Email can come at a high price

It's more expensive than many think, says James E Gaskin

Email: can't live without it, can't stand the hassles. Is it any wonder many people rely on Instant Messaging for co-worker communications?

But old habits die hard, and IM doesn't fit the work styles of many. Plus, email was and probably still is the "killer app" for the majority of computer users today. Nothing will kill our collective love for email, although spam and security issues sometimes comes close.

Microsoft product managers knew exactly what they were doing when they added a basic email client in Windows (Outlook Express for most versions) and included the full Outlook program in Microsoft Office packages. Tying Outlook features to work only with Exchange catapulted both client and server applications to the top of their respective markets. Even Microsoft's Small Business Server includes an Exchange server, tempting too many small companies without sufficient technical and security expertise to jump on that email server bandwagon.

Yet Microsoft Exchange comes at a price, and sometimes a high price. Ferris Research recently reported results of a survey of companies using Exchange Server. They found companies with 99 or fewer employees typically pay US$250 (NZ$313) per user mailbox per year in licence fees and maintenance. The report seemed to suggest that price was high, but I think it's low if you include all the hours spent maintaining and securing Exchange servers. Horror stories of server crashes, lost email, security problems, and spam avalanches convince some to look at other options.

For many companies, a hosted service provides excellent support at affordable prices. I talked about Everyone.net last November, and they still seem to be one of the leaders in that area. Not to be outdone, Google offers its email services for free to individuals and very small companies, and bundles enhanced email support in their Google Apps for businesses.

Using a hosted service makes it easier to access all your email from anywhere, which is handy when traveling. Since even micro companies often have employees scattered across the country or globe, hosted services solve the email server remote access problem easily. Hosted services also tend to include group calendars, one of the handiest features of Outlook /Exchange.

If you do prefer to host your own email server, you should take a look at the new Kerio MailServer 6.5. I called Dusan Vitek, vice president of worldwide marketing for Kerio, and asked him the biggest difference between Kerio and Microsoft Exchange.

"Ease of administration," says Vitek. "We win hands down there. The most difficult part of the sales process is to get administrators to install the product and look at the console. When they do, the sales cycle shrinks to days."

Kerio improved their Outlook Connector, providing expanded support between the Outlook client and the Kerio MailServer. Shared calendars and even offline support now come as part of the package. Do you have Windows Active Directory? Kerio works with it, just like Exchange does. But unlike Exchange, Kerio also supports OpenDir for Macintosh users. You can run the Kerio MailServer on Windows, Macintosh, or Linux servers.

The server starts at US$499 for 10 users, and additional user licenses are US$20 each. A McAfee-enhanced server version starts at US$599, and those user licenses start at US$24 each.

But Kerio certainly isn't the only option. HyperOffice, a hosted collaboration workspace vendor I've mentioned before, also offers full Exchange server capabilities for clients anywhere on the internet. HyperOffice costs more per user per month than Everyone.net, but they offer a large set of handy collaboration tools and services as well as email.

Fans of the iPhone may want to contact HyperOffice, because they've added the code on their end needed to make the iPhone a real enterprise communication device. They solved two problems to corporate iPhone adoption: better Exchange integration, and links to Outlook calendars, contacts, documents and tasks.

Using their fairly recent HyperShare gateway tool, HyperOffice users get all the benefits of Outlook backed by an Exchange sever without the hassle and expense of hosting it themselves. And iPhone users can do more than just listen to iTunes between phone calls. You can get iPhone support for your small company that many global enterprises can't offer their iPhone users.

Finally, a quick reminder about the spam blocking appliances from MailFoundry. They promise "no false positives" and mean it. Even better, they offer a hosted spam-filtering service. And if you need 10 or fewer mail boxes, MailFoundry will do your spam filtering for free.

Not a bad year for email improvements so far. Mail service options include more features, less money, and ease of manage. This works out to your advantage no matter which of several email options you choose.

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