Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lotus Notes and Gmail Revisited

To my post, How to Configure Lotus Notes for GMail, I received the following comment from "Stephanie". The answer is a little long for a comment, so I'm posting it here.
Who knew you'd still have comments about a 2 year old posting :)

My team is testing the Google Apps, gmail service. So, essentially, I can send e-mails through the web-based gmail client from my work domain name. Google Apps doesn't provide any Lotus Notes instructions on how to get the email sent to my Lotus Application to the gmail client, which is how I found your blog.

I've followed the instructions and have some questions.
1. Which do I want, POP or IMAP, if I want to have all of my e-mails that come in and out to Lotus available on gmail?
2. Do you think the problem is that Lotus thinks (not that Lotus can think) it is incorrectly coordinating with itself because the domain names are the same?
3. Any last suggestion as to why I keep getting POP3 Protocol Errors? I have tried each of the suggestion above with no avail.

Any suggestion would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.
Stephanie, you're going to hate me because I'm about to give you a lot of options and no decisions. And then I'm going to tell you my decisions anyway. Yours may differ.

You begin with a good point. The Notes client is one of the most popular email clients that exist, and I only put the configuration information here to fill in the gap until somebody at Google corrected the oversight. Who'd have thought that in two years Google wouldn't have put this information on their own website... especially considering that the information has been handed to them on a platter?

Before we attack this problem, let's define something that some other readers may have trouble with: the difference between POP3 and IMAP4. Follow the links for detailed information, but in practical terms, POP3 (Post Office Protocol) is a mail delivery method whereby your email client simply gets whatever is on the server and brings it to your local client. It's basically a one-way transmission, with some very basic ability to leave a copy of the retrieved messages on the server (or not). Using POP3, your Notes mail database is the primary storage location for your mail; the Gmail server is just the mail drop from which you retrieve that mail.

IMAP4 is much more robust. With IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), the Gmail server (not the Notes client) is the primary storage location for your mail. This enables you to access all of the mail in the Gmail account from any IMAP client. Lotus Notes supports both on-line and off-line modes of IMAP operation. On-line is exactly what it sounds like... Notes must be connected to the Internet in order for you to read and manage your mail. That sort of cancels the benefits of having a robust laptop. Off-line mode allows Notes to copy email from the IMAP server, then copy any changes you've made back to the IMAP server when you're done... a bit like Notes replication.

Also, let's examine some possible goals for using Google Apps - Gmail in conjunction with Lotus Notes:
1. Cost reduction. Having Google Apps handle all of your organization's mail may reduce costs compared to maintaining a Domino server and hiring or contracting the talent to manage it. Google Apps - Gmail costs $50 per person per year.for the hopped-up corporate version, or nothing at all for the stripped down freebie. If you have a need for scheduling, then you'll need the hopped-up corporate version.
2. Simplification. No in-house mail server, no server configuration, no anti-spam managements and updates. Basically, everybody uses Notes clients, and Google Apps acts as the mailbox. You still have to configure the clients.
3. Ubiquitous access. Gmail is accessible from any web server, and there's a Gmail client for mobile devices, including one in the works for the iPhone. Personally, I don't think this is a very good reason, since Notes/Domino provides web access to mail and calendar already.
4. Mail is only the tip of what Notes does, so offloading the mail administration and keeping the Notes client allows you to reap benefits 1-3 while keeping Domino applications that Google Apps can't replace. And if you really prefer using the Gmail interface, you can always open it in a tab within the Notes client.

You might have other goals, but these are the usual biggies. Now, on to your problem:
1. Which do I want, POP or IMAP, if I want to have all of my e-mails that come in and out to Lotus available on gmail?
I would suggest that IMAP better fits this particular requirement. However, keep in mind that GMAIL, NOT NOTES, will need to store this mail in order for this to work. Google Apps - Gmail is a POP and IMAP server, not client. Generally speaking, this means that is not going to be able to actively retrieve mail from your Notes mailbox. It must be in charge. (OK, so it needs to think it's in charge. In cases involving Google Apps and your own domain, the mail will be directed to you first.)

But this particular requirement may not be the end of the story. When you say "My team", I draw the conclusion that this is for a company. You may have the nasty issue of regulatory compliance. That which is technically possible may not be compliant. Find out whether you need to keep the mail data store in-house before committing to Gmail. Find out about retention and archiving and retrieval requirements. Privacy requirements are different between companies and individuals. A company may need to deliver emails in response to a subpoena, and you need to be able to access them without the end user's permission. Some companies haven't moved to Gmail simply because of their requirements for compliance. That said, Gmail's dual delivery option might satisfy these requirements.

Dual delivery simply means that the mail comes into your Domino mail server as normal, and you configure Domino to send a copy of every received mail to Gmail. You'd also need to copy every sent mail from Gmail (you do this by setting up an outbound gateway according to their instructions). The problem with dual delivery is that it doesn't really synchronize the two mail stores to which the mail is being delivered. Also, dual delivery will do nothing to simplify your mail infrastructure. It won't reduce costs in any way (in fact, it will increase costs by whatever you're spending on Google Apps - Gmail accounts). So if simplification and cost reduction are among your goals, don't bother.
2. Do you think the problem is that Lotus thinks (not that Lotus can think) it is incorrectly coordinating with itself because the domain names are the same?
Pardon me while I take this sentence out and shoot it. Here's what I think you're asking: "Is Lotus Notes confused because my Domino mail server uses the same domain name as my Gmail account?" In other words, if I'm using "dave@bogusmail.com" as my address, and I own "bogusmail.com", where should the mail go? Well, the mail goes wherever I tell it to. Notes isn't confused, but I need to be aware of what it was told.

