In 1991, Mike Kudla joined Iris and took on his first assignment -- to double-byte enable Notes to support multi-byte (international) character sets. This meant going through the Notes code line-by-line, with his initial work leading to today's support for 22 languages. This in-depth knowledge of Notes led to his work on virtually every area of the Notes client, from the Editor, to LotusScript to the many application design features for Notes Release 4. Now he's leading the team building the Lotus Notes Mail client for Internet standard protocols, code-named Maui.
What can we expect with the new Notes Mail client?
Essentially, this is a messaging client that works like Notes, but can also talk to any Internet server out on your network. The goal is to have all the functionality of today's Notes Mail, along with the new Lookout navigation, plus support for NNTP, LDAP, and IMAP4. We want to provide the richness of the Notes client to people whose data is not stored in Notes databases, and we want to let Notes users directly integrate more information from the Web. This is the ultimate intranet client.
What will your supporting Internet standards buy us as Notes users?
Through IMAP4, this client will talk to any Mail server, and by supporting LDAP, it can let you perform a directory search against any LDAP server. NNTP and IIOP will let you integrate information from standard news, distributed object, and calendaring servers, respectively.
Isn't this just one of several clients?
Yes, but we are singularly focused on making it the best client. We want it to be all you need to integrate task management, calendaring and scheduling, discussions, basic workflows and browser functionality in an Internet connected environment. If you want more, like the ability to run custom Notes applications, you can get the Lotus Notes Desktop product, which will use the exact same Internet mail we're building here.
Mike takes time out from working on the latest Notes client to shoot a round of pool.
Does the planet need another e-mail client?
Oh, yes, definitely. Choice is good. You can ask a marketing person, but if you ask me, if you're using the Web, the lightweight clients are fine for personal use, but they're never going to cut it for corporations. People want to work together. That's been proven. They want all the stuff they have in a Notes client -- a local data store, full-text search, agents, group calendaring and scheduling. Now they want it built on top of Internet standards, and this isn't just standards for standards sake, or so we can have another way to send a message. It's about potentially enabling new things -- mix and match client and servers for a greater purpose, which ultimately is the extended, global enterprise...the type of applications, which by the way, Notes customers have been enjoying for years. Now we have the opportunity to extend that and make it even more widely available.
What are the key challenges for your team?
There are three big ones: the first is speaking the Web protocols, which essentially involves writing drivers instead of Remote Procedure Calls for Internet standards such as LDAP, IMAP4, NNTP, and so on, and then creating the layer to talk the new protocol and present that information to Notes user interface so that it gets treated like a Notes database, with all the inherent capabilities that brings...like being able to create a folder, views, etc.
Second, there's work involved in rewriting the feature set because we're not only incorporating the Lookout navigation, which is going to give you a whole new way to manage all the stuff that comes across your desktop, from e-mail to Notes databases to faxes and so on. But we're doing some new feature stuff in Mail, Calendar and Scheduling, and Mobile support too.
And third, there's dealing with the new data types likeMIME HTML, which will allow things like images and other objects referenced in HTML to be stored in a mail message. We want to store these data types natively without converting them, and then render, display, save, and send them back out, and of course, make all of this fit seamlessly in the Notes object-based environment. One of the knocks on the Notes data store is that the data format is proprietary. We have written various conversion routines to go between Notes data format and Internet Standard formats (HTML, MIME, etc.) but this is not always a lossless conversion. The goal here is to provide the highest level of fidelity and performance possible, and the best way to do that is to store the information natively in the format in which it entered the system.
Which of the Web protocols are giving you the most hassles?
LDAP needs more functionality and IMAP4 is constantly shifting. You have to remember IMAP was developed in the academic world and is being embraced as a universal message transfer protocol. Now we are now seeing the difference between theory and practice. It doesn't help that people are trying to extend these protocols under the umbrella of openness. One of the implementation goals is to reuse as much existing code as possible. For example, the Notes view allows you to present information in various ways, sorted on various keys, all under the designers control. The challenge is to make use of this same paradigm, when the underlying data is not stored in a Notes Database, but, for example, on an IMAP Server.
