If your organization uses Lotus Notes, you know about its e-mail capabilities. And if you're using Lotus Notes as a collaboration and workflow management platform, no doubt you have a number of applications to streamline and simplify your business processes. But do you also know that there are hundreds of free Notes plug-ins for the Notes 8 client, which can do everything from tell time, check the weather, keep you up-to-date on breaking news and perform countless other handy tasks?
The Notes 8 client has a feature call the Sidebar, with several miniature applications called widgets. Widgets allow you to use Notes as a "desktop" for more than just your e-mail. As it's configured when you first start up Notes, the Sidebar has widgets for RSS feeds, Activities, Sametime, and Day-At-A-Glance. Two of these are particularly useful for any Notes user. The RSS widget lets you follow RSS feeds, and the Day-At-A-Glance widget summarizes your Notes calendar. The other built-in widgets require additional software; the Sametime widget integrates Notes with the Sametime Connect client in the Sametime instant messaging software, and the Activities widget requires the Activities server.
The "free" comes into play when you activate "My Widgets" in the Sidebar. Doing so allows you to create and import useful or interesting widgets, such as Notes views, websites or additional content feeds. Best of all, they can also be widgets that you import from Google Gadgets. Yes, you can peruse the Google Gadgets catalog and bring them into your Notes desktop.
That certainly opens up a world of opportunities...
To get started, go into your Notes client preferences (
File > Preferences) and navigate to the Widgets properties. Select the checkbox option for Show Widget Toolbar and the My Widgets Sidebar Panel. Close and restart the Notes client, and you'll have three new widget icons in your toolbar. Now you're ready to start adding your own widgets.
The Getting Started With Widgets toolbar button looks like a piece from a jigsaw puzzle. When clicked, it displays a dialog box asking for the type of widget you'd like to create. Select the Google Gadgets option and click Next. The next screen allows you to browse the Google Gadgets directory on the Google website. Take some time to do this beforehand, as the choices can be overwhelming! For instance, you may want to add a currency converter widget, or perhaps a stock ticker widget to watch your investments grow (or shrink, as is more likely the case of late). IT professionals may want to consider adding a widget to use
traceroute commands from within the Notes client, or to use the O'Reilly Code Lookup site to find the perfect solution to your current programming challenge.
When you click Finish, the integrated browser within the Notes client launches, and you'll be at the Google Gadgets directory homepage.
Once you find a Google Gadget to add, click on the gadget's picture. For instance, in my case I clicked on the ToDo gadget, which has a notepad area which makes your "Stuff I Gotta Do" list visible on your Notes client, making it more difficult to procrastinate.
Now, turn back to the Notes toolbar. Next to the Getting Started With Widgets button is a second button, "Configure A Widget From Current Context." When you click on it, you're asked to specify the type of widget (in this case, a Google Gadget). After the Terms Of Service screen, you configure the Google Gadget. In this case, that's just to pick a name for the Sidebar Widget. Click Finish, and the Google Gadget is added to My Widgets.
To specify the widget's launch options, right-click on the Google Gadget icon in the My Widgets section of the Sidebar. The widget can launch in a tab of the Workspace, within the Sidebar, in a floating window or in a new window; it's up to you. Some widgets might be small enough to display clearly in the Sidebar, while others (such as the interface for Google Docs) might work better with more real estate.
Once you realize that your Notes client can go beyond e-mail and workflow applications, the value you get from Notes goes up dramatically. No longer will you need to open multiple applications or web pages to keep track of information. Notes can be your single destination for what you do and the things you manage on a daily basis.
And isn't that one of the reasons to use Notes in the first place?
Thomas "Duffbert" Duff is a software developer with nearly 30 years of experience in IT, everything from punch cards and tape drives to cloud computing. When not developing collaboration applications for a large health insurance company, he's usually reading and reviewing books on his blog, Duffbert's Random Musings. He also writes for various industry publications and speaks at software conferences.