Top alternatives to Microsoft Outlook

If you're using a Microsoft Windows operating system there is also a good chance that you use Office and Outlook as your email client. But is this really a choice?

If you're using a Microsoft Windows operating system there is also a good chance that you use Office and Outlook as your email client. But is this really a choice?

More than likely it was a default option; the software is there, so why not use it? Why? Because there might be something out there that suits your needs far better. Other email clients can be highly customised to suit particular industries and may include options not available in Outlook.

How much you can expect from an email client depends on your company size and procedures for communication. For example, many organisations must have shared calendars, while other companies can be quite efficient with individual calendars.

If your staff are frequently on the road, you might need to consider whether your email client needs to be operated on a small PDA screen. You might also like to implement instant messaging and integration with IP telephony, undertaken as part of your email implementation.

Some companies will require customised functions, and will need to know if macro scripts can be readily created or if there are plug-ins available.

Before selecting a client, the server side of your email system must also be carefully assessed. Is the client able to take advantage of all mail server security and collaboration options (and vice versa)?

There are 11 alternatives considered in this review. We would advise you to trial a couple of alternatives before settling for one. Downloads are available for most products and links to the vendor's websites can be found on each page.

The list

Apple Mail + iCal

Apple Mail is the default email client supplied with the Mac operating system. Its interface is straightforward and wholly unremarkable. Obviously, it parallels Outlook Express or Windows Mail on Microsoft machines.

Being part of the operating system means that businesses using multiple OSes cannot use the same email client across machines (although this problem also exists for Windows Mail or KMail on Linux systems).

As with Windows Mail, Thunderbird and many others, calendar functions are shifted to a separate application, in this case Apple iCal. iCal integrates with the Evolution and Zimbra email clients on Apple systems.

A great feature of iCal is the ability to reschedule events by simply dragging them from one point to another with the mouse. Mail also allows for the user to enter "To Do" lists and other short notes for ready reference.

A feature of Apple Mail that brings it closer to Microsoft Outlook than Outlook Express or Windows Mail is the availability of Apple Scripts — a standard feature of Apple operating systems. Scripts can be used to automate many processes. In addition, you can use mail filtering rules, which allow for automatic sorting of mail into boxes according to details such as the content, subject or sender.

Apple Mail handles HTML formatting as well as you could hope. The Email Standards Project rates Apple Mail as "Excellent". Apple Mail also has a number of pre-defined stationery designs. As well as supporting standard IMAP and POP3 mail servers, Apple Mail can also work with online accounts such as Gmail and Yahoo. In addition, RSS feeds can be automatically downloaded.

Integration between iCal and Mail is tight, allowing dates and places in emails to be recognised and easily exported into iCal. Apple Mail is an effective, no frills application that is open to automation using Apple's in-built tools. Because this software is Apple only, it cannot actually replace Outlook per se, but it has a comparable feature set and comes at no cost above the initial purchase of the computer.

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

Microsoft Entourage 2008

To call this product an Outlook "alternative" is debatable. Entourage is the email component of Microsoft Office for Mac — just as Outlook is the email component of Microsoft Office for Windows. So while Entourage and Outlook are not identical, Entourage can be seen as part of Microsoft's effort to expand Microsoft Office's interoperability.

The feature set of both Microsoft products is comparable — although there are significant differences in the appearance of the interfaces. Both include recognisable to-do lists and calendars, and while Entourage does not employ Visual Basic for macros, AppleScripts can be used to achieve similar ends.

There will be a few usability issues for most people moving from Outlook on a PC to Entourage on a Mac; both support synchronisation and have the same set of basic features. Unfortunately, Entourage does not support .pst file formats, which means that tab delimited formats must be used when exporting between them. Enex considers this a significant oversight, but certainly not insurmountable. Entourage will directly import Apple Mail and Eudora formats.

Another interesting observation is that Entourage is unable to manage the same range of synchronisation tasks with an Exchange server as Outlook can. For example, task synchronisation and server-side rule editing are unavailable. HTML/CSS handling in emails, however, is no problem at all. The Email Standards Project rates the product as excellent.

Office for Mac also includes a component called My Day, which provides the user with a compact view of current tasks and calendar events even when Entourage is not open. This is a great way for users to track their day.

