LINUXWORLD SF - Vendors challenge Exchange, Notes

LINUXWORLD SF - Vendors challenge Exchange, Notes

A pair of Silicon Valley-based open-source collaboration vendors has released new versions of their software at LinuxWorld, renewing their challenge to the dominance of Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes by offering what they claim are cheaper, more flexible alternatives.

Scalix announced Version 11 of its eponymous collaboration software. And Zimbra released Version 4 of its Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS) with a new tool allowing users to embed fully functional and editable documents and spreadsheets in emails.

There have long been alternatives to the triumvirate -- Exchange, IBM's Lotus Notes and Novell's GroupWise -- that has dominated the messaging and collaboration market. They include software from Mirapoint, Rockliffe, IPSwitch, U.K.-based Gordano and others, according to analyst at Osterman Research, Michael Osterman.

But most upstarts, including both proprietary and open-source solutions, have Microsoft in their sights.

Microsoft plans to release Exchange 2007 early next year, but only for 64-bit versions of the Windows operating system.

"There are a lot of companies running Exchange 5.5 or Exchange 2000 that are looking to upgrade but don't necessarily need integration with Microsoft SharePoint or Live Communication Server, or want to lower their costs," Osterman said.

One way is to move to a solution such as Scalix, which not only has a community edition that users can try for free, but also lets companies move their employees to a Web browser-based email interface that leverages AJAX to provide desktop-app-like features.

"We have a lot of customers that moved to our Web client because they wanted to get off the Outlook upgrade treadmill," Scalix CEO, Glenn Winokaur, said.

Scalix counts more than 1 million email boxes served by 10,000 email servers among its 400 customers. Founded in 2002, Scalix licensed the former OpenMail software from HP in 2003, which was then at Version 7. New features in Version 11 include real-time indexing of public and private emails for fast searching, a delegation feature that gives administrative assistants access to calendars and emails of their bosses or created groups, and Web services interfaces that allow integration with ERP or CRM applications.

Scalix also allows customers to continue using their existing Outlook clients while simply swapping out their email servers.

"This offers the advantage of a fairly seamless migration with no impact on how employees do their daily work," Osterman said.

Scalix's customers include Radisson SAS Hotels and Resorts, which serves about 1000 email users at 40 hotels in Europe; a Silicon Valley chip maker now in the pilot phase of a project to convert 7,000 Lotus Notes users to Scalix; and a San Francisco Bay area networking vendor that's moving 8000 email boxes to Scalix.

Zimbra offers both options for users, too, as well as email, contact management and calendaring features. But its new Zimbra Documents feature makes use of AJAX Linking and Embedding (ALE) technology, so users can nest a number of documents within a single email message and then invite their colleagues to edit the information.

"People really like to live in the tools they're comfortable with," analyst at Enderle Group, Rob Enderle, said.

Zimbra hoped to succeed where rival IBM failed in getting users to live and breathe within its collaboration software, he said.

Three-year-old Zimbra officially launched its first software last October. ZCS 4.0 also features Zimbra Mobile, which provides native over-the-air synchronisation between the groupware and a range of mobile devices, including smart phones from Motorola, Nokia and Palm. Zimbra has yet to offer native support for Research In Motion's popular BlackBerry device, currently relying on partners like Notify Technology for that capability. But it hopes to make that support available in the future, Zimbra President and chief technology officer, Scott Dietzen, said.

Zimbra has around 200 paying customers, ranging from small to midsize businesses with 50 seats each to an unnamed Internet service provider that has millions of users, according to Dietzen. Customers the start-up does publicly identify include Firefox Web browser creator Mozilla, Brazilian Internet service provider, Orolix, and tax services provider, H&R Block.

Osterman said users who needed features beyond the groupware ones offered by Scalix, Zimbra or a third open-source vendor, Open-Xchange, may find themselves saving less money than they expect.

"If you need integration with Office or Live Communications Server, or a document repository, or have a very distributed organisation, you could lose the cost advantages you were seeking," he said.

Of the three open-source vendors today, "Scalix is the leader," he said. "They've got a pretty decent installed base, in part because they had existing users from the HP OpenMail days. They hit the ground running."

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