December 16, 1996 10 AM ET

Lotus' Domino upgrade falls nicely into place
Simplifies Web application development

By Eamonn Sullivan

  It took a good deal longer than expected, but Lotus Development Corp. has finally managed to get its Internet strategy into one box, called Domino 4.5. The result is a product that, despite a few problems that might delay deployment, makes some of the hardest Notes and World Wide Web administration tasks extraordinarily easy. Domino 4.5, which shipped last week for $995, is the upgrade for Lotus Notes 4.1. Its main improvements are the integration of an upgraded version of Domino, Lotus' Notes-to-Web translation software, into the Notes server, improved security and the addition of a utility for easily generating Web-based applications.

The client in Version 4.5, which is still called Lotus Notes, also gains features that make it a credible Web browser. For example, it provides offline Web browsing and agents that notify users when Web sites change.

Unfortunately, Domino also has a now-familiar characteristic of major Notes releases--bugs. In about 36 hours of heavy testing conducted by PC Week Labs on the shipping version, the client crashed four times and the server crashed once.

We recommend waiting for Lotus' first bug-fix releases before starting any large-scale deployment.

The most useful new feature for those planning on using Domino for Web-based applications is Domino.Action, a Notes application that steps administrators through the creation of common Web applications.

Using it, we were able to generate a site that had discussion areas, a user-registration system, user surveys, a feedback form and several document libraries (such as a Jobs posting section and a Frequently Asked Questions section) in about 30 minutes.

With traditional Web development methods, such as using C or Perl to create Common Gateway Interface-based applications, it would have taken us hours to develop only one of these applications.

Domino.Action stepped us through the whole process (see screen, above), letting us customize each section before generating the applications. We then worked with those applications--such as adding job descriptions--through Notes.

Another extraordinarily useful feature is built-in SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) 2.0 support. The Domino SSL Administrator application guided us through the process of creating a security key, getting it signed and installing it on our server.

The SSL Administrator also let us become our own certification authority--which is useful for sites that want to encrypt the traffic traveling over internal networks but that don't need to prove their identity over the Internet.

By signing our own keys, we were running an encrypted site in minutes, rather than going through the sometimes lengthy process of getting our keys signed by a public certification authority such as VeriSign.

Other applications allow companies to become their own certification authority, but this is the easiest one we've seen to use.

PC Week Labs will take a more in-depth look at Domino 4.5 in an upcoming issue.

Lotus, of Cambridge, Mass., can be reached at (800) 343-5414 or at

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