Microsoft’s Exchange Isn’t the Only Way to Get the Message Out

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Updated offerings from Gordano and IBM Lotus prove compelling alternatives to Microsoft Exchange Server.

However, despite its dominance, there are plenty of options out there for companies looking for a robust and dynamic messaging platform that isn’t Exchange. These options range from massive enterprise-class systems to inexpensive and simple solutions for smaller companies.

Some of these competitors also have seen more recent and more significant upgrades than Exchange has, and do a much better job taking advantage of Web 2.0 and some of the other newer technologies that have changed collaboration in recent years.

While growing and new businesses have no choice but to look into a new messaging platform, many other businesses may decide that in today’s economic situation, it doesn’t make sense to invest in upgrades, never mind moving to another system.

However, in a world where collaboration and interconnectedness is increasingly important, what is the cost of staying on an older and less capable messaging platform? Also, many of the new wave of “Exchange replacement” systems can run on comparatively modest server hardware, letting businesses get new life out of servers that can’t run the latest versions of Exchange.

One, IBM’s Lotus Notes and Domino, is probably the classic enterprise-class competitor to Exchange and is still popular in large companies. The other, Gordano Messaging Suite, is representative of the newer wave of messaging solutions that are typically more nimble and cost-effective than their older competitors and often more capable of quickly leveraging and integrating with newer technologies, such as Web 2.0.

While Gordano may not be a household name to most, the company has deep roots in the messaging and e-mail business. The Gordano Messaging Suite is descended from the NTMail server of the mid-1990s, and the company knows its business when it comes to developing messaging platforms that can compete with Microsoft Exchange Server.

For many, that might be the main attraction of the Gordano Messaging Suite, as it works very well as an Exchange replacement system. And Gordano’s autoporting tools make it relatively easy for IT managers to migrate users to its Messaging Suite. Outlook users will see little difference when using Gordano as their server instead of Exchange, and tools are available that provide extra collaboration features.

That said, Gordano Messaging Suite 15.01 is more than just an Exchange replacement server. The server portion of the suite can run on Linux and Unix systems, as well as on Windows. In addition, in this newest version of Messaging Suite, the Web mail client also has been greatly boosted to be a true Web 2.0 interface, both in the richness of the client and in its support for standard Web development languages.

In fact, for companies already using the Messaging Suite, the new Web mail client will be the biggest change they see upon upgrading. The new AJAX-based interface provides a much more interactive and full mail and collaboration experience, with drag-and-drop capabilities and most of the functionality that one expects from a desktop client. In general, I found it to be superior to the current Exchange Web mail client.

As in the previous versions of Messaging Suite, there are three Web mail clients to choose from when logging into the server: the Professional version, which provides full functionality; the Express version, which is geared for use on older browsers and systems; and the Mobile version. Not surprisingly, much of the look and feel of the Web mail client is designed to work as much like Microsoft Outlook as possible.

However, the most interesting aspects of the new Web mail client are in the ability to extend and customise it. The interface can be changed and templated through the use of standard CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), making it possible for companies to easily rebrand the interface and make it fit with company applications.

Also new in the interface are Gizmos – essentially, classic JavaScript-based Web 2.0 applications that can be easily created by anyone and plugged into the mail client.

Included with the Messaging Suite are Gizmos for tasks such as dictionary look-ups and accessing the Google translate service. To use the dictionary Gizmo, I simply highlighted a word in a message and clicked the dictionary button, and full dictionary information was provided.

Along with the Gizmos included with the application, I could download additional Gizmos for things such as Skype integration. Source code for all the Gizmos also is provided, which is useful for writing your own Gizmos.

The Web-based administration interface for the Gordano Messaging Suite hasn’t changed much; it still looks somewhat grey and boring, but it will be effective for accessing the many options and settings that the suite exposes for administrators.

An interesting new feature for administrators makes it possible to access a user’s account without obtaining or changing log-in details. When viewing a user’s account information in the administration interface, I can click a switch button that automatically logs me (the administrator) in as that user.

Along with these new features, there are the features that were added in previous versions of the Gordano Messaging Suite that help to make it an interesting option for businesses. These include: the integrated anti-virus and anti-spam features; support for multiple authentication systems; secure Web mail; and built-in instant messaging and presence.

Pricing for the Gordano Messaging Suite in the full suite configuration that I tested starts at £225 per user for 25 users or fewer; over several volume tiers the ‘price

IBM Lotus Notes and Domino 8.02

There’s this application I need to tell you about. It lets people collaborate and connect online. They can share and collaboratively edit documents and applications, they can engage in group forums and discussions, and they can network with, follow, and find experts in the company. It has presence built in throughout the application, and it has a robust development model that enables a lot of application mashups.

I know what you’re thinking – sounds like another one of those Web 2.0 applications. But the application I’m speaking of has been doing most of these things since the early 1990s; in fact, in many ways it’s the forefather of the modern Web 2.0 applications.

The application I’m talking about is Lotus Notes. While some may think of Notes as an application of the past, it is still a popular and often-used messaging and collaboration system, especially in large enterprises.

With Lotus Notes and Domino 8.02, it’s clear that IBM isn’t content to simply milk a legacy application with minor upgrades. This release of the Lotus collaboration platform includes a significantly upgraded client application, open customisation and development options, and many links to Web 2.0-style collaboration and integration.

The biggest and most obvious new feature of this release is the Lotus Notes desktop client. It is now based on the Eclipse framework (though it is not itself an Eclipse application), which makes it possible to integrate it with a wide array of applications and widgets.

The usability and interface of the client have also changed, though not so much that it will prove to be a major difficulty for longtime Notes users. When launching, the new customizable Home page works much like the older Welcome page, providing a starting off point for accessing mail, the calendar and contacts, application, and new integrated products such as the Symphony productivity suite.

A new Open button also provides quick access to Notes features and applications, and a browser-like tabbed interface for opened windows makes it possible to quickly switch between applications and tasks in the Notes environment. A new sidebar lets users quickly view and access a wide assortment of plug-ins (such as a very nicely implemented feed reader), as well as integrated Lotus applications and services such as Lotus Activities and Connections.

A very welcome new feature in the mail client makes it possible to view an entire group of e-mail conversations in a single thread. Notes also has addressed some longstanding issues, including the lack of message recall. In addition, the out-of-office reminders have also been improved.

One of the biggest new features in the Notes client is the introduction of the Symphony productivity suite, which is based on the OpenOffice.org productivity applications. This makes it possible to access word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools directly from within the Notes client. In general, these tools are good, though more integration with the Notes and Domino infrastructure – especially in the area of live document collaboration – would be welcome.

In all, the new Notes client is fairly beefy, and someone with old hardware and limited memory will have a hard time running it. The new browser-based client provides access to most of the standard mail, calendaring and contact features, though not the more advanced Notes applications.

On the Domino server side, most of the new changes are focused on providing the capabilities for new features on the client, such as the new message recall capabilities. The administration interface benefits from many of the new usability changes from the main desktop client.

Notes Collaboration license is priced at £101 per user, which includes a year of maintenance and support. The Enterprise Server edition of Domino is priced at approx £2.616 per processor.

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