Microsoft Exchange Server started as a mail management system and has evolved into a full-fledged collaboration tool â€“ allowing its users to collaborate with â€œunified messagingâ€ and share calendars, notes etc. Even though Microsoft Exchange is one of the most powerful collaboration and communication software on the market but it is far from being the only solution.
In this article, we will take a look at various other software or services available on the market which provide some or all features offered by Microsoft Exchange. We will examine these different software and services available.
Communication and Collaboration Systems
These are the software which allow for unified communication and collaboration between the teams. What this means is that these software allow their users to communicate within themselves or others using messaging systems like email, instant messaging, SMS etc. These software also allow people to collaborate on projects by sharing documents, calendars, and notes.
Google Apps â€“ Google Apps is a hosted service provided by Google. This service allows its users to communicate via email and instant messenger, online-document editor, online spreadsheets, online presentations, wiki system, customizable homepage, website builder and online calendar.
Google Apps is a hosted solution and runs as ”software as service”. It is available in two flavors â€“ (a) ad supported free version and (b) premium version. The premium version of the service has higher storage capacity and comes with a service-level agreement.
Google has been aggressively trying to make inroads into corporate environment with Google Apps. This was clear when they joined hands with Cap-Gemini â€“ the French consulting giant â€“ to promote it to their corporate clientele. Google takes a minimalistic approach with Google Apps. What this means is that they try to add as many features as there are necessary and focuses on reducing the bloat. This also means that while people may enjoy faster and light-weight access, they may also miss advanced functionality offered by Microsoftâ€™s Products.
The concerns that some people have with the service include the data being on Googleâ€™s Servers and not having the control over the infrastructure that runs the service.
Zimbra – Zimbra is a groupware software created by Zimbra Inc. — which was aquired by Yahoo! in 2007. The software comes in two flavours – 1) Open-Source Version and 2) Commercially Supported version with closed-source components. While the software comes with an Ajax Web Interfact, Zimbra is also comatible with proprietary clients such as Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail and open-source clients like Novell Evolution. Zimbra also supports mobile decided like BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Nokia Eseries.
Open-Source flavour of the software is available under the terms of Yahoo Public License which is derived from Mozilla Public License. Zimbra Server Software itself leverages several open-source projects including MySQL, Apache, Postfix, SpamAssassin, ClamAV etc.
The biggest benefit of using this software is having access to the source-code and infrastructure which powers to whole system. One drawback is having technical expertise required to run it and the initial investment required in setting up the infrastructure to run it.
Zoho Office Suite – Zoho is a web-based office suite which supports web-processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, note-taking, wikis, CRM systems, project management and invoicing among other services. Like Google Apps, Zoho is only available as a hosted service and comes in two flavors – free and premium. The price of the premium versions depends on the component and the features which the end-users want to use. Zoho supports the file-formats used in Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org among others. Zoho also offers an Application Programming Interface for some of its products and has widgets — based on Google Gears — which allow users to run Zoho products on their desktop like traditional software.
One benefit which Zoho offers â€“ which doesnâ€™t exist in Google Apps â€“ is that it allows the data to be stored either on Zoho’s own servers or on the servers of their integration partners like box.net — which further allow synchronization to local PCs.
Zarafa — Zarafa is collaboration software developed by Delf, Netherlands based ConnecTUX and is meant as an alternative to Microsoft Exchange Server. Various features include email and webmail server, address book, calendar, notes and tasks.
Basecamp – Basecamp is the flagship project management-tool developed by Amazon backed 37signals. The software is offered as a hosted service and has a minimalistic approach towards features.
The various features include to-do lists, wiki-style web-based text documents, milestore management, file-sharing, time tracking and online messaging system. It also integrated with 37signals’ group-chat product called Campfire. The software offers an API allowing developers to integrate Basecamp into their application and even has a Mac OS X Dashboard widget based on this API. The data is stored on Amazon Web Services’ Storage System and also allows easy export of data for backup.
While the other Exchange Server offerings include a range of pricing, features and options, it is important to evaluate which services to engage, based upon reliability, as well. There is no denying the industry relevance of the latest version – Version 8 or 2007 Edition – of Microsoft Exchange.
Introduced in late 2006 to business customers as part of Microsoft’s rollout of new products, the milestone of this version is that it runs on 64-bit x86-64 versions of Windows Servers only – reasoning behind this is substantial improvement to product performance. However, a 32-bit version is available for trial and testing but is not recommended for production use.
The new version includes new features, such as voice-mail integration, improved search, better filtering options, support for web-services and a new interface for Outlook Web Access. The history of the transition of Microsoft Exchange Server, includes a simple messaging system, into a complete productivity and collaboration suite.
Microsoft has evolved the software to the growing demands of the market. In addition, Microsoft is expected to delive what customers require, on a continued basis, throughout the future.