Microsoft is cheering about a new analysis that shows that Exchange Server's user base grew by 30 percent in 2001, increasing its worldwide share of integrated collaborative environments (ICEs) to 39 percent. According to IDC's "Worldwide Integrated Collaborative Environments Forecast and Analysis, 2002-2006: How Vendors Can Keep the ICE Flowing" report, those numbers put Exchange on top in both total users and new users, beating out nearest rivals IBM (Lotus Notes and Domino) and Novell (GroupWise). IBM still is number one in total ICE revenue, however.

The IDC report projects that the number of ICE users worldwide will increase in 2002 from 210 million to 240 million. I asked IDC analyst Mark Levitt, one of the report's coauthors, how the definition of collaboration has grown beyond just email. "Collaboration has expanded over the past several years to increasingly involve conferencing (online meetings, application sharing), business Instant Messaging, and team collaborative applications (virtual workspaces)," he responded. "But in no way has the marketplace moved beyond email, which remains central to most collaboration because users are most comfortable using email for communication."

The tight integration between Outlook and Exchange gets partial credit for Exchange's success. Levitt said that although other mail servers also support the Outlook client through IMAP4, many people believe Microsoft's claim that Exchange's native integration with Outlook provides better performance and functionality than do platforms that depend on IMAP for mail connections. He noted, however, that Oracle and others are challenging Microsoft's claim.

Oracle is poised to expand its database-driven email server later this year into a more complete Outlook-friendly mail and calendar platform called Oracle Collaboration Suite. OCS runs on top of Oracle9i Database and Oracle9i Application Server. In June, the company acquired Steltor, whose CorporateTime calendar server has, for several years, been an alternative to Exchange for companies looking for a group-scheduling solution compatible with Outlook. Most of Steltor's development team and support staff members have joined Oracle.

Oracle has said that OCS will offer integrated voicemail and inbound fax, be accessible from wireless clients and by telephone, and include housekeeping services that can archive older or less-frequently-accessed messages to storage volumes on less-expensive media. Microsoft has largely depended on third-party providers to offer these capabilities for Exchange, although a recent Microsoft announcement said that features from Microsoft Mobile Information Server will be included in the next version of Exchange, code-named Titanium, so that mobile access becomes a built-in feature.

The Oracle product will also include multiple-repository searching so that users can search mail servers, Web servers, databases, and files in one operation. Microsoft offers this type of searching not with Exchange but as part of SharePoint Portal Server. According to analyst Genelle Hung of The Radicati Group, OCS will provide a credible alternative to Exchange because of the level of integration in the product and its potential to let organizations consolidate servers. "Oracle is the first vendor to introduce a fourth-generation architecture for messaging capable of integrating information storage and retrieval with communications and mobility," Hung said.

Oracle's Web site highlights OCS's Outlook integration, including offline access to mail and calendar data, as one of the product's key features. "Microsoft's dominance in the desktop with its Outlook email client has often tended to lock customers into Microsoft back end solutions," Hung acknowledged. "This is going to be one of the greatest challenges to Oracle."

Oracle isn't the only vendor to try to provide a collaboration server for the many Outlook users. Bynari's InsightConnector lets users store all kinds of Outlook items—not just messages—in IMAP accounts, opening the door for any IMAP server that supports ACLs to be a robust back end for Outlook. For more information about Bynari's product, see the Outlook UPDATE Commentary "InsightConnector: Turning an IMAP Server into a Full Platform," http://www.exchangeadmin.com , InstantDoc ID 24138.

Novell recently announced a version of its NetMail server that runs in a Windows environment. Users can access NetMail XE with Outlook, a browser, or any POP or IMAP mail client. Currently, NetMail XE provides just mail and calendaring (using the iCalendar standard). But NetMail Product Manager Lynn Madsen said that providing full Outlook functionality with NetMail (as if Exchange were installed on the server) is a priority for short-term development at Novell.