If you’ve read some of my previous articles, you will know that Lotus Notes database applications are based on templates. A template is the skeleton of the database.
In other words, it’s all of the features and functionality of the application without any of the data. In fact, Notes keeps the data and design completely separate within the database.
This is a powerful aspect of Notes that allows you to completely change the features, functionality and look of an application without disturbing the data.
Because of this, pretty much everything in Lotus Notes is customizable by a developer. Without much work, you can add a view or change button behavior and then roll out those changes to the entire company within minutes.
One of the things that almost every company likes to tweak a bit is the standard mail template.
Although the mail template is robust, some cool features tend to be hidden in menus, and some default behaviors of buttons might not be to your company’s liking.
If you don’t have time to customize the mail template yourself, OpenNTF.org has a template for you.
The OpenNTF Mail Experience
The OpenNTF Mail Experience is an alternate mail template that has many of the most common enhancements that businesses find themselves coding.
The screenshots below show the standard email menu on top, and the OpenNTF mail menu below it:
You’ll immediately notice that the OpenNTF template has quite a few more options than the standard template.
The developers have taken some features and made them easier to find, and added some views that help people manage their mail more efficiently. I’ll go through some of the additions you’ll want to use right away.
Size It Up
First off, if your company has email quotas and size limits, the OpenNTF template includes Usage statistics.
For example, in the above screenshot, you can see that I’m using 35 percent of my 1000MB quota. This is something that administrators will like as it keeps those limits in the minds of the users.
In the same vein, the Size column in all of the email views has everything broken down into KB or MB increments.
The standard template that ships with Notes has that column listed with no labels and actually shows it in bytes.
So a 7KB file shows up in the standard template as 7,000 and in the OpenNTF template as 7KB. It seems like a small issue, but users understand the sizes much better when it’s spelled out.
Lotus Notes in general has a very robust search mechanism built in. However, many users don’t realize that the search only looks in your current folder or view.
The only way to search your entire database is to search the All Documents view. The OpenNTF template makes this very easy with the inclusion of the Find Memo link.
Clicking Find Memo automatically switches to the All Documents view and opens the search box (which is also hidden in the standard template by default.)
This makes it much easier for users to search their mail file, and cuts down on the number of support calls you may have to endure.
In the past I’ve talked about replication and what a great feature it is in Notes. The OpenNTF template allows you to replicate your mail quickly without ever leaving your mail file.
A simple Send/Receive link is included and allows a user to kick off replication simply by clicking the link. No need to switch to the replicator and hit the start button.
That’s one of the themes of this template. It puts everything a user would normally do in the same vicinity as their inbox.
Instead of having to click a button, open a menu or switch to a different tab, everything is in the mail menu and easily accessible.
This definitely cuts down on frustration for new users as they do not have to search everywhere for a particular feature.
The Out of Office agent, mailbox Preferences, Find Memo and Send/Receive function are all examples of features being surfaced right within the mail outline on the left side of the user’s mail file.
Have It Your Way
Another nice addition of the template are five custom views that allow you to find things within your mailfile in a variety of ways.
- Today’s Mail — This view is simple, but shows you all of your mail from today only. Nice and easy
- By Date — This view categorizes your email by each day. You will see a list of all dates you received email and you can click on a given date to expand and see all of the emails you sent or received on a particular day.
- By Person — This gives you a list of all people you’ve sent and received email from, categorized by Name. If the name comes from your Domino Directory you will see the common name (i.e. John Doe) and if it’s an internet address it will be the part before the @ sign in an email address (i.e. jdoe)
- By Size — This one breaks up email into four categories: Large (100 – 500KB) Very Large (500 – 1000 KB) Huge (1 – 5MB) and Enormous (> 5MB). You can tell that an administrator designed this view. Despite the cute names, it does allow users to quickly delve into their largest emails to see what they can purge.
- By Attachment — This is a nice view that shows you every email message with an attachment. It includes a size column and a column with the attachment name. It allows you to see attachments at a glance and can come in very handy. Clicking on the column headers for size or attachment sorts the view by those criteria. So if you need to find foo.gif, click the attachment column to sort alphabetically and then scroll until you find what you are looking for.
Replacing The Template
If you like what you see here and you want to make the switch, the first thing you’ll need to do is download the template from OpenNTF.org.
There are various versions of this template, so make sure you download the correct one for the version of Notes you are using.
For example, I’m using version 7.0.2 of Notes, so I would download the 7.0.2 version of the OpenNTF template.
The reason for this is that most of the core functionality in your email file comes from the standard template. The extra features and functionality outlined in this article are added by the developers at OpenNTF.org.
Once you have the template, ask your administrator to sign the template with your production ID file and then place the template file on the server.
To replace your mail template, simply right-click on your mail icon on the upper left hand side of your Notes client and choose Database, Replace Design.
Choose the OpenNTF template from the list and click Replace. The system will churn away for a few minutes and then you’ll be ready to roll.
Normally your administrator will handle all of the above, but if you happen to BE the administrator, or are simply a user working in a test environment, following the above procedure will get you on the OpenNTF version of the template .
The only caveat is that you need Designer (or higher) rights in the access control list or your mail database.
The nicest thing about this is, if you decide after using the new template for a while that the changes are not for you, simply replace the design with the standard Lotus template and you’ll be back to the way things were. It’s that easy.
The main thing I want you to take away from this article is the ease in which your average user’s email experience in Lotus Notes can be changed.
This isn’t something you can do in other email systems. In most, you get what they give you. In Lotus Notes, they give you the ability to customize to your heart’s content.
If there is something your user population doesn’t like about the email template, you can change it yourself.
And if you don’t have the time, you can lean on the open source community to come to your rescue. The OpenNTF Mail Experience can do just that.
About This Series
This series of articles on intranet solutions with IBM Lotus Notes/Domino is intended to help readers understand the fundamental methodology and capabilities of the product and how to utilize it to deliver a feature-rich, secure, and functional corporate intranet solution.
It will include implementation strategies, case studies, industry-tested tips and tricks, and, with your input, true value to the administrator or developer who wants to utilize IBM Lotus Notes/Domino technologies to deliver winning intranet solutions.
If you have any questions on the series, Lotus Notes/Domino, or if there’s something you’d like to see addressed, visit the Intranet Journal Discussion Forum.