The fact that Microsoft cannot provide users with a reliable experience across platforms makes it clear that Outlook alternatives are indeed necessary. Users of Linux must rely on Windows emulation software to use Outlook. We hope that Microsoft Office Web will improve the company's cross-platform credentials.

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

Qualcomm Eudora 8 (Beta)

This is an interesting but somewhat difficult time to review Eudora. Eudora is in a transition period from commercial product to open source — a venture in which it joins forces with the Mozilla community. Put simply, the plan seems to be to modify the Mozilla Thunderbird source code to give it the look, feel and, in time, full functionality of Eudora 7.

Essentially an add-on called Penelope manifests this change to the Thunderbird application. This move to open source does not apply to Eudora mail server software. The licences for this remain with the original developers of the Windows and Apple versions.

There is little to distinguish between the two versions when viewing the main window, but version 8 is a definite improvement. For example, when forwarding a message it appears in an editable window without the need to specify the (obvious) need to add something to the message (even if it's only an "FYI").

A survey of the Eudora online forum indicates there has been a mixed response to its change over to the Thunderbird engine. The strongest criticisms come from the Apple users camp. Apple machines can lack the variety of applications available to Windows users and many of the advanced features of Eudora have not (yet) been implemented in the new version. Of particular concern is the lack of scripting tools for Macs.

Eudora for Mac and Windows were separate applications; the new version is now a single application compiled to suit the individual platform (including Linux). While currently an add-on, Eudora code will eventually be more fully integrated with the base code, which will hopefully alleviate concerns about the slowness of version 8 compared to version 7.

Given access to the old Eudora code, it seems likely that the features desired by the Eudora community will swiftly reappear. Eudora adherents will see to that. In the end, the basic interface is very similar to many other email clients. It is flexibility that made the old Eudora so loved.

As it stands, Eudora 8 has a neat interface and most of the features of a standard email client; it includes multiple mail boxes, sort and search functions, message filtering, dictionary, thesaurus and email labels, but unfortunately lacks a built-in calendar. One would expect that dictionary add-ons for Thunderbird would all be compatible with Eudora 8, however, a Polish dictionary installed by Enex staff functioned with Thunderbird, but not Eudora.

Given this, it is perhaps a bad time to move to Eudora. If you want to investigate the true nature of the product, download an old version (still available). Whichever version you consider, remember that support is from the community. Help given is a happily given favour, not a right. But the software is free.

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

Novell Evolution 2

Originally built for Linux systems by Ximian (purchased by Novell), Evolution is an open-source package and so comes standard with Linux systems using GNOME, including SuSE and Red Hat. (Fedora Core also comes with Evolution included.) Ximian has also been ported to the Mac (by Novell) and Windows (by Tor Lillqvist) markedly broadening its appeal.

This review focuses on a Windows version, which comes with an MSI installer produced by DIP Consultants. Our brief overview of the Linux version uncovered no significant differences between the platforms.

The user interface is not like any other product reviewed here, but there was certainly a feeling of deja vu with Microsoft Outlook in mind. Ultimately there are limits to the practical ways in which the data handled can be presented, so it does not pay to be too different from the opposition. Users will not want to spend too much time learning new procedures.

Its search and filtering functions both have an impressive array of options. When filtering incoming emails it is also possible to launch applications, play sounds or pipe an email to another application. Messages can be marked with colours and priority tags.

Evolution supports both tasks and memos. Memos are notes to which a date and category can be applied. Tasks allow for more detail in terms of project management, having the option of start and finish dates as well as status tags (in addition to the category tags). Having both may seem like overkill to some users, but it's great to have options.

Evolution has not yet been assessed by the Email Standards Project, but testing by Enex suggests that it would be classed as "poor". There were significant failures in the formatting of some HTML/CSS elements, resulting in much of the styling of some messages appearing as raw source at the end of the message.

Aside from the basics of POP3 and IMAP support, Evolution can integrate with Microsoft Exchange and Novell GroupWise servers. It also supports Hula and Usenet News feeds. Evolution also includes support for work groups by allowing shared online calendars.

The software is promoted as being able to kill Outlook on the basis of virus immunity. Evolution would not be alone in this claim, though, as many other alternatives also have the advantage of low profiles to malware. Aside from bugs Microsoft may have in its software, miscreants target it because it is the biggest.

