New features in IBM Lotus iNotes 8.5: Ultra-light mode and the Lotus iNotes redirector

This article is the third in a three-part series on Lotus iNotes and provides a detailed overview of the new ultra-light mode. A previous article, “New features in IBM Lotus iNotes 8.5: Administration policies and lite mode,” covers improvements to lite mode and the significant administration improvements. A second article “New features in IBM Lotus iNotes 8.5: Full mode,” covers the Lotus iNotes full mode.

Although Lotus iNotes ultra-light mode first premiered in IBM Lotus Domino® 8.0.2, the feature was developed concurrently for both the 8.5 and 8.0.2 versions. The 8.5 release, because it shipped after 8.0.2, has additional capability that is not in the 8.0.2 version, including name validation and expansion, reading of encrypted messages, display of additional view indicators, and support for Mozilla Firefox as a desktop browser to provide a solution for users with disabilities.

The Apple iPhone is a revolutionary device for many reasons. The most interesting aspect, though, from our perspective is the inclusion of a powerful browser: mobile Safari. This browser is nearly identical to its desktop cousin and, having such a capable browser on a device that fits in one’s pocket, changes the game. Suddenly, the rich content on the Internet is readily reachable without having to carry around a bulky laptop. If other Internet applications and sites are now available from these devices, one would also expect one’s browser-based mail to be available. Why would someone choose to use a separate public kiosk, if their private phone provides comparable capability?

As we explored having Lotus iNotes work well on the iPhone, we quickly discovered that the experience using the current full or lite modes was far from ideal:

  • Full and lite modes are optimized for devices with screens 1024 pixels wide by 768 pixels in height. Hence, much zooming or panning is required to use these versions on the iPhone.
  • Earlier versions of Lotus iNotes opened many windows. This approach isn’t ideal for the iPhone experience.
  • Many significant gestures that full and lite mode rely on are missing on the iPhone: double-click, right-click, shift-click, Ctrl-click, hover, and drag-and-drop. Both full and lite modes rely on the double-click gesture to open documents in a view.
  • The amount of bandwidth consumed by full mode, particularly when the browser cache is empty, makes it a less-than-ideal experience on mobile devices where the bandwidth might be constrained.
  • The amount of script utilized by full and lite modes affects the client performance experience. The iPhone has much more limited caching capabilities than desktop browsers, and it enforces upper size limits on the uncompressed responses that might be cached. Several of the Lotus iNotes full-mode external scripts exceed this upper size limit.
  • Some of the more complex things, such as div dialogs that full and lite modes are using, seem to have problems with the mobile Safari browser.

There were also a couple of other usage scenarios (besides narrow width mobile devices) that were not addressed by Lotus iNotes in the past. If we were going to introduce a new iNotes mode focused on mobile browsers, we thought it would be an added bonus if it could also address these other known situations:

  • Working within script-disabled browsers. Lotus iNotes full and lite modes rely heavily on JavaScript™ and do not load when script is disabled. Several competitive Internet mail offerings provide such a script-free Basic version.
  • Meeting accessibility guidelines established for users with disabilities.

This initial release of Lotus iNotes ultra-light mode is optimized for two mobile devices, the Apple iPhone and the Apple iPod touch. As capable browsers become the norm within newer smartphones, we anticipate that there will be greater interest in having Lotus iNotes support for additional mobile devices.

Another evident trend is the emergence of WebKit as the preferred browser engine for many of these mobile device platforms. Besides mobile Safari on the Apple devices, the Google Android platform, the Symbian S60 platform, and the Palm webOS platform all feature WebKit-based browsers. This fact means that Web applications that work well on the Apple iPhone and iPod touch have a high likelihood of working well on these other mobile browsers also.

One of our goals with ultra-light mode is to provide an experience that feels natural on the iPhone. To provide this experience, we followed the human interface guidelines published by Apple for iPhone Web application development and our own user experience best practices. Apple’s document puts forth a number of principles for designing for the iPhone that helped us to optimize our application. These guidelines also translate well to other real-estate constrained (for example, mobile device) platforms. Here are some of the principles we followed when designing the ultra-light mode UI.

Simplify wherever possible

The iNotes full and lite modes offer a fairly rich user experience. There are often several ways to accomplish a task and many options available. For example, in full mode, there are eight different options to reply to a message. In ultra-light mode, we offer the two most common reply options, and they are prominently placed on the page.

