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Expert: New OS e-mail client coming, but Outlook remains strong

A new open source e-mail client, code-named Chandler, could give Microsoft Outlook a run for its money, according to Julie Hanna Farris,'s resident messaging expert. Right now, however, users are finding that it's easier to dump Exchange on the server than Outlook on the client. In this interview, Farris discusses Chandler's and Sendmail's possibilities and why breaking up with Outlook is hard to do. Farris is founder of alternative messaging system provider Scalix Corp., of San Mateo, Calif.

What's happening with Chandler, a new e-mail client that is supposed to be moving into test state in 2005?
Chandler is the code name for an open source Personal Information Manager (PIM) from the Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF). It is intended for use in everyday information and communication tasks, such as composing and reading e-mail, managing an appointment calendar and keeping a contact list. The vision extends to making Chandler a platform for developing information management applications. Chandler is currently in early-stage development for Windows, Mac, and Linux-based PCs.

Julie Hanna Farris

The OSAF Web site has a wealth of information about the project vision and the current development status. The information tells me two things. First, they have a very strong team with a clear vision and are making solid progress working in an open source framework. Second, they're working in a very important and challenging product space. Today's workers expect a lot of functionality from e-mail, calendaring and PIM software, including such features as integration across multiple calendaring systems, PDA integration and managing/searching large amounts of e-mail, calendar and contact data.

The immediate comparisons for Chandler are with Microsoft Outlook on Windows and Novell Evolution on Linux. Outlook and Evolution set a high bar for personal productivity, though neither rate as multi-platform solutions. The growing diversity of desktops creates an opportunity that Chandler seems uniquely qualified to solve. Further, the Chandler client is strongly focused on messaging, calendaring and information sharing standards.

Why do some companies choose to keep Outlook on the clients even when they've switched off of Exchange on the server?
This is a very interesting question. A survey by Osterman Research in January 2004 confirmed that more than 55% of enterprises would seriously consider switching to an alternative messaging system that provided better performance or other advantages if the desktop infrastructure currently in place could be retained.

The question you ask is "why?" Some of the reasons that customers have given me include the following:

  • Due to the mission critical nature of e-mail, avoiding disruption to end users is a top priority. Changes in usability, functionality or user interface all represent a potential end-user disruption and productivity impact that most organizations are hesitant to introduce.
  • Outlook is already deployed, working and users are trained. This is especially strong reason in organizations that have deployed calendaring and scheduling with Outlook clients.
  • The short-term IT challenge is with messaging infrastructure manageability, reliability or cost. The desktop strategy, including e-mail client choice, is a different decision scheduled for a different time.
  • Limited awareness of alternative e-mail client solutions.

Ultimately choosing a messaging server that strongly supports Outlook, the IMAP and POP protocols and that offers a highly usable Web client offers the greatest choice and flexibility at the client level. And fortunately, there are several messaging servers on Linux that support a range of clients. The level of client functionality supported can vary widely, so it's important to understand your requirements when evaluating alternatives.

Does Sendmail have the same functionality as Microsoft Exchange? If not, what's missing?
The functionalities of Sendmail and Exchange are quite different, but I wouldn't say that any features are necessarily "missing" from Sendmail. Sendmail was designed to do one job extremely well: reliably deliver large volumes of e-mail messages across the Internet. Microsoft Exchange and similar products such as Lotus Notes, Scalix and Novell Groupwise are messaging and collaboration servers that are designed to address a broader set of functionality beyond e-mail delivery. Examples of the additional functionality in messaging and collaboration servers include advanced e-mail functionality, group calendaring and scheduling, server-based e-mail storage, file/document sharing, contact management and other collaboration features.

Messaging and collaboration servers tend to be deployed in businesses and other organizations that seek increased employee and organizational productivity by sharing a range of information. Many organizations that deploy messaging and collaboration servers also use Sendmail as the message transfer agent for managing inbound and outbound e-mail to the Internet. Sendmail is the leading MTA used by organizations to route e-mail messages across the Internet.

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