Evolution is harder to update than Microsoft products, but this is less of a concern given the rare need for security updates. Spam filtering can also be undertaken with Evolution. From a functional perspective there is little else that distinguishes Evolution from Outlook — apart from pricing and servicing.

In true open source style, there is no help file included in the base install. When online FAQs were investigated, still more open source quirks were found. While a commercial application might explain that a feature cannot be customised, it is sometimes suggested that an Evolution feature can be adjusted if compiling from source.

Also, rather than directing the user to a user-friendly GUI, you might instead be asked to edit a configuration file. Open source typically has a "can do" approach to new features — if you need more, you can do it yourself. Support is available voluntarily in forums. If you have paid for SuSE Linux, presumably Novell will offer some advice for installations on this platform. There is no fee for using this product, but technical knowledge will probably be required to maintain it.

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

Google Gmail

Gmail is a web-based application provided free by Google and features over 7GB of storage space.

This service is funded by ads and, given Google's policy of using contextually appropriate advertising, it somewhat ironically produced a link to a trial of Microsoft Outlook during testing. However, business users can work with Google or third-party partners to get a more business-friendly version dubbed Premier Edition for US$50 per seat, per year.

The Gmail interface is not complicated in itself, but the fact that it sits inside a web browser automatically exposes the user to many additional buttons and menus irrelevant to the email client. Conversely, a web-based email service offers great convenience to travellers who may not always have access to the same computer.

A calendar service is also offered — linked to your email account. Like Outlook, calendars can be viewed by day, week and month, and can be shared with friends. The calendar opens as a separate web page to the email interface.

There is little argument it has a user-friendly interface and many handy extras, but what about the basics? Messages sent to a test Gmail account were a disaster. Message titles and the first part of the message body displayed fine when listed in the inbox, but all hell broke loose when a message was opened.

The message body was stored in an attachment (three copies of this were found) and had to be opened in order to read the message. The Email Standards Project notes that Gmail cannot handle CSS in headers. Messages sent by Enex using Outlook were mutilated to the point of uselessness due to HTML/CSS formatting used in message templates.

Provided that there is no need to converse with colleagues using CSS, Gmail may otherwise serve you well. It has a search function and important emails can be marked with stars or customised labels to enhance search routines. Gmail also has a built-in chat program and anti-spam filter.

While Gmail might be a convenient tool for personal use, we would not recommend it for business purposes. For example, businesses will have less control over the Google mail servers than they would their own internal servers, so cannot apply corporate policies to employee mailboxes.

You can, however, get Gmail addresses customised to your domain name, and a number of large educational institutions in Australia and New Zealand have taken this approach to providing email addresses to thousands of students.

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

Novell GroupWise 8

GroupWise is designed right from the ground up as a serious, enterprise-level communications tool. GroupWise does not try to do everything (there is no instant messenger or VoIP integration as seen in some packages), but in addition to email it provides shared calendaring, excellent contact management, integrated web page viewing and RSS feeds.

We were initially bewildered by what could not be found (even basics such as a menu system and the ability to set up email accounts), however, it was discovered that an obscure button on the right-hand side of the toolbar does manage all of this.

This stunning decision to hide the menu is now shared by Microsoft's new Internet Explorer 7. It means that you cannot even find the online help — to help you find the menu! Having discovered the menu, setting up accounts (any IMAP or POP3 server can be accessed in addition to the GroupWise server) and generally customising the application is straightforward.

GroupWise allows for one or more highly customisable home screens. A home screen provides an overview of some or all of the components of GroupWise. They can include recent items from inboxes, newsfeeds, as well as a browser window and upcoming calendar events or current tasks. Additional screen tabs provide details of email, calendar, contacts, tasks and newsfeeds.

GroupWise stores just as much contact information as Outlook. GroupWise, however, displays the information in a much more compact and attractive manner. Calendars can be published to allow sharing and calendars can be merged with the company calendar to provide all information on one screen — without sacrificing privacy or missing out on public information.

The GroupWise client is easy to install and use, but it should be trialled before deployment across an enterprise. When initially installed, Enex staff found that it interfered with Microsoft Outlook (not that you should need both on one machine) and after uninstalling, it was necessary to repair MS Office.

Editing and opening emails in Microsoft Word is a new feature for GroupWise — presumably it will take a little while to get rid of all the bugs. Our main product assessment was undertaken with a virtualised copy of the application. Sadly, this version was not fully functional and crashed when we attempted to edit a calendar entry or edit a new email.