Focus on the key feature set

The primary goal of Lotus iNotes is to provide quick access to information and actions within a user’s mail file. When designing the Lotus iNotes ultra-light mode, we focused on the most commonly used subset of those features: email, contacts, and calendar. This focus helped us to prioritize our feature set and avoid diluting the effectiveness of the user experience with too many distractions.

Don’t try to squeeze too much onto a page

Despite its relatively high-resolution screen, the iPhone still has significantly less screen real estate than a desktop computer. Trying to squeeze as much as possible into a small space could make things difficult to read, locate, and interact with. In our application, we attempted to strike a balance between an open and uncluttered space and making the most important information available to the user with a minimum of clicks and context changes.

Require input only when necessary

Even with a touch screen, virtual keyboard with assistance, and 3G/WiFi high-bandwidth support, entering information and traversing multiple Web page screens can be cumbersome on the iPhone. To minimize this clumsiness, we avoided unnecessary pages, prompts, and panels.

This guideline is the flip side to requiring input only when necessary. By organizing pages and content to minimize the number of touches (or gestures) needed to display important information, we’ve tried to keep the application efficient and fun to use.

We believe that by following these guidelines we have built a solution well suited for the iPhone and iPod touch devices.

The steps for setting up Lotus iNotes are well documented in the Lotus Domino administrator help documentation. Steps specifically related to the new ultra-light mode are minimal, but there are some considerations that you should take into account. If your intent is to have Lotus iNotes available for secure access from the Internet, and a reverse proxy server or VPN is part of the deployment configuration, this approach needs to be validated with ultra-light mode from the iPhone. Lotus iNotes supports both reverse proxies and VPNs, though sometimes configuration is required. If a VPN solution that requires special client-side installed software is being used, then this poses a hurdle because an iPhone-compatible version of the VPN client is also required. Check with your VPN vendor on the availability of such a component for the iPhone. The iPhone also has a built-in VPN client, which might be configured to work with your compatible VPN.

IBM Lotus offers a client-less VPN solution that can be used with Lotus iNotes. See the developerWorks® Lotus article, “Enabling secure, remote access to IBM Lotus iNotes using IBM Lotus Mobile Connect.”

The Lotus iNotes redirector application provides both single URL access to any user’s mail file and a custom Web login screen. Some key enhancements were made to this application to better support ultra-light mode. First, there are some new mobile settings that can be accessed when setting up the application.

Redirector UI changes to access new mobile settings

Clicking the Ultralite/Mobile Settings button displays the following two settings as shown in figure 2:

  • The Enable Ultralite mode radio button option
  • The Mobile Device User Agent Keywords field

New mobile settings in the redirector application

The Enable Ultralite mode radio button setting adds “ultralite mode” as one of the login options that the user can select when login options are enabled in the UI setup screen.

The Mobile Device User Agent Keywords setting determines when to display an alternate login screen that is more suitable for narrow-width browsers. The keywords specified here are sought within the HTTP user agent request header on incoming requests. When the keyword text (for example, “ipod” or “iphone”) is found, an alternate mobile login screen is displayed. To have this alternate login screen display for other mobile browsers, a unique keyword to identify that alternate browser might be added to this settings list. Although the ultra-light mode currently supports only “ipod” and “iphone”, you could use this approach to try out other mobile browsers. For example, “android” or “series60” might be used to have this mobile-optimized login screen show up on a device that uses the Google Android and Symbian S60 browsers, respectively. In addition, the UI Setup screen now also contains an additional option to remember the entered user name within a persisted cookie. Because entering many characters is cumbersome with smartphone keypads, this option greatly improves the authentication procedure.

Ultra-light mode can be explicitly invoked through a new UI argument value, dwa_ulite, when invoking the ?OpenDatabase URL. Ultra-light mode is also automatically entered when specifically supported mobile browsers, such as mobile Safari, are encountered or when JavaScript is disabled on a particular browser.

Although the 8.5 version added support for accessing the Lotus iNotes ultra-light mode from the Firefox desktop browser on Microsoft® Windows®, this discussion focuses mainly on the experience on the Apple iPhone and iPod touch. The same features available on the iPhone are available from Firefox, except for features provided by the iPhone such as the ability to dial the phone number in a contact entry.

