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Competition for Microsoft Exchange gathers pace

The release of Exchange Server 2007 beta has proved popular but alternative systems are gaining ground as IT managers look for the same groupware functions at a fraction of the price

There's a lot going on in the world of groupware and collaboration at the moment, including the releaseof the second beta 2 of Exchange Server 2007 and a native Linux version of Notes from IBM. But rival developers haven't been sitting around twiddling their thumbs, and Microsoft and IBM can no longer assume the groupware duopoly they once had.

The rival vendors are particularly targeting the small to medium sized enterprise market, mostly with Exchange look-alike products offering similar e-mail and groupware functionality. Moreover, these alternatives are increasingly supporting high levels of Outlook integration providing full support for e-mail, contact and calendar sharing, meeting scheduling and so on.

Companies and products to look out for include Alt-N which recently released version 9.0 of its MDaemon mail server , with significant enhancements to its Outlook connector. UK developer Gordano has similarly just beefed up Outlook support in version 12 of its Gordano Messaging Suite, enhancing both functionality and performance.

Another UK vendor, Kerio, has also just released a new version of its groupware server. Plus there are a number of up and coming open source solutions worth looking out for, such as Open-Xchange and Zimbra.

The key proposition with each of these is the ability to get the same mix of e-mail and groupware functionality provided by Exchange, but for less money and far less hassle when it comes to installation and day to day management.

Worthwhile aims and bound to interest the smaller organisation. However, it has to be noted that, as the products become better integrated with Outlook, their complexity and management overheads have tended to rise. In the main they're still easier to deploy but, with Microsoft also tackling the problem from the other end, the differences aren't so clear cut.

Most of the developers have also adopted Microsoft's MAPI protocol to fully integrate their servers with Outlook. However, MAPI is proprietary and something of a moving target, just like Exchange itself, which means that the look-alikes will always trail the Microsoft platform no matter how much work goes into making them otherwise.

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