GroupWise is designed to closely integrate with a GroupWise server, and accounts on other servers can also be set up. Security is a very important issue for Novell. Log-in options exist for local caching, or log-in to a web-based Novell server or a business' own internal GroupWise server. GroupWise also employs extensive lists of known spammers to keep inboxes as clean as possible.

It was disappointing not to see instant messaging in this otherwise complete package, but this is partially alleviated by the fact that GroupWise tracks email conversation threads.

The GroupWise client is available for Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems and there is also a web interface. In this review, the Windows version was the focus of our assessment.

The desktop version of this application, as tested, costs a scary US$179 per user, including one year support (with no additional server side costs). Cost cutting can be achieved by forgoing support or by opting for web-based access to email and instant messaging features (US$26.30).

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

KMail (Linux KDE)

Rule number one: don't use this product with an old system capable of less than 1024x768 video resolution. The configuration dialog box is large — despite the use of tabs. As a part of the Linux KDE platform you can expect to find KMail on any Linux machine running KDE. A Fedora Core distribution was used for this review, which also came with Evolution and Thunderbird as a bonus.

In theory, KMail is a flexible product designed to suit a wide audience. There are a multitude of configuration operations defining how mail appears on the screen — and yet despite this, Enex staff could not convince KMail to display images in HTML emails.

It's a pity given the trouble developers have gone to, to include a structure viewer for HTML mail (was this included so that one can identify how well/badly the email was rendered?). Other HTML formatting features were rendered as expected.

KDE features a calendar application called KOrganizer. KOrganizer integrates with groupware servers such as OpenGroupware and Kolab. Invitations and calendar attachments delivered via KMail can be directly transferred to KOrganizer. KMail also integrates with various spam and virus filters.

Filtering rules show a very similar range of options to that seen with Evolution, no doubt reflecting the sharing of ideas prevalent in the open source community. Filtering is focused on both organisation and security. KMail is serious about both aspects. HTML can be disabled and PGP encryption can be applied to messages. Filters may not function with standard IMAP, but should work with the newer disconnected IMAP.

Filters can also be used in conjunction with identities. Identities can be associated with email accounts (on a per message basis) so that messages from one email address could be sent to separate user identities according to content recognised by filters.

Enex does not recommend that business users rush out and start using KMail as their default email client (even if they already have Linux machines in front of every user). While today's average office worker is far more tech-savvy than a few years ago, most won't want to deal with configuration options, no matter how wonderful they are.

The relevant help file was available (too often you have to hunt down help files for free software). Unfortunately, the style of the manual leaves much to be desired; it is heavy in terms of text and includes no diagrams or screenshots. The manual is not difficult to use, but may appear so to beginners.

(Credit: KDE)


(Credit: KDE)

IBM Lotus Notes 8.5

When Lotus Notes was first launched, it did not appear to be anything special — a standard-looking email client with calendar function, To-Do list and a built-in web browser. However, the application is actually much more than just an email client.

Whole applications such as customer relationship management packages have been built on Lotus Notes. CRM packages benefit greatly from having such tightly integrated email and calendar systems.

Lotus Notes is better compared to Microsoft Office or OpenOffice than with Outlook. It includes word processing, database, spreadsheet and presentation functionality. It differs from Microsoft Office only because everything is tightly integrated into a single application (instead of an application suite).

Lotus also includes a module called Sametime, which supports instant messaging, and voice and video calls similar to Skype. Sametime in its basic form is a free add-on, but more advanced features (such as telephony) require an additional outlay of cash.

Once open, clicking on the home button gains access to all the other installed components. The spreadsheet, presentation and word-processing components were not considered as part of this review — they constitute a package in their own right (called Symphony). This is a free and optional feature, which can also be used as a stand-alone product. (It can save files in Microsoft and OpenOffice formats.) Mail merges can make use of contact lists in Notes.

We expect that a product with a built-in web browser should not have problems with HTML emails, but some failures were observed with CSS elements. The Email Standards Project classes Lotus as "Poor" in this regard, but adds that this performance is greatly enhanced if Lotus is used in conjunction with a Lotus Domino Server. Better performance when matched with its mail server would hardly be a situation unique to Lotus.