The iNotes ultra-light mode home page, shown in figure 3, provides access to Lotus Domino mail, calendar, and contacts through a user interface that has the simple look and ease of use associated with a typical iPhone application.
Figure 3. Home view on the device
Home view on the device

For example, with a quick glance at the home page example in figure 3, it is easy to see that the Inbox has seven unread messages that are waiting to be read. The current date displays in the Day At A Glance icon. The view available with each of the home page icons is self-evident.

Browser bookmarks can be created to get directly to the Lotus iNotes ultra-light view and document pages. In addition, bookmarks can also be placed on the iPhone home page. These bookmarks are easily identified with a unique icon as shown in figure 4.

Adding a bookmark

Inbox view

Figure 5 shows what the Inbox has to offer when using ultra-light mode in Lotus iNotes 8.5.
Figure 5. Inbox view on the device
Inbox view on the device

The first thing to notice is the unread count at the top of the screen, so users immediately know how much mail still needs to be read. This count is updated on a page refresh or when an action is performed. Buttons are available to compose new mail, to refresh the view to check for new incoming messages, and to return to the previous view, in this case, the home page.

Ultra-light shows as many as 40 messages per page in the message list, which users can flick through and select to read. When there is more than one page of mail, the navigation bars at the top and bottom of the view provide previous and next buttons to move to other pages of mail and to keep track of what page is currently displayed. The display of the message list should be familiar to anyone who has worked with the narrow view of either Lotus iNotes full or lite mode or the Lotus Notes client. The message list provides many familiar view icons, aimed at providing useful information at a quick glance. To the left there are indicators to help identify unread mail, high-priority items, and various types of calendar events that were received. On the right, icons indicate items marked for follow-up action, those items already handled by forward or reply operations, and where attachments or additional information are present. Attention indicators also display when this feature is configured in the Lotus iNotes preferences.

A Lotus iNotes 8.0.2 user can have a similar user experience, but without a few of the helpful view icons (follow-up, replied and/or forwarded, attention indicators) that are new for Lotus iNotes 8.5.

Read Message page

To make efficient use of the small screen size on mobile devices, information in the message header is kept to a useful minimum when users view messages in ultra-light mode. In this way, more of the actual message content is visible on the screen. In an open message, the sender’s name and encrypted and signed indicators are always visible in the header. Toggling the details/hide link displays additional information about who else received the mail and the signer. See figure 6. A Lotus iNotes 8.0.2 user has the same display but without the encrypted and signed information, which is new for the 8.5 version.
Figure 6. Read Message views
Read Message views

When users read a message that includes attachments, a button displays at the top of the message body, indicating how many files are attached. Clicking this button takes users to the attachment section at the bottom of the message, where the name, type, and size of each attached file are shown. See figure 7.
Figure 7. Attachment area in an open message
Attachment area in an open message

Clicking the indicator (>) for an attachment opens a new browser window on the iPhone, where the content displays if the device has a viewer that can process this type of file.

When reading messages, users have key actions available. As evident in figure 6, there are buttons to navigate back and forth through the mail in your Inbox, mark the message unread, delete the message, send a reply, or forward the message. While other modes of Lotus iNotes provide many options for Reply and Forward actions, the ultra-light mode provides a smaller set containing the most common options. Both Reply and Reply to All actions always include the message history and do not include attachments; Forward always includes the attachments that came with the message.

New Message page

In the 8.0.2 version, email addresses in messages sent from ultra-light mode ware checked against users’ personal contact list and corporate directory, expanded if possible, and sent out. This function has been improved in Lotus iNotes 8.5 by the addition of a new interactive name validation capability. This validation occurs whenever mail is sent. There is also a validate button available to the left of the “to” field, enabling users to explicitly check names before sending mail. See figure 8.
Figure 8. New Message view
New Message view

On both validate and send, each address is compared to both personal contacts and the public directory. If an exact match can’t be determined for a recipient, a window displays with options for resolving the problem, such as selecting from some similar names or reentering a value as shown in figure 9.
Figure 9. Name validation dialog
Name validation dialog

Day At A Glance page

The Lotus iNotes ultra-light mode provides a convenient Day At A Glance calendar view that initially displays the current day’s schedule for the user. See figure 10.
Figure 10. Day At A Glance view
Day At A Glance view

Action icons are available to navigate to the next and previous days, return to the current day, refresh the view to see any new entries, and return to the home page. The calendar event list that displays respects the user’s existing Lotus Notes color settings and incorporates familiar Lotus iNotes icons as event identifiers. Ultra-light mode also respects the existing Lotus iNotes preference setting that controls whether unprocessed meeting notices show up on the calendar. For example, the gray reschedule notice in figure 10 is an example of a ghosted entry in the calendar, which represents a reschedule meeting notice that has not been accepted or declined yet.

