Available for XP, Vista, Not for Mac OS X

By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2009-02-09 Print this article Print


The Unison Desktop client is currently available for Microsoft Windows XP and Vista, and there are betas available for RHEL and Ubuntu but nothing for Mac OS X at this time. I tested the Desktop on XP, and found the e-mail and calendaring experience quite similar to that provided by Outlook, so users should be able to get comfortable with the client quickly.

I found on-screen call control worked pretty well, with a few oddities. I could click on a contact in any of my address books and quickly choose between chat, e-mail and a phone call, although presence is not viewable from these sources. Selecting a voice call rings the desk phone or softphone associated with my account, then places the call through once I pick up the phone.

I could also easily record the call, park it or put it on hold from on-screen prompts. 

When I had an incoming call, a notification message would appear in the lower right part of the screen. Unfortunately, I could not answer the call via the Unison Desktop, but rather I had to perform that action on the desk or softphone.

Unfortunately, Unison does not do much to take UC mobile at this time. The Server features are designed to work with the Unison Desktop only, and there are no clients for mobile devices at this time. I found that mobile users could access their e-mail via IMAP, but this will not open up the IM, calendar, contacts or voice features that make Unison appealing.

Unison has also added a barrier to IMAP adoption. During my tests, I discovered that a user's IMAP password differs from the password used to log in to the Unison Desktop. To obtain the IMAP password, administrators actually have to log in to the MySQL database, then run a small script to extract a user's IMAP password. Unison officials said this hindrance was put in place to "encourage people to use the Unison Desktop."

Fortunately, Unison officials claim easier IMAP support and ActiveSync support will be in place sometime this summer.

The Unison Desktop delivers IM chat to other Unison users via a pane within the Desktop called the Unison Messenger. Users can also configure Unison Messenger to communicate with a few external IM networks as well. To access MSN or ICQ networks, users can input their credentials for those networks as a gateway, or users can interact directly with GoogleTalk via XMPP (although administrators will need to open a TCP port on the firewall for this to work). 

While Unison technically provides presence capabilities that allow Unison users to see when other users are available, busy or on the phone, I found this feature to be a bolted-on afterthought. Instead of incorporating presence views into the corporate or personal directories, presence may only be viewed in the Unison Messenger IM client pane and each Unison user must individually add contacts to their own Unison Messenger roster. 

To add a contact to a Unison Messenger, users must request permission from the contact to take such action. Extrapolated out, this means that as it currently stands, to set up presence among everyone within a company requires every user to manually add every user to their own roster and request permission from that contact-which is simply a ridiculous requirement.

I would prefer to see presence information included automatically with the corporate directory, or, failing that, administrators should be allowed to pre-configure and deploy pre-assigned Unison Messenger rosters. Unfortunately, Unison does not currently support shared rosters, although Unison representatives claim shared Messenger rosters will be available sometime this year. ??

Senior Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at agarcia@eweek.com. 


Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at agarcia@eweek.com.

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