Calendar features intended for use with email server interaction included multiple shared calendars. Purely local calendars are possible, but need to be set up separately to the account used for mail to prevent futile attempts to connect to the non-existent copy on the server. Email and calendar is stored locally and can be accessed while offline; synchronising with server occurs as soon as a connection is present.

The greatest assets of Lotus Notes remain integration and flexibility. The vast majority of users could easily complete all of their daily tasks without ever leaving Notes. It includes multifaceted communication and collaboration tools (including email, IM and video calls) as well as a full office suite (Symphony) and even web browsing.

Each application in use is only a tab away and finding unopened components is only as hard as clicking on the home button. Locating the workspace tab will grant further access to all components, including custom-built applications capable of harnessing diverse applications and Eclipse Java programming.

IBM offers 24/7 support for mission-critical problems and business hours support for less significant issues. The basic per user price is AU$160, but this can be reduced substantially when rolling out the product in a large organisation. Lotus operates under Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. IBM also offers hosting services for desktop and web-based clients.

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

Mozilla Thunderbird 2 with Sunbird

Thunderbird is an open source application, but does not include calendar functions. Sunbird is the stand-alone calendar solution also produced by the Mozilla Foundation. All bases are covered with this combination, but it lacks the convenience of Outlook's all-in-one approach.

Why should it be necessary to open two applications each morning when one would suffice? Generally the interface has a similar layout to Outlook, but the devil is in the detail (where are the Cc and Bcc options when replying to a message?).

While not immediately visible, the Cc and Bcc buttons are actually only a single click away. Migrating from one application to another is always fraught with difficulties, but it creates a risk that the idea of different and worse might be confused.

Thunderbird renders HTML messages without trouble and is rated excellent by the Email Standards Project. The message editor provides very good text-handling options including tables, indents and numbered lists as well as full support for the "img" tag when including pictures.

Thunderbird supports message encryption with digital signatures. Incoming messages can be filtered and directed to folders according to keywords in a manner very similar to Outlook. Search and sort functions allow the user to find old messages quickly or arrange messages according to personal convenience by date, sender, priority, subject, tag or even size.

An area the open source community really excels in is the provision of language support. Dictionaries and/or language packs are currently available for over 60 languages or dialects — including five versions of English (Australia, Canada, South Africa, UK and US). Installation of the software is very easy.

Sunbird allows for multiple calendars, web publishing and provides reminders prior to appointments. Sunbird is built on the same base as the Lightning calendar plug-in for Thunderbird. The user can specify the length of scheduled events. A simple, but adequate, "To Do" list is also incorporated into this program. The Task list in Outlook takes an eternity to open and given its complexity it might better be described as a mini project planner. Sunbird, on the other hand, caters to simpler needs.

In addition to the expected support for POP3 and IMAP accounts, Thunderbird also allows access to RSS, Newsgroup and Gmail accounts. Sunbird calendars can be stored online to facilitate sharing with colleagues.

As with any free software, don't expect on-demand support lines. There are forums, of course, but even the help files are a separate download. This is a well put together product, even if it does lack a few of the options and polish of Microsoft Outlook. Its most serious flaws are the separation into two discrete applications and the support issue. In regards to integration, Thunderbird 3 is set to include, among other improvements, an integrated calendar such as the current Lightning add-on. When Thunderbird 3 will be released is unclear at this stage.

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

Microsoft Windows Mail

Windows Mail is the "new Outlook Express" for Vista and ships as part of the Windows Vista operating system. With that in mind, the simplest way to compare it to Outlook is to say it is less of the same.

Removing the Task and Calendar tabs does reduce clutter a little — which is handy if you don't need those features. By default the message reading pane is placed under the summary pane (whereas Outlook defaults to a side-by-side layout), but both layouts are available in each application. The interface has clearly labelled buttons for common tasks such as send and receive.

The comparison to Outlook express is perhaps being a bit blasé. Microsoft appears to have made an effort to separate this product from Outlook in terms of appearance as well as name. Certainly there was wisdom in visually distinguishing two products that differ markedly in depth of options.

The toolbar is different and matches more the styling of other Windows components such as My Computer and Windows Calendar. Windows Calendar? Yes, the various components found in Outlook can be accessed in the same manner as Mozilla Thunderbird and Sunbird, but through the use of two separate programs rather than the traditional integrated format of Outlook. Windows Calendar supports the publishing of calendars to the web and does include a To Do list.

