Domino gives Exchange Server a run for its money

Lotus is preparing to release Domino 5.0 and give Microsoft Exchange Server a run for its money. The changes in Domino 5.0 are the most fundamental of any version since the first release. Veteran Domino users will want to take advantage of these updates. Even Exchange Server users will be interested in Domino 5.0's improvements. For information about choosing between Domino and Exchange Server, see the sidebar "Domino vs. Exchange Server," page 94.

Users commonly refer to the server and client products as Lotus Notes. However, Domino is the server product, and Notes is the client product. Users often think of Domino as one product. However, the Domino family comprises three server products. The Domino Mail Server provides email and discussion database support. The Domino Application Server adds the Web server and GroupWare application support users typically think of as Domino. The Domino Enterprise Server adds application-level support for clustering, such as load balancing and failover for Notes and Web clients and support for Microsoft Cluster Server. Unless otherwise noted, I use the term Domino to refer to the Domino Application Server.

I can't cover all of Domino's features in this article. However, I cover the main new features: the new database structure, increased support for Internet standards, the new administration tool, and the updated Notes client.

New Database Structure
Domino's new database structure doesn't have the previous 4GB database limit. The new limit for Windows NT is 32GB. Because no theoretical limit exists, this limit will likely increase as Lotus continues to test and verify larger database sizes.

Previous versions of Domino required enough free disk space to copy a database before the program could compress it. After you convert existing databases to the new structure, subsequent processes can compress databases without having to copy them first. In past versions, the compression wouldn't run if users were working in a database, and users were unable to access the database while the process was running. Now, the compression process can run while users are working in a database. As in previous releases, if you don't want to use the new database structure (e.g., for compatibility reasons), you can rename the database with an .ns4 extension or use the compact feature with the -r option.

The new database structure lets you log transactional updates. Updates take place in the sequential log file, and the Domino databases then update in the background. Thus, you have quicker database updates and more responsive applications. When you have a system failure and need to restart the Domino server, the server can quickly process transactions from the log and resume operation. In the past, the server had to determine which databases were open at the time of the failure and check each database's integrity. If you prefer, you can disable the logging feature with a setting in the notes.ini file or the server document in the Domino directory. Also, you can enable circular or archival logging, and you can select the location of logs and the number and size of log files to use. To disable these options at the database level, change the database property or use the console command

load compact sales.nsf -t

The same command with an uppercase T (i.e., -T) reenables logging.

Working with Domino's transaction logs is similar to working with Exchange Server's transaction logs (for details, see Tony Redmond, "Exchange Server Transaction Logs," page 121). For optimal performance and recoverability, place the transaction logs on a separate drive from the databases. Usually, you need to use archival rather than circular logging. Archival logging saves all logs until the next full backup. You need to perform regular backups so that the drive doesn't fill up. The main advantage of archival logging is that when you restore a database because of a drive failure, the log files roll forward against the restored database and you don't lose data. Circular logging reuses log files as transactions take place. If a drive fails, circular logs aren't useful. You have to revert to the latest backup.

Increased Support for Internet Standards
Domino's former Public Name and Address Book (the names.nsf database on the server) is now known as the Domino Directory. This directory supports the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) 3.0 standard and lets LDAP clients read and update the directory. The directory also provides redirection to other directories and can scale as many as 1 million entries. A new function is the Directory Catalog, which can contain all the users from multiple Domino directories. You can use this catalog for fast name lookups. The catalog is small enough to replicate to a laptop.

Domino now uses MIME as the default message storage format. MIME provides complete message integrity when you send and receive email messages via the Internet. In addition, the server processing load is reduced because you no longer need to go through the costly conversion process of changing every message to or from the Domino internal message format to MIME. Email routing supports native Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) forwarding, so you don't need an assigned server to run the SMTP Message Transfer Agent (MTA) process to connect to the Internet. If necessary, you can configure every server to perform this function.

Domino's Web server component is enhanced. Domino now supports HTTP 1.1 and Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) Internet Inter-ORB Protocol (IIOP). CORBA IIOP lets distributed objects access Domino resources via a Web browser. Domino now stores Web graphics in their native formats. Formerly, they had to be rendered on the fly to the configured graphics format (e.g., .gif, .jpeg). HTML and graphics source files can now have file-level access control.

