I've written before about the frustration many organizations no doubt feel as they're increasingly being told they need to move their messaging systems to the cloud—and not just any cloud, but Microsoft's. If not the cloud, you face the expensive and potentially difficult process of upgrading your Exchange organization to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, unless you've already made that transition. If you're not using the latest and greatest, you're probably being urged into some upgrade path either to avoid problems with end-of-life software versions and aging hardware or simply to get the productivity advantages of the newest features.
Sounds familiar, right? Well, I'd like to continue to tell you that you do have other options. Today I've got a couple for you to consider.
First, this week Kerio Technologies released Kerio Connect 7.2, the latest version of the company's cross-platform messaging and collaboration server aimed at small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs). This latest release features native support for Outlook 2011 for Mac; additional support for mobile devices, including Windows Phone 7 and iOS 4.2 and 4.3 devices; and a variety of enhancements for calendaring.
"We see a great diversity in the client applications being used by our customers," said Kerio's vice president of worldwide marketing, Dusan Vitek. About 25 percent of Kerio's installed base is on Macs, which explains the effort to support the latest Mac Outlook client in Kerio Connect 7.2. Previous Mac email clients, Entourage 2008/2004, relied on WebDAV, which isn't supported by Exchange 2010; so, Microsoft retooled the new Outlook 2011 for Mac to use Exchange Web Services (EWS), the new standard for Exchange. Naturally, with Kerio's commitment to cross-platform support, they've included EWS for data sync between Outlook 2011 and Kerio servers with the 7.2 release.
On the mobile device front, I was glad to see Kerio adding native support for Windows Phone 7. I asked Vitek about the company's feelings about including Microsoft's mobile OS platform, considering it isn't exactly tearing up the marketplace. "It's a wildcard," he said. "We're betting on the phone being successful." And being prepared certainly doesn't hurt. Meanwhile, inclusion of improved support for iPhones and iPads is definitely a safer bet and a more immediate win for users.
Kerio Connect 7.2's calendaring enhancements include the new ability to create an exception to a recurring calendar event, so you can change details of a single meeting without changing the series. This feature is something you should be familiar with if you're using Outlook/Exchange now, and it's certainly something I find the need for frequently. Other calendar changes include the creating of a tentative appointment on your calendar for meetings you've yet to respond to—useful when others are trying to determine your free/busy status, and also something Outlook/Exchange users are familiar with—and technical enhancements to iCal and iPhone (CalDAV) support for scheduling.
Kerio Connect sits squarely and comfortably in the SMB space. Vitek said the company's target is typically businesses with 5 to 500 seats. Pricing will remain the same as the previous edition with Kerio Connect 7.2: $450 for 5 users, $24 per additional user (sold in 5-user packs). There are additional charges for software maintenance or to include Sophos Anti-virus, and Kerio Connect is also available as a hosted service through resellers if you're interested in sailing the cloud road. Visit Kerio's website to get all the detail and see what else is new in Kerio Connect 7.2.
This next Exchange alternative is one that could appeal to enterprise-class businesses. The company SmarterTools got its start in the hosting industry, which, according to vice president of business operations Jeff Hardy, means they're able to start large and easily scale smaller. The company's latest mail server release, SmarterMail 8.x, includes new features to improve the experience for both end users and administrators.
On the end user side of the fence, probably the coolest new feature is the addition of "touch-and-go functionality." This feature makes clickable links out of email addresses, physical addresses, and phone numbers in your messages. You can then easily add information to new contacts, click to call using VoIP, map an address (using Google or Bing), or email a user, of course. This touch-and-go functionality is part of email, contacts, calendar items, tasks, and notes.
Another new feature for SmarterMail 8.x, and one which I use regularly with Outlook 2007, is the ability to use multiple email signatures. With SmarterMail, this can be a particularly useful feature because you can use SmarterMail with multiple email accounts, aggregated through the webmail interface; you can establish a business/professional email signature for your work account and a separate signature (or none at all) for messages going to a personal account.
Crossing over to the admin side of the fence, SmarterMail 8.x has added the ability to insert footer text (corporate disclaimer) on a domain-wide or system-wide basis. There are new rules to help admins enforce password compliance as well as a password compliance report to identify accounts that have passwords that don't meet company standards. SmarterMail 8.x also reports improved performance, with disk I/O reduced by up to 25 percent over the previous release, and numerous other technical enhancements.
According to Hardy, SmarterMail has several benefits over using Exchange; for instance, it's ready out of the box with antispam, antivitus, and archiving capability. Also, the total cost of ownership (TCO) for SmarterMail is under $2000, with no special equipment required. SmarterMail is available in several versions, including a free edition, so check the company's website for all the pricing details, as well as the full list of new features.
Now, don't get me wrong: I think Exchange Server is a great product and certainly wouldn't try to talk anybody out of it. Likewise, Office 365 is a full-featured cloud platform for messaging and collaboration, including all the Office applications you're probably familiar with. Nonetheless, there are people and organizations for whom those won't be the best choices. And I've met plenty of people who simply try to avoid all Microsoft products at all costs, no matter what (although I suspect few such people are reading this). So it's always best to know what other options are available. And when you look, you'll find there still are plenty.