Mail includes a place for LDAP contacts and supports RSS feeds. Filters can be applied to incoming mail, and mail boxes can be sorted on subject, sender, date etc, as per many other email clients.

This product should not be confused with Microsoft's Windows Live Mail, which Microsoft describes as having many of the features of Outlook Express and Windows Mail. In fact, it resembles an online email client enclosed in a dedicated web browser.

It includes the ability to access multiple accounts including Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo standard POP3 or IMAP accounts, and RSS feeds are supported, but there is no calendar component. This product is directed at personal rather than business usage.

A client interface for any POP or IMAP service, businesses have the ability to apply restrictions to email traffic at their own mail servers. Being a Microsoft product it is also fully supported by the MAPI protocol used by Microsoft Exchange.

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

Yahoo Zimbra

Zimbra has a range of editions of its email client and has also developed its own mail server application. Zimbra is owned by Yahoo and currently uses a web interface, but is also available as a beta "desktop" edition which permits emails to be viewed online and offline. The web version is considered in this review.

Zimbra appears to have all the features of Outlook, including an integrated calendar and To Do list. Zimbra also claims improvements over Outlook such as not restricting mail boxes to 2GB. Despite being a web-based client, the interface supports multiple accounts including email extraction from external servers via POP3 or IMAP — providing centralised email access.

While Zimbra may not have the kind of scripting that graces Outlook, it does have customisable filters and a host of add-in Zimlets (similar to widgets found in Lotus) giving access to such things as flight bookings, Flickr, Babelfish and Yahoo Maps (IT staff with AJAX skills may be interested in Zimlet development). Another very handy feature is its integrated instant messenger. Besides three versions of English, 15 language options are available for the interface.

The online evaluation did not allow for the sending and receiving of emails at the time of testing, so it was not possible to assess the effectiveness of HTML email handling, nor has the Email Standards Project evaluated this software.

Zimbra has features that make it far more than an email client. It allows online viewing of Word and PDF documents as HTML. Zimbra also allows the creation of online documents, which includes pictures and spreadsheets. Integrated Asterisk technology allows for voice calls and messaging via existing VoIP systems.

Having a web-based interface, it is tempting to compare this product with services such as Gmail or ordinary Yahoo accounts for that matter. In fact, the feature set and flexibility of Zimbra make it more comparable with applications such as Outlook or even Lotus Notes.

Zimbra easily equals Outlook and it leaves Thunderbird for dead — aside from its inability to check messages offline. (On that note, it might be worth looking into Zimbra desktop at a later date when it completes beta testing.) Zimbra Desktop supports offline message browsing and allows users to access web accounts such as Gmail.

Both open source and paid versions of this software are available. Naturally, the open source version exists so that Zimbra's development will be accelerated — swapping expertise for the product. Purchasers of the paid versions are, of course, entitled to technical support. Being web-based, the licensing fee is for the server software rather than client software.

Zimbra Professional pricing is US$875 per year per 25 mailboxes. Pricing per person reduces as the number of users increases and discounts of 50 per cent are available to government, educational and non-profit organisations. This pricing assumes the software resides on your own server. Hosted services are also available. Given the range of features and flexibility, pricing at $US35 per user seems very reasonable.

(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)


(Credit: Michael Palamountain/ZDNet.com.au)

Verdict

Medium to large businesses should have their own mail server directing mail to and from clients according to corporate policy rather than the policies of an email service provider. What mail server is in use, and its policies, may well dictate the choice of an email client a company can use.

For example, if using Microsoft Exchange with MAPI, users will ideally use Microsoft clients such as Outlook or Windows Mail. It's recommended to use a Lotus Domino server to get the best results from Notes. Outlook, Lotus, GroupWise and Zimbra are the only real choices from the options considered here.

No one single product can be touted as the ideal solution to all needs, but Lotus Notes would certainly be an excellent choice for many larger businesses — after all, it's good enough for GE and IBM. Most people do not have particularly advanced needs when it comes to office productivity tools, so the ability to add Symphony at no extra could save a company very large amounts of money otherwise spent on products such as Microsoft Office or Corel WordPerfect.

IBM has itself decided it no longer needed Microsoft Office on every desk. Lotus is hedging its bets by keeping a close watch on both Microsoft and open-source technologies to ensure users can interact successfully with the widest possible range of people.

