9.27 Lotus Notes

Lotus Notes is less an email client than a desktop client program with email, appointments calendar, personal information manager and other applications working on an IBM Lotus Domino server. Lotus Notes was developed as a collaborative application for big companies needing emails, calendars, instant messaging and web browsing, but can now provide blogs, wikis, RSS aggregators, CRM and Help Desk systems, plus applications built to third-party specifications. Its long history illustrates the resources needed to keep a major product viable.


Lotus Notes predates the Internet, and began in 1973 as IBM's PLATO notes, which could tag a bug report with the user's ID and the date, and ensure the report couldn't be easily overwritten. By 1976 the program could:

Create private notes files organized by subject.
Create access lists.
Access all notes and responses written since a certain date.
Create anonymous notes.
Create director message flags.
Mark comments in a document
Link notes files with other PLATO systems.
Allow multiplayer access.
Protect a file against deletion by others.

As a basic but useful program in busy computing environments, Lotus Notes remained popular into the eighties.

In 1984, Ray Ozzie founded Iris Associates Inc., and, joined by Tim Halvorsen and Len Kawell, developed and repositioned Notes as a PIM (Personal Information Manager) permitting communication, collaboration, and coordination among groups of people. The product was flexible and offered a client/server system of PCs connected to a Local Area Network: a familiar concept today but then ahead of its time. When Apple Computer released the Macintosh with its easy-to-use graphical user interface, Iris Associates also gave Lotus Notes a graphical user interface and rewrote it to work on the Apple operating system OS/2. Lotus then purchased the rights to Notes, and such was its promise that, even before its official release in 1989, Price Waterhouse made a single purchase of 10,000 copies, realizing the product would change the nature of business.

The 1989 program offered:

Encryption, signing, and authentication with RSA public-key technology.
Dial-up server access.
Import/export of data in various formats.
Easy set up of new users.
Advanced email services.
Online help.
Formula language, making the programming of applications easier.
'Hotlink' connections between Notes documents.
Keyword features.
Regulated control to database access.
Central administration of remote database replicas.

Release 2, shipped in 1991, was scaled up to support 10,000 users, the product still being aimed at the larger company and carrying a minimum price-tag of $62,000. When Version 3 was released in 1993, Lotus Notes was in use by some 500,000 people in over 2,000 companies: clearly a most successful product. Version 3, however, was aimed at a larger market (companies with a 200-strong work), and the price reduced accordingly.

Notwithstanding these improvements, Lotus stock had fallen by 1995 from $80 to $30, and in July 1995 IBM acquired Lotus for US$3.5 billion. Version 4, released in 1996, was a faster and more scalable product, offering a simpler-to-use interface and was better support — for emerging POP, IMAP, LDAP, NNTP, HTTP protocols and the UNIX, iSeries, Novel platforms. The next few years saw an explosion in Internet products and services, however, and Lotus suddenly seemed dead. Lotus countered with major improvements, massive advertising and a 1999 change in brand name: Version 4.5 was called Domino 4.5, Powered by Notes. Notes/Domino became a competitive product, offering:

Messaging with a wide variety of protocols.
Internet server with full-text search of multiple databases.
Personal Web Navigator with HTML, database and Java applet support.
Good scaling and manageability.
Advanced security.
Programming ability with script libraries and various operating systems support.
Seamless web access from the Notes client.
Ability to hide design elements from a Web browser or a Notes client if necessary.

Version 5 (1999) was further integrated with the Internet. Lotus Notes 6 and Lotus Domino 6 ( 2002) were slimmer, faster systems, and Version 6.5 (2003) took the process further, adding new functionality. Version 7 (2005) offered better integration with the IBM WebSphere Application Server and WebSphere Portal, and made many technical improvements to the server.

Release 8 (2007) was rebuilt around the Eclipse framework, and turned the product into an advanced, open-source, Java-based platform. Features included:

Fast access to the applications used most often.
Sidebar displays of alerts and critical information, including RSS, and ATOM feeds.
Word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications supporting the Open Document Format (ODF), Microsoft Office, and Lotus SmartSuite file formats.
Comprehensive search by person and topic.

Points to Note

1. IBM protected its investment by a fundamental commitment to a. improving the product and b. making new releases work with earlier ones (backward compatibility).
2. Functionality was added as competing Internet services became available.
3. Move from proprietary to open source standards.



Important New Features

Release 2


Forms, views, formulas

Release 3


ODBC database access

Release 4


Lotus script, SMTP

Release 4.5


POP/IMAP protocols, HTML pages

Release 5


CORBS, Java and Javascript languages

Release 6


Servelets, JSP, XML

Release 6.5


DB2, web services, open standards

Release 7


WebSphere Application Server

and WebSphere Portal integration

Release 8


Office suite, support for Open Document,

Microsoft Office, and Lotus SmartSuite file formats

Release 8.5


Open standards


1. What is Lotus Notes? How did the program originate?
2. How did the Internet change its fortunes?
3. Outline the versions. What do they show?

Sources and Further Reading

1. A History of Lotus Notes by Ed Brill. October 2006. Gemko. A PowerPoint-like presentation of the main phases of company development.
2. The History of Notes and Domino by the IBM Web team. November 2007. IBM. A somewhat promotional but in-depth history of the product.
3. Lotusphere 2010. Slideshare. Informal presentation of first 20 years of Lotus Notes since its release in 1989.
4. Comparison of e-mail clients. Wikipedia. Tables detailing features, release history, operating system, and support for protocols, database and security systems.
5. Lotus Notes. Lotus. Homesite featuring advantages, case studies and free downloads.
6. Lotus Notes seeks Apple cool by Chris Nuttal. FT. January 2009. Information overload costing US economy $900 billion/year.
7. How Lotus Notes Changed the Collaboration Landscape. WSJ. September 2011.