Keep in mind that your domain is determined by the IP address to which it's assigned. If I own bogusmail.com, then all the mail goes to the bogusmail.com IP address. It comes to me. It's then up to me to get it to Gmail, and this is done by setting the MX records on my domain server. The MX records tell you where the mail exchange is. This is one thing that Gmail can help you with. This FAQ lists configuration details for a great honkin' lot of providers. Since my own provider, ANLX, isn't listed, here's how it's done.

Sign into my.anlx.net. Then select "Domains", then "Edit Domains" from the sidebar menu. Under "Mail Records" select "Change". Replace the mail server names with those that are specified by Gmail in the FAQ. Note that these changes are to the Domain, not to the mail options.

All of the above is valid if you simply want Google Apps to handle all of your mail. If you're concerned about compliance, or if only some of your users will be using Gmail, then you may be better off with dual delivery. This is covered in this Google Apps FAQ, and yes, it does provide instructions for configuring your Lotus Domino server.
3. Any last suggestion as to why I keep getting POP3 Protocol Errors? I have tried each of the suggestion above with no avail.
I don't have enough information to answer this. I would need to know what the errors are. The best I can reasonably recommend is to go back to the original instructions and follow them very carefully, and make sure you're not blocking traffic on any of the ports mentioned. It's worked 100% of the time for me.

Recommendations:
I started writing this without intending to make hard recommendations, but then I remembered how ticked off I get when I'm looking for answers and get the weasely run-around instead. So here are some answers.

Scenario 1:
You want Google Apps - Gmail to handle all your mail services from now on. You're willing to spend $50 per person per year to get the shared calendar features. You've calculated that this will be a marked savings over maintaining a Notes mail server in-house.

If that's the case, then more power to you! Set up your Google Apps - Gmail domain, create your accounts, change your MX record to point all your mail to the gmail servers, and set up your Lotus Notes clients for off-line IMAP4 access. This enables you to use some terrific Notes apps like VIC CRM while off-loading your mail.

Scenario 2:
Some, but not all, of your users want to use Gmail.

Push back... ask why. If they're using their own laptops, and they're connected to the Internet, then they could just as easily replicate with the Domino server, or use the robust iNotes web client or wait for the iPhone client. What's the point of using Gmail? The "correct" answer here is to allow secure Internet web access to your mail and don't bother with Gmail. You already have what it can give you.

If pushed into the endeavor anyway, then use dual delivery. Set up Gmail accounts for those users that need it and configure Domino to deliver copies of just their mail to the Gmail server.

If the users just want to be able to casually check their mail (from their cell phones or from an Internet kiosk), then point out that they can create an Agent to copy incoming mail to their Gmail account if they like. For instance, I use this Notes feature to sent high-priority email alerts to my cell phone. In some organizations this might fall foul of privacy regulations, but if that were the case for you you probably wouldn't be considering Gmail anyway.

Scenario 3:
All users will use Gmail via Notes, but you want to keep a copy of the data in-house.

Don't bother. With Domino, you've already got webmail with either the standard or the enhanced iNotes web client. You won't be saving any money or effort, since dual delivery requires local Domino infrastructure. You won't be preventing spam either... you'll just be storing it. Either commit to Gmail or commit to Domino.

Scenario 4:
You've got a Gmail account and a Notes account, and just want to handle all of them in the same Notes client.

Follow my previous instructions to add POP3 access to Gmail from Lotus Notes. Your Notes client will receive mail from both sources and consolidate them into the one Inbox.

Scenario 5:
You want access to ALL of Lotus Note's features from anywhere (not just your own laptop).

Bypass the whole issue by using LogMeIn. It's fantastic, and gives you very secure access to your desktop from any java-enabled browser. It does not require you to compromise your firewall in any way. The con here is that your desktop must be on-line for you to access it.

Conclusion

I personally fall under scenarios 4 and 5. I can certainly sympathize with Scenario 1. Scenario 2 is generally proposed by people who don't know Notes' features and think that Gmail is truly offering something that they don't already own in-house. In my experience, Scenario 3 is the sort of thing usually proposed by managers who enjoy trendy buzzwords and can't face commitment.

There. Now you have my 2 cents. Anybody have some better ideas? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Goodbye Monopoly, Hello Competition

On the last day of June Microsoft quietly announced that they would be releasing the technical specifications of the binary formats for Microsoft Office. This includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and the Drawing specifications for Office 97-2007. It is licensed under the "Microsoft Open Specification Promise" (OSP) which may (or may not) be compatible with software licensed under the GPL. Opinions differ on that: though many people interpret it as being compatible with Open Source licenses such as the GPL, the Software Freedom Law Center sees some problems. (Here's their take; make up your own mind.)

The good news is that to the extent that users are covered by the OSP, Open Source software is likely to improve. OpenOffice.org already does an impressive job importing most binary MS Office documents, and it's the king of the hill when working with the ISO standard ODF format. This announcement means that packages such as OpenOffice.org will only get better, and at a faster pace than Microsoft's implementation of ODF. (Why do I make that conclusion? Because the OpenOffice.org team had to learn the binary MS Office formats the hard way, so are intimately familiar with it. The specification will either confirm their guesses or cause them to revise those guesses for incremental improvements in an already impressive import filter. On the other hand, when it comes to support for ODF file formats, Microsoft started flat-footed and late in the race.)

Of course this doesn't just benefit OpenOffice.org. IBM will reap huge benefits for its Symphony office suite, as will KOffice, and a number of other projects.

Coupled with the news that Microsoft plans to incorporate the ODF file format into MS Office, and you're left with this:
Goodbye Monopoly, Hello Competition.