity and word processing, and more. While the main focus will be the Notes client, I will try to mention the Web mail interface (iNotes) whenever it is relevant. Each section contains a video that demonstrates how to use the particular feature.

Lotus Notes has been around for over 20 years, with its first release shipping in 1989 and selling more than 35,000 copies. Back then, the Notes client required DOS 3.1 or OS/2; MS Windows was unheard of and hardly used by anyone (not until 1992 when Windows 3.1 was released) , office was a place where people like me worked, and google was a word known only to mathematicians. From its conception Notes was packed with innovative concepts and rich functionality. Today, there are over 140 million users on Lotus Notes worldwide. While Notes went through 8 major releases evolving from proprietary software to standards-based computing, one thing always remained constant. Each release was always packed with new features, and potentially unmatched by any other piece of software out there. Unfortunately, this was also its downside because all that cutting edge stuff required more powerful computers that most of the people had at the time. People often ended up running Notes on underperforming obsolete PCs only to find it slow and frustrating. If you find yourself in that group, please take a step back and ensure that your current computer not only meets the minimum hardware requirements to run Lotus Notes 8.5, but it exceeds them to deliver good performance.

Fig.1 Lotus Notes 1.0

University of Windsor started using Lotus Notes in 1996 (release 4), and by 2000 it became the official communication and collaboration platform for all faculty and staff. Although not every faculty and staff member uses the Lotus Notes client itself today, everyone has an account on our Domino servers. As of today, the iNotes Web mail interface is the most popular among our faculty and staff with 77% having used iNotes at least once in 2010. In this group, 26% uses iNotes exclusively, and 51% uses it in combination with Lotus Notes (44%), or IMAP (3%) or both (4%). While iNotes came a long way since it was introduced in 1999, it still does not have all the functionality and choices that Lotus Notes offers. 54% of our user base used Lotus Notes at least once in 2010. In this group, only 6% uses Lotus Notes exclusively, and 48% uses Notes in combination with iNotes (44%) or IMAP/iNotes (4%). The least popular are Domino IMAP services. Less than 1% uses IMAP services exclusively, and 4% used it at least once in 2010 in combination with Lotus Notes and iNotes.

This article focuses on Lotus Notes release 8.5 Standard. Some of the features discussed here were not available in earlier releases, or in release 8.5 Basic. If you do not currently have Lotus Notes 8.5 installed on your computer (or you have an older version), you can download it from our Web site at www.uwindsor.ca/softwaredepot. For more information about Notes support and upgrades, please visit our site at www.uwindsor.ca/its/notes

1. Time-saving table and list edition options.

Did you know that you can use Ctrl and arrow keys on your keyboard to quickly reorder items in your bulleted lists? Simply put your cursor inside the list item that you would like to move up or down, hold down Ctrl key, and use up or down arrow keys to relocate the list item to a desired position. If this was a numbered list, the numbers will be adjusted accordingly.

You can use the same technique to reorder contents of your table. You can move the contents of the current cell, or you can highlight entire row of cells and move it up or down the same way.

To add a new row to your table, you don't really need to go through the menus. Simply put your cursor in the last cell of the last row of your existing table and push the Tab key.

Starting with Notes 8.5.1, you can also enjoy the following convenient table editing options:

None of these features are available in iNotes, except moving text by dragging and dropping, and resizing table columns and rows.

2. Calendar federation and iCAL support

If you are still not using Lotus Notes to keep track of your schedule, you should consider it. You now have even more reasons for it because you can synchronize your Notes calendar with your smart phone (BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Nokia), and you can integrate it with other popular calendars, such as Google. You can use Notes calendar to manage your work schedule, while you use Google Calendar to manage your personal schedule (if you don't want to keep them both in Notes). You can then overlay your personal calendar on the top of your work calendar in Lotus Notes, a solution that gives you the best of both worlds. All this is possible because of the Notes integration with iCalendar standard.

Open your Notes 8.5 Standard calendar, click on "Add a Calendar (see Fig. 2) to be presented with a wide variety of different calendar types to add.

Fig 2. Adding new calendars.

Notes 8.5 calendar federation allows you to overlay other Notes users calendars providing you have been given access to them. If you use Notes TeamRoom for your projects and committees, you can overlay its calendar in your personal Notes calendar. Lastly, you can incorporate any public calendar that supports iCalendar standard (eg. Google public calendars), such as NHL schedule, special holidays, etc..

Unfortunately, when you launch iNotes you will not be able to see any of the calendars that you added in Lotus Notes. However, iNotes has a similar feature which is limited to Google calendars only (see fig.3).

Fig. 3 My Calendars feature in iNotes

3. Instant messaging

If you have teenage kids, you may have noticed that they hardly use e-mail. Their preferred method of communication these days is texting (SMS) and instant messaging (IM). But instant messaging isn't only for kids, as some people think. IM is becoming increasingly popular in the enterprise space. However, you would not use the same software to talk on-line to your coworker as our kids use to talk to each other. Enterprise IM, such as Lotus Sametime that University of Windsor uses, is designed specifically for this environment. It provides greater security and some other features not found in products like MSN Messenger or Google Talk. It is also fully integrated with e-mail and other applications within Lotus Notes and Domino.

The Sametime panel located in the Notes 8 Standard sidebar includes a search bar where you can type someone's name to see if they are on-line, and initiate an on-line conversation (ie. "chat") with them. If you have never used Sametime before, you will need to provide server name (apollo.uwindsor.ca) and your UWin ID password on your first log in. If you check the appropriate boxes, Notes will remember this information and log you in automatically next time you launch Notes.

You can add names of the people that you often communicate with in your Sametime Contacts list. You can arrange them in groups, or add existing groups from our UWin directory. You can also carry on-line conversations with more than one person at the time (ie. on-line meetings).

iNotes is also integrated with Sametime. This means that you can be using iNotes while you are travelling on your laptop or someone else's computer and have online conversations with your colleagues on campus to save on the cost of long distance calls. Sametime is also available for mobile devices, such as BlackBerry.

4. Screenshot Tool

You must have heard the saying "A picture is worth a thousand words". This is certainly true when it comes to describing your problem when you call or e-mail our HelpDesk.

You could save yourself a lot of time and a handful of e-mails going back and forth with IT staff if you could just capture your screen into an image file and e-mail it to the HelpDesk. Now you can! Lotus Notes 8 Standard has a screen capture tool built into the Sidebar's Sametime Contacts panel, and you do not need to be logged into the Sametime server to use it.

Fig. 4 Screen Shot Tool in Lotus Notes 8 standard

Just click the icon and drag your cursor over the area of the screen that you want to capture in an image. In the Screenshot Tool window, you can make annotations on your image. You can draw shapes, arrows, etc. You can then copy your image to the clipboard and paste it into your e-mail message, or you can save it into a file and attach it to your e-mail.

This feature is not available in iNotes.

5. Wikipedia Widget

Lotus Notes Widgets are extensions to the Notes original functionality. Wikipedia Widget allows you to highlight a word in any Notes document (eg. e-mail message) and perform an instant lookup in the on-line free encyclopedia (wikipedia.org).

Fig 5. Right click on the highlighted word, and select "Search Wikipedia" from the menu to perform instant lookup.

This feature is not available in iNotes.



1) "The History of Notes and Domino", http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/lotus/library/ls-NDHistory/