Exchange Competitors Turn Up Heat

Lotus notes, Linux vendors eye Microsoft's turf in e-mail, messaging

As Microsoft moves closer to the release of Exchange Server 2007, its e-mail, calendaring and messaging product, it faces increased competitive pressure from long-standing competitors such as Lotus Notes, as well as from newer open-source solutions.

Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., released the second, widespread public beta for Exchange Server 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, corporate vice president for the Exchange Server product group, told eWeek that when he talked to CIOs about the alternatives, the competitor mentioned most often was IBMs Lotus Notes. While Novells GroupWise is still used by some companies, it is being rapidly replaced with Exchange, which was designed for the enterprise, Thompson said. "Open-source platforms havent become that sophisticated," he said.

Thompson also said that in all his discussions with existing Notes customers, the reason they are staying on that platform is not because the mail and scheduling experience is better, but because of the applications that run on it.

As such, Microsoft 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.

Joel Stidley, a senior solutions engineer at Data Return, in Irving, 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," he said.

While Stidley has used Lotus Notes in the past, he prefers Exchange, which also integrates more closely with Active Directory, reducing some of the administrative overhead.

But the competitive landscape is changing, and not necessarily in Microsofts favor, with competitors such as IBM embracing open-source solutions for their products.

Ken Bisconti, vice president for IBM Lotus products, in Boston, said 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 to include electronic forms, portals, document management, real-time communications and new Web 2.0 technologies, Bisconti 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.

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 that will 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 said 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 several 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 matures and becomes end-user and administrator-friendly, Stidley said.

But Glenn Winokur, president and CEO of Scalix, a messaging infrastructure company in San Mateo, Calif., whose products are based on a Linux and open systems architecture, begs to differ, noting that 1 million mailboxes have been created using its software. "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," said Winokur.