Organisations considering migrating to Lotus Notes 8.0 are likely to be wowed by its functionality and usability, but might also find that it runs a little slower as a result.
So says users at the New Zealand Ministry of Health, which was among the 25,000 businesses around the world that took part in IBM's beta trial for its new groupware product.
Notes 8.0, released late last week, features a "radically enhanced" user interface, according to Jonathan Stern, head of Lotus in Australia and New Zealand.
"Development tends to go in cycles," he told ZDNet Australia, "And in this version there is an absolute focus on user enhancement."
The new version includes enhanced presence technology, enables e-mails to be viewed either sequentially or in threads as "conversation" mode (similar to Google's Gmail), and also features several new collaborative tools akin to other Web 2.0 social computing technologies.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health has been trialling the product for six months, running the beta version of the productivity suite on Windows 2003 server and Windows XP clients.
Rachael Trudgeon, team leader of corporate applications at the agency says version 8.0 is "one hundred times better" than their current productivity platform, Lotus Notes Version 6.5.
"The user interface for clients is brilliant," she said. "It makes all the tools very accessible."
Users, she said, have picked up the new version with no training. But while impressed with its usability, Trudgeon said many of the agency's users found the client "a little heavy".
"It was a little bit slow, certainly heavier than what we are used to," she said.
According to ZDNet's own reviewers, customers will require a minimum of 1GB of RAM and at least 1 to 1.5GB of disk space on the client to ensure the software runs efficiently.
Warwick Sullivan, chief technology officer at the Ministry of Health defends the speed of the product, saying that if a customer deployed all of the tools available with the Microsoft alternative (Outlook, Sharepoint etc); they would face a similar challenge. "[The Microsoft alternative] is not exactly a small footprint either," he said.
Customers who find the Eclipse version too slow have the option of the Basic version, which is far easier and faster to manage.
The Basic version strips out the compute-heavy conversations feature in the e-mail browser, as well as the new "Activities" function, which pulls together data from various types of documents that all relate to a particular project and presents them in a single workspace.
Sullivan said that despite any concerns over performance, the government agency will most likely buy the Eclipse version.
"It's only the higher functions where you'll notice the speed change," he said. "As long as e-mail isn't slowed, it's something most enterprise-level customers can manage."
Bending over backwards
Trudgeon said IBM should be applauded for being very responsive to the requests and needs of its beta users.
The agency's main concern in updating to Notes 8.0 was whether it would work for applications developed in-house with earlier versions of Notes.
"There were no real problems or headaches with using them on the new version," she said. "IBM nailed that quite nicely."
Stern says Notes has 125 million users worldwide and 1600 customers in Australia and New Zealand. Australian customers include the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Kennards Hire, which has deployed Notes 8.0 on the Linux client.
But despite the collaborative and usability improvements in Lotus Notes 8.0, Stern admits the new suite is unlikely to sway Microsoft users to migrate. The new version was built around improving collaboration and productivity among existing Lotus users.
"E-mail is a mature market," he says. "Most organisations have either Notes or Outlook. There only tends to be movement when there are mergers or acquisitions [among customers]."