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A Brief History of IBM Lotus Notes

written by: John Hewitt•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 10/29/2008

Lotus Notes is an application suite that defies easy categorization. This collaborative office program has helped to define how people live, work and communicate in the modern office. It was also a pioneer for internet connectivity, helping to bring users together before e-mail was common.

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    Assuming the Lotus Position

    The earliest versions of what would become Lotus Notes were first developed by David Woolley beginning in 1973. He called his messaging platform PLATO notes, and at that point, it was essentially a secure message board software. PLATO Group Notes, in particular, developed in 1976, created the theoretical framework for the later commercial versions of the software. This foundation was eventually built upon to create Lotus for the business environment to take advantage of emerging network technologies on PCs, when Iris Associates released Lotus Notes in 1989 after a long period of development. Ray Ozzie, who had worked extensively with PLATO, was the brainchild of the project, and remained with the company for years.

    The first commercial versions of Lotus Notes included functionality for discussion boards, e-mail, document databases and contact lists. The networking functionality was slow - in part because of the hardware, but also because of software limitations - but it was still highly innovative for the day. PCs connected with a Local Area Network (LAN) could communicate with each other easily, sharing data in real time. While the software might have been clunky, the social implications of the early development of Lotus Notes were clear - they had created the first collaborative office networks. The team at Iris Associates coined the term "groupware" to describe their application.

    The initial release of Lotus Notes was a great success, selling tens of thousands of copies to many high end corporate clients. The early versions made good use of graphical user interfaces, making it quite usable even for beginning users. It also included RSA cryptography for documents, helping to increase the level of security for data stored and transmitted using the software.

    As the version numbers marched on, Iris focused on increasing the scalability and feature list o the software itself while keeping abreast of rapid developments in operating systems.

    The company was acquired by IBM in 1995, and helped them to integrate the system better into the web and other burgeoning network technologies.

    As many of the features included in Lotus Notes have ceased to be unique to the platform, it has gradually shrunk in prominence and importance since the late 1990s. The security and stability of the software suite, however, have continued to make it appealing to certain clients.

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    Version History

    • 1989 - Release 1
    • 1990 - Release 1.1
    • 1991 - Release 2
    • 1993 - Release 3
    • 1996 - Release 4
    • 1996 - Release 4.5
    • 1999 - Release 5
    • 2002 - Release 6
    • 2003 - Release 6.5
    • 2005 - Release 7
    • 2007 - Release 8