Easier Administration
Domino's new administration tool simplifies the task of managing the Domino server environment. This tool features an NT Explorerlike list of objects in the left pane, with detailed information on the right, as Screen 1 shows. The tool also provides extensive graphical information about the health of your Domino network. You can view the replication status between servers, see which Domino processes are running on servers, and examine performance statistics. In the past, you had to use a separate management tool to view this information.

In previous versions of Domino, you had two options for creating users: You could use the administration tool to create one user at a time, or you could create a text file delimited with semicolons for batch input. The first method was time-consuming, and the second method was prone to errors. Now you can enter new users' data online. Domino stores the data in a temporary database for later batched processing. This temporary database is the User Registration Queue (userreg.nsf).

Domino's existing server function (called ADMINP—the Administration process), which automates many administration tasks, is now extended to support drag-and-drop user email databases between servers. If the client is running Notes 5.0, ADMINP even automates the change at the client.

When you edit an entry in the Domino directory, you no longer have to scroll down and open several collapsible sections. The interface now uses the property page metaphor. You can move to a group of settings by clicking each tab only once.

Domino has a new option for enterprisewide email tracking. A new server task known as MTC is an optional addition that, when combined with several notes.ini configuration updates, stores message-tracking data in a new database called mtstore.nsf. You can run queries on email usage and track messages' current locations across servers.

A new installation option lets Domino use Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0's HTTP server process rather than its built-in process. Domino for IIS installs an Internet Server API (ISAPI) filter that passes URLs with .nsf extensions to Domino to process and respond to the client. Authenticated Web users' details also pass to Domino. Thus, users don't have to reenter their credentials. A drawback is that you can't use a password in the Domino server ID, or the server will hang when Domino for IIS invokes it.

Updated Notes Client
The Notes client is perhaps Domino 5.0's most radical change. Changes to other user interfaces (UIs), such as the Windows 95 interface, challenged Notes to improve. In addition, Microsoft Outlook 98 raised the bar for messaging client requirements and expectations. In Domino 5.0, the Notes client meets these challenges.

Lotus wants Notes to be the only email client a user needs. Thus, Notes now provides access to Post Office Protocol 3 (POP3) and Internet Message Access Protocol 4 (IMAP4) email. Newly added Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP) support gives users access to the usenet newsgroups. As always, Notes integrates with Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape Communicator, but it now supports x.509 certificates (which you can now use for Domino authentication) and Secure MIME (S/MIME) for signed Internet email.

The Notes client opens with the Task Center, which is a page of shortcuts for performing the main tasks available in Notes (e.g., email, contact information, calendar, to-do list, headlines). The headlines page is a new feature that is an extension of Domino 4.6's Portfolio database, which was a database of database links. The headlines page is similar in concept to the Outlook Today option in Outlook. This page contains several customizable items a user needs, such as a to-do list, new email, a calendar, and perhaps a favorite Web page, all on one screen.

A new bookmarks feature contains saved links to URLs and Domino database documents. The Notes client extends Web browsers' forward and backward buttons for use in Domino databases. As part of the Web-browser technology integration, Notes imports existing Netscape bookmarks and IE favorites and creates a Notes bookmark for each entry.

If you don't want Notes' improved functionality, you can revert to the traditional workspace, in which a desktop icon represents each Notes database. However, your improved productivity is worth the time you'll spend learning the new interface.

The Notes client now includes JavaScript 1.3 support. This improvement will ensure that Domino applications can work with Web browsers and Notes clients. In the past, developers often had to write two parts of the application—one for each type of client. This task was time-consuming and led to potential differences in how each type of application worked. JavaScript is now the preferred language for front-end programming (rather than the current LotusScript, which is based on Visual Basic—VB).

Notes now supports signature files, which is a vast improvement over the previous Notes email stationery feature. This feature was awkward to use and worked only when you sent a new email message—not when you replied to or forwarded a message. An inbox assistant lets you control actions that occur when new email arrives. This assistant runs on the Domino server.

A final feature is the Notes Minder applet, which resides in the NT, Win98, or Win95 system tray. The Notes Minder informs you when you receive new email or when a task comes due, without the Notes client running. When you receive a notification, you click the Notes Minder applet in the system tray to launch Notes and open your email.

Further Reading
For more information about Domino 5.0's features, see Iris Today at http://notes.net/today.nsf. You can also download the Domino 5.0 Reviewer's Guide from http://www.lotus.com/home.nsf/welcome/r5guide.