Where do you fit with browsers?
Our strategy is that browsers are becoming part of the operating system services and the client of choice is going to be an integrated one that does a lot of the things Notes already does extremely well.
What will differentiate messaging clients in your space?
Features are obviously important, but interoperability will be especially important.
People need to know they can send mail from the Internet to people who use any other client and it doesn't matter how you get there from here. You can communicate using the Notes Mail client for the Internet with people who use Eudora, Netscape, the Notes Desktop client, whatever. We need to give people choices and let them do whatever they want across all the boundaries, whether protocols, platforms, or operating systems. And we need to make sure functionality is provided in a consistent manner, whether it's replication, agent services, access control, encryption, or whatever. Some vendors don't seem to get the need for cross platform support, but among those who do, there needs to be feature parity across the client platforms as well. We already have a big jump in all these areas. Customers are going to be taking a hard look at this issue, and we are going to come out shining.
So are you focusing only on Internet mail users?
No. We're incorporating Web protocols, but we're not going to give up the Notes protocols because there are 11 million users out there and they want the choice to run their mission critical applications on Notes. We need to give people flexibility to just read their mail with a smaller faster, easy to use client, but we're certainly not going to take away functionality. There're just a lot things you can do with a Notes client that you can't do with a browser as elegantly. Part of our strategy is to bridge this gap by "componetizing" key Notes functionality in Java applets that can be downloaded and used in a browser. Again, it is all about providing our users choices.
What's a good example of something Notes does better?
It's easy to present dynamic information in a Notes form using Hide-When formulas and collapsible sections. And we're very dynamic in reacting to users filling out a form based on their ID or perhaps on their answers to certain types of information requests. The browser people seems to be struggling with things like this. However, as the browsers close the gap, we want to be able to give users their choice as to which client they wish to use. Or goal is always provide compelling reasons why the Notes client is the best.
How will this Notes Mail be different?
Well, besides the Lookout UI and some new features, our current client needs to be less complex to set up because today it requires things like Notes user Ids. But there's no such thing on the Web. Also, we're working on reducing the footprint. At the same time, we want to preserve and build on the unique features of Notes because we don't want to just be another I-mail client -- we want to be the best I-mail client.
What about developing applications?
What kinds of things are you working on to deal with issues of international messaging?
Lots of things. For example, on the Web, you can have alternative representations of the same page, for example, by selecting Chinese or English from your browser. We're doing work to make it easier to translate dynamically, on the fly, and to intelligently interpret what language you're using before loading the spell and grammar checkers, and help, for example, depending on the content of the document.
What do you think are Iris' advantages versus the competition?
Well, ironically, we're smaller -- only about a dozen people. We're working with an installed base, which is actually an advantage because we've got lots and lots of enterprise experience. We've dealt with issues over the past four versions like multi-platform, multi-protocol and multi-data type support. And we've got the lead on features for groupware and messaging, both from a developer and an end user perspective, and we're going to widen that lead. The product has a great market opportunity and it's just a great, really talented group of people. When I come in here in the morning it seems like 15 minutes have gone by and I look up and it's 4:30 in the afternoon.
What advice do you have for developers?
Well, if they're talented and they have LDAP and IMAP experience, I recommend they send me their resumes because there are lots of great things going on here.
After she was ejected from private school in New Hampshire, Betsy Kosheff turned to a career in journalism. She moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern University's teaching newspaper program, where her first idea for a story led her to the Windy City Hall. There, she proposed that all government officials should dress like hens, and was again, promptly ejected. In 1983 she decided to go into public relations but was overcome with self-loathing and now lives in the Berkshires enjoying the simple pleasures of life, like farming and sitting on an air hose.