Unison Challenges Microsoft, IBM, Google with Free Unified Communications

Unison Technologies delivers a free, ad-supported unified communications software suite for SMBs that includes e-mail, instant messaging, contacts, calendars and VOIP for messaging and collaboration. Unison hopes to pry some seats from Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino and Google shops during the lagging economy. SMBs install the platform on-premises and Unison promises it won't snoop on users through its ads.

Unison Technologies has taken the gutsy step of offering its UC software suite free for small and midsize businesses.
Startup Unison hopes to make money by serving business-to-business ads on its unified communications platform.
Unison aims to win over customers tired of paying thousands of dollars per year for the classic Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Notes, or increasingly popular SAAS (software as a service) suites such as Google Apps, Unison CMO Rurik Bradbury told eWEEK Dec. 12. Unison's suite tucks e-mail, contacts, calendar instant messaging and VOIP into a single server and client.
The Linux-based Unison Server powers all text and voice communications. Unison Desktop is a Windows or Linux-based desktop client that lets employees use e-mail, IM, voice mail and telephony from one application.
Unison claims this single-server approach is key to reducing costs because companies doesn't have to purchase and maintain an e-mail server like Exchange or Lotus Domino, a groupware server, a directory server or instant messaging system and a separate PBX system.
"It's really a vision to get unified communications right for SMBs from the beginning because everything so far has been very expensive and difficult to implement," Bradbury said, acknowledging that some small companies don't even have IT shops to install major Microsoft or IBM platforms. "Unison Server takes a half hour to deploy and Unison Desktop is simple to use."
Yet unlike DimDim and so many of the current UCC startups gaining traction in the market by offering their applications on a SAAS (software as a service) model, Unison's software is installed on-premises. Unison plans to offer a SAAS version through partners in 2009.
From a publicity standpoint, this client software approach Microsoft popularized is taking a bath of negative criticism, creating a challenge for Unison to overcome. One way to compete against larger vendors is by offering free software, but that won't pay the bills.
So, how will Unison make money? It will serve ads across its UCC deployments, Bradbury said. Ads delivered on Unison today are from Canonical, the steward for the Ubuntu operating system, and Intermedia, a hosted business applications provider that specializes in Exchange.
The ads appear in the Unison Desktop client server and in the Unison Server control panel. Because Unison plans to eventually deploy an ad server to facilitate pay-per-click ad sales, the temptation is to compare Unison's UC service to those of Google and other vendors, which collect users' personal information to better assign ads for the Web services they deliver.
Yet remember that Unison is sold on-premises and Bradbury promised that Unison won't collect users' information and will not use the Google AdSense program. Ads will be targeted based on information about the company.
Moreover, users don't have to see ads, provided they are willing to subscribe to the Google-popularized price model of $50 per user, per year for the standard version of its UC platform, which has been available since August.