Editors Note: This is the third in a series of articles that looks at how Microsoft plans to meet the enterprise needs of the mission-critical e-mail, calendaring and messaging market.
As Microsoft moves closer to the release of Exchange 2007, its e-mail, calendaring and messaging product, it faces increased competitive pressure from long-standing competitors like Lotus Notes as well as from newer open source solutions.
Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., released the second, widespread public beta for Exchange 2007 on July 24, with the product expected to ship in late 2006 or early 2007.
The second beta brings with it a host of new and improved functionality, and is feature complete.
Microsoft executives are also upbeat that they can grow their position in this highly competitive market.
Dave Thompson, the corporate vice president for the Exchange Server product group, told eWEEK that when he talked to CIOs about the alternatives, the competitor that most often came up was Lotus Notes.
While Novells GroupWise is still used by some companies, it is being rapidly replaced with Exchange, he said, adding that open-source solutions are mentioned competitively only very occasionally.
“In fact I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times this has come up in the past two years,” he said.
The Exchange team spent a lot of time and resources building a product designed for enterprises and with features like designated calendar scheduling, mobile access, compliance and anti-virus, which “requires a lot of work, and open-source platforms havent become that sophisticated,” he said.
Thompson also said that in all his discussions with existing Notes customers, the reason they stayed on that platform was not because the mail and scheduling experience was better, but because of the applications that ran on it.
As such, Microsoft had developed the Microsoft Application Analyzer 2006 for Lotus Domino, which is used to evaluate a Lotus Domino Application environment and to prepare an application coexistence and migration plan.
Another tool, known as the Microsoft Data Migrator 2006 for Lotus Domino, which is still in development, lets users take some of those applications and then easily migrate its data to SharePoint. “That capability will grow over time,” Thompson said.
Joel Stidley, a senior solutions engineer at Data Return, in Texas, which provides strategic enterprise IT operations services and is an early adopter of the product through the Exchange TAP (Technology Adoption Program) agrees, saying that for him there are no true open source competitors.
“Although there are those that claim to have set their sights on Exchange Server in their open-source projects, there are no current projects that are anywhere close to being enterprise class or having the same end-user experience … it doesnt appear that mainstream adoption of these open source Exchange imitators will happen any time soon,” he said.
While Stidley has used Lotus Notes in the past, he feels that has a much more user friendly end-user experience with Exchange, which also integrates more closely with Active Directory, reducing some of the administrative overhead.
A Changing Landscape
But the competitive landscape is changing, and not necessarily in Microsofts favor, with competitors like Lotus Notes embracing open-source solutions for their products.
Ken Bisconti, the vice president for IBM Lotus software products, says todays market demands a “dynamic workplace rather than the simple, proprietary e-mail offering that Exchange had morphed into over the years.”
That is why Lotus Notes offers a broader, integrated workplace beyond e-mail and applications that includes electronic forms, portals, document management, real-time communications and new Web 2.0 technologies, he said.
“Microsoft cant come close to todays real-world requirement for this broader workplace. One that must be built on open standards,” he said.
IBM also made available its Lotus Notes on Linux product July 24, the same day the second Exchange beta was released.
Arthur Fontaine, IBM Lotus senior offering manager, told eWEEK that millions of Lotus Notes users across the world now have access to software that allows an open desktop alternative to proprietary desktop operating systems.
“This product is very important to our customers. We have had the server version available since 1998, but with the growing interest in the Linux desktop, we have had a lot of customer demand for this,” he said.
The product would let them run Lotus Notes on Linux similar to the way they run the technology on Windows or Macintosh.
The underlying technology is based on the Eclipse open-source framework and is the same technology to be used in the upcoming version of Lotus Notes, code-named “Hannover,” he said.
To help further drive adoption, IBM is offering its business partners that develop Linux-based applications up to $20,000 for migrating customers from Microsoft Exchange to IBM Lotus Notes and Domino on Linux desktop, under an initiative known as “Migrate to the Penguin,” Fontaine said.
Data Returns Stidley notes that the move by IBM toward a Linux desktop is “definitely something that should put Microsoft on alert, even though it doesnt seem to be an immediate threat.”
While coupling the Notes client with a functional office suite would certainly start getting the attention of a number of important people, for the vast majority of the corporate world there is little to no incentive to dump the Windows desktop for Linux until it matured and became end-user and administrator friendly, he said.
But Glenn Winokur, the CEO of Scalix, a messaging infrastructure company based in San Mateo, Calif., whose products are based on a Linux and open systems architecture, begs to differ, noting that 1 million mailboxes of its software have been deployed.
This was not only a milestone for both Scalix and the industry, he says, but suggests that e-mail on Linux has reached the tipping point, with more than 350 enterprise customers around the world having purchased and deployed Scalix, including in the high-tech, retail and service-oriented sectors, as well as among government agencies and universities.
Scalix recently surveyed users of its free Community Edition software, which revealed that more than 10,000 Scalix e-mail servers have been deployed with more than a million mailboxes.
“Microsoft is right that there is a pent up demand to move off of legacy e-mail, calendar and collaboration applications like GroupWise and Notes. They are wrong that enterprise customers want to lock themselves into another closed single-vendor system.
“Enterprise customers want an enterprise Linux e-mail, calendar and integration platform, with open-source community support and choice of clients and directories,” he said.
This was evidenced by the fact that some 50 percent of the sites switched to Scalix from proprietary legacy e-mail systems including Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise, Winokur said.