Smaller business may not be able to justify running their own mail servers, but it is still important to choose a product that can also offer individualised service and support. The last thing a company should do is rely on a free service that stamps email addresses as belonging to the service provider rather than the company itself (eg, fred.smith@hotmail.com is hardly professional). Think twice before selecting a free service, since they also tend to be free of reliable support and email is far too critical to mess about with.

Ultimately, Lotus Notes is the favoured product (provided that it is linked to a Domino server!).

Zimbra is perhaps the most affordable product which has both vendor support and multiple OS compatibility — not to mention a feature set comparable to market leaders like Microsoft, Novell and IBM/Lotus. A free version of Zimbra is also available and it is suggested that businesses investigate the trial version first.

For those willing to rely on unofficial support channels, Thunderbird/Eudora might be a reasonable path given that it will operate under Windows, Mac or Linux operating systems — it has a large and fanatical support base in the open-source community.

Ultimately, Lotus Notes is the favoured product (provided that it is linked to a Domino server!). Notes has a broad range of features and expands into a full, customisable office productivity tool suited to a range of platforms.

It might be suggested that referring to such features makes for an unfair comparison with other email clients, but after all, in this review we're seeking alternatives to Microsoft Outlook — a part of a complete office suite. In that sense, the only other product directly comparable to Microsoft Outlook is Microsoft Entourage and it seems wrong to consider that as a true alternative.

Summary

Product Vendor Price Inter-
operability
Future proofing ROI Warranty and support Overall
Apple Mail + iCal Apple Component of Mac OS X 3.0
Mac OS only
3.0
Reasonable email and calendar functions
3.0
Basic application, free, limited collaboration tools
4.0
Good vendor support
3.0
Entourage Microsoft Component of Microsoft Office for Mac 3.0
Mac OS only
3.5
Good calendar and email functions; AppleScripts
3.5
Reasonable collaboration tools, great interface, good value if Microsoft Office is also required
4.0
Good vendor support
3.5
Eudora 8 (beta) Qualcomm Free download 4.0
Windows, Mac, Linux
3.0
Reasonable email and calendar functions
3.0
Reasonable features, plug-ins and interface, but perhaps not ideal while during transition to open source
3.0
Reliant on user forums
3.0
Evolution 2 Novell Free download 3.5
Windows, Mac, Linux; issues with CSS handling
3.0
Reasonable email and calendar functions
3.0
Basic application, free, limited collaboration tools
3.0
Vendor support under SuSE Linux
3.0
Gmail + Google Calendar Google Free 3.0
Web based, no offline access; issues with CSS handling
3.0
Reasonable email and calendar functions; not dependant on host OS
3.0
Basic application, free, limited collaboration tools
2.5
Reliant on user forums
3.0
GroupWise Novell US$179 4.5
Windows, Mac, Linux, web
4.0
Good features, but prefer to see IM; secure and highly customisable
3.5
Excellent user interface, security and features, but a little pricey
4.0
Good vendor support
4.0
KMail The KDE PIM team Free (component of KDE desktop) 3.0
Windows, Linux; HTML issues
3.0
Reasonable email and calendar functions
3.0
Basic application, free, limited collaboration tools
3.0
Users of Linux with service contracts will have vendor support
3.0
Lotus Notes IBM AU$160 4.0
Windows, Mac, Linux, web; CSS trouble without Domino server
4.5
Full office tools and browser in tightly integrated unit
4.5
Excellent range of tools
4.0
Good vendor support
4.5
Thunderbird Mozilla Foundation Free 4.0
Windows, Mac, Linux
3.0
Reasonable email and calendar functions
3.5
Reasonable features, plug-ins and interface
3.0
Widespread user forums available
3.0
Windows Mail Microsoft Component of Windows Vista 3.0
Windows OS only
3.0
Reasonable email and calendar functions
3.0
Basic application, free, limited collaboration tools
4.0
Good vendor support
3.0
Zimbra Yahoo US$35 (US$875 for 25 users, per year) 2.5
Web based, but desktop beta available; web trial could not be fully assessed
4.0
Broad feature set including many web gadgets, not dependant on OS
4.0
Excellent user interface and many handy plug-ins available; reasonably priced
4.0
Good vendor support
3.5

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.
See All