Calendar events page

Ultra-light mode provides read-only access to the Lotus Domino calendar, allowing users to view existing entries. All calendar entries show date, time, and location information. Meeting entries also identify the chair and include a details/hide link. Toggling the details/hide link displays or hides additional details about who else was invited to the meeting as shown in figure 11.
Figure 11. Open calendar entry for a meeting
Open calendar entry for a meeting

Additionally for Lotus iNotes 8.5, a repeats label was added next to the date to identify a repeating event. For unprocessed invitations displayed in the Inbox or as a ghost in the calendar, the repeats label is an active link that toggles between showing and hiding the actual list of repeating dates. See figure 12.
Figure 12. Open calendar invitation for a repeating meeting
Open calendar invitation for a repeating meeting

Contacts page

The contact view in ultra-light mode displays the user’s personal contact list from Lotus iNotes. It provides an alphabetic listing with controls to jump to a specific letter page in the contact list as shown in figure 13. Icons display in the contact list when a cell phone number, a business phone number, or a work email address is available for someone. On the iPhone, these icons are clickable links that make it easy to place a call or compose an email from the view without having to open the entry. From the contact view, users can create new contacts or drill down to open an existing contact entry.
Figure 13. Contacts view on the iPhone
Contacts view on the iPhone

The open contact entry displays the name, e-mail, phone, and address information that is available for the contact. There are also action buttons available to edit or delete the entry. See figure 14.
Figure 14. Open Contact view
Open Contact view

The edit fields and drop-down choices when you edit or create a new contact are the same ones available in Lotus iNotes full mode. For convenience, there are tabs to jump to the sections of information that can be entered for name, e-mail, phone, and address. See figure 15.
Figure 15. Edit Contact view
Edit Contact view

While ultra-light mode does not currently support creating or editing personal groups, users can view any existing personal group created using Lotus iNotes full mode or the Lotus Notes client.

In Lotus iNotes 8.0.2, iNotes ultra-light mode is supported on the mobile Safari browser used by the iPhone and iPod touch mobile devices. With version 8.5, iNotes ultra-light mode added support for the Mozilla Firefox desktop browser on Windows, with the goal of providing an accessible solution for Lotus iNotes that complies with the standards set forth in Section 508 of the United States Rehabilitation Act (found at 29 U.S.C. 794d). As such, ultra-light mode on the desktop is designed to function well using keyboard-only navigation, display well when users want to use large fonts and high-contrast modes, and be easily understood with a screen reader.

The ultra-light mode UI is generally the same for both the device and the desktop display. The home page view and the contact list view are two places where page layouts were enhanced to exploit the larger screen size available with desktop browser.

The home page on the desktop, shown in figure 16, has a different layout than on the device.

Home page view on the desktop browser

The Inbox button still features an unread count (in parenthesis for the desktop display). Views available with each of the home page buttons are self-evident. One minor difference for the Day At A Glance icon is that the number within the icon does not reflect the current date as it does on the mobile device. Additional help information on access key shortcuts, useful for screen reader usage or keyboard navigation, is available.

Desktop users also have the advantage of being able to switch to other Lotus iNotes modes to use features not currently available with ultra-light mode (although those other modes are not Section 508 compliant). Features not currently available in ultra-light mode include tasks such as creating new calendar entries, handling meeting notices and workflow, and creating group contacts.

For the contact view, shown in figure 17, the larger screen size with a desktop browser means more information can be surfaced to the view. For the desktop user, two additional phone icons, home phone and pager number, can display for a contact. While these are not clickable links on the desktop, the screen reader does speak the numbers associated with each icon in the view.

Contact view on the desktop browser

In this article, we’ve discussed the new iNotes ultra-light mode, its goals and philosophy, and how to use it. We reviewed many of its features and described new mobile configuration settings.

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