The new IBM Lotus Notes 8 Out of Office functionality

Preview the new Out of Office functionality in IBM Notes and Domino 8 and examine the new features of the Out of Office service and the Out of Office agent. Learn how and when to use the agent and when to use the service.

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Julie Kadashevich, Software Engineer, IBM

Julie Kadashevich has been working as a developer on the programmability team of Domino server since 1997. Her specific area of expertise has to do with anything related to agents.



06 February 2007

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The Out of Office functionality is one of the most widely used features of the IBM Lotus Notes mail template. This functionality has been completely re-written for IBM Lotus Notes and Domino 8, and in this article, we examine the changes in this feature, compare the new feature set to the old one, and discuss why and when you may want to use the earlier functionality rather than the new one.

In current versions of Lotus Notes (release 7.x and earlier), the Out of Office functionality is managed by a LotusScript agent native to the Notes mail template. In Lotus Notes and Domino 8, the enhanced LotusScript agent still exists in the Notes mail template for backward compatibility. In addition, the mail router has new functionality called the Out of Office service that offers the same functionality as the agent.

Comparing the Out of Office service and the Out of Office agent

The Out of Office service requires a Lotus Domino 8 server, Lotus Notes 8 client, and the Lotus Notes 8 mail template. The Out of Office agent requires a Lotus Notes 8 client and the Notes 8 mail template, and it can run on both Lotus Domino 8 and earlier servers. Out of Office functionality is supported by the Lotus Notes 8 and IBM Lotus Domino Web Access 8.

Both the agent and the service perform the same basic functionality; they generate automatic responses to emails when the owner of the mail file is out of the office. They share the same new user interface as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. User interface for Out of Office service in Lotus Notes 8
User interface for Out of Office service in Lotus Notes 8

Both the service and the agent can optionally mark the owner’s calendar as busy, support two different responses for two sets of people, and follow exception rules regarding which messages should generate a response and which messages should not. Also, they both provide an option to respond to each sender only once (this is a new feature in Lotus Notes 8).

In addition to the functionalities common to both, there are significant differences as summarized in table 1 and detailed in the following sections.

Table 1. The features of Out of Office service versus agent
FunctionalityServiceAgent
Response timeInstant responseEvery six hours (default)
Support for failover?YesNo
DisablingDisabled automaticallyDisabled manually
Minimum duration lengthOne hourOne day
DelegationSupports delegation with Access Control List (ACL)Supports delegation with ACL + agent security
Depends upon agent security?NoYes

Response time

The Out of Office service supports instant response to an incoming mail message. The response is generated by a router as part of the mail delivery of the incoming message. The agent is processed by the Agent Manager, and the agent is executed every six hours by default.

Support for failover

The Out of Office service supports failover, owing to the fact that it is part of the mail delivery and is processed on the same server to which the mail is being delivered. Note that all mail servers in the cluster must be running Lotus Domino 8 to support this functionality. The agent does not support failover; instead, it catches up with processing previously delivered messages when the server on which the agent has been scheduled to run comes back up.

Disabling Out of Office functionality

The service functionality disables automatically at the end of the period specified by the user, while the user must manually disable the agent.

Duration of Out of Office functionality

The duration of the service can be one hour or more, so you can use it to generate notices while you are in a meeting. The minimum duration the agent can be turned on is one day.

Delegation

Both the Out of Office agent and the Out of Office service support delegation. The Lotus Notes 8 version of the agent has been enhanced to allow non-mail owners to enable the Out of Office agent. The delegate must be included in the ACL of the database with Editor-, Designer-, or Manager-level rights. If the delegate has Editor rights, the Administration Process (AdminP) can enable the agent. In addition to being listed in the database ACL, the delegate must have proper rights in the Security section of the Server document in the Domino Directory. If the delegate has Editor rights, he must have "Right to sign agents on behalf of others" privilege. If the delegate has Designer or Manager ACL rights, he only needs to have rights to run restricted agents.

The Out of Office service supports delegation through User Preferences and is fully integrated with Calendar delegation. Delegates are added to the ACL as part of the delegate specification.

In addition to setting up delegation in advance, sometimes Out of Office functionality needs to be enabled or disabled on an emergency basis when the user leaves on vacation without setting up delegation. You can do this by using Full Administrator functionality. The administrator must have Full Administrator rights specified in the Security Tab of the Server document in the Domino Directory. In addition, the administrator must enable the Full Admin Mode in the Lotus Domino Administrator client, after which he can open the user's mail file and enable the Out of Office agent or service.

Security

The Out of Office service does not use agent technology and thus, has no ties to agent security. Administrators can decide whether or not to give users rights to run agents independently from their need to use the Out of Office service. The Out of Office agent uses an agent subsystem and therefore, depends upon the agent security rules. The rules remain the same as in Lotus Notes and Domino 6 and 7.

If a mail owner is a Designer or Manager of his mail file, he must have rights to run restricted LotusScript/Java agents. This is the lowest level of rights that allows users to run a subset of operations that do not cause any security risks.

If a mail owner is an Editor in his mail file, he is not required to have rights to run agents. In the case of the Editor-level user, the Out of Office agent is automatically configured to run in a special mode that allows the user to run this agent without running any other agents. This automatic configuration is performed by AdminP and occurs the first time the Out of Office agent is enabled.

The Lotus Notes 8 Out of Office agent also supports delegation. The delegate can have Editor-, Designer-, or Manager-level access in the ACL of the user’s mail file. If the delegate has Editor-level rights in the ACL, the enabling request goes through AdminP regardless of the level of the mail owner. The delegate is required to have rights to run agents on behalf of others.

For Editor-level mail owners, the delegate should have rights to run agents on behalf of others. For Designer- and Manager-level mail owners, the delegate should have restricted rights to run agents (see figure 2). Note that the on-behalf right also works because it is higher than the restricted level of rights.

Figure 2. Agent security specification in the Server document
Agent security specification in the Server document

Configuring Out of Office functionality

The Out of Office service is built into the Lotus Domino 8 router. Therefore, to support reliable Out of Office service functionality (that is ensuring that all messages are responded to), all members of the mail cluster must be running Lotus Domino version 8 (or later) server software.

The enhancements to the Lotus Notes 8 Out of Office agent are contained in the Notes 8 mail template. The new logic that turns on the agent or the service requires support from the Lotus Notes 8 client; however, the execution of the Out of Office agent does not require any new features, so it can run on a Lotus Domino 8 or earlier server versions.

This choice of configuration can be controlled by the administrator and is located in the Server Configuration document under the Router/STMP - Advanced - Controls subtab in the Miscellaneous Controls section (see figure 3). There are two values in the "Out-of-Office service type" field: Agent (the default) and Service. You can use the Agent setting in a transitional mail cluster with mixed versions of Lotus Domino, when at least one of the servers has a Lotus Domino 7.x or earlier release. You can use the Service setting when all servers have been upgraded to Lotus Domino 8.

Figure 3. Configuring Out of Office functionality
Configuring Out of Office functionality

Conclusion

In this article, we introduced you to the new Lotus Notes and Domino 8 Out of Office functionality, examining the new features of the Out of Office service and the Lotus Notes 8 Out of Office agent. We explained when to use the agent and when to use the service. The new Out of Office functionality addresses many feature requests that we’ve heard from our customers, and we hope you find the new functionality useful.

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