Exchange server alternatives

Looking for a simpler, cheaper alternative to Microsoft's Exchange? One of the five email/collaboration servers reviewed here should fit the bill for your business.

If the thought of installing and running a Microsoft Exchange email server brings you out in a cold sweat, then rest assured: there are lots of simpler alternatives. Moreover, most of these products now offer information sharing and collaboration features -- like global address books and shared calendars -- on top of the standard message handling facilities.

What to expect
All five of the SMTP mail servers reviewed here come with extra information sharing and collaboration features, either as standard or via optional add-ons. In most, a custom browser-based client gives access to mail and any collaboration options, doing away with the need to distribute and manage specialised client software. In four of the five, however, the collaboration features can also be accessed using Outlook -- just as you do when using Exchange as your mail server.

Other features include antivirus scanning, content filtering and anti-spam tools, plus, in three cases, support for instant messaging. All of these Exchange alternatives are relatively easy to install and manage, with remote management via a browser a common option. Most are cheaper too, although prices vary enormously.

How they measure up
We had no problems installing or using any of the products here, although we were less than impressed by Ipswitch Collaboration Suite with its four separate install routines. Similarly, all performed well as basic Internet mail servers, with good antivirus and anti-spam features more or less across the board.

It was different story when it came to collaboration, where three products really stood out. The first was Kerio’s MailServer 6, which supports collaboration using both its own (very nice) browser-based client and via an Outlook plug-in. The Kerio product can also be hosted on Linux and Apple Mac systems and is remarkably affordable, making it our Editors' Choice for small business buyers looking for an Exchange alternative.

Higher up the scale, we would recommend MDaemon Pro for use by larger companies. Already well established with good collaboration features, the product is set to get even better with a new Outlook Connector in the next release (version 8). Had that been available during our test, we might have given MDaemon an award too. However, it was only in beta, so our Editors' Choice award for an enterprise solution has to go to Gordano Messaging Suite. Although it's considerably more expensive than the others, the Gordano package is a very scalable solution that, with its full set of integrated collaboration features, is hard to beat as an Exchange alternative in the enterprise market.

Email/collaboration servers compared


Gordano Messaging Suite

Ipswitch Collaboration Suite

Kerio MailServer 6

MDaemon Pro

Editors' rating 6.8 8.8 5.6 8.5 8.0

Server platforms
Windows yes yes yes yes yes
Linux no yes no yes no
Other Unix Apple Mac
Client support
POP3 yes yes yes yes yes
IMAP4 yes yes no yes yes
MAPI no yes no yes yes
Browser-based client yes yes yes yes yes
Message Handling
Multiple domains yes yes yes yes yes
Collect from POP3 servers yes yes no yes yes
Server-side rules yes yes yes yes yes
List server yes option yes yes yes
Antivirus scanning 3rd party integration option yes option + 3rd party integration option
Spam blocking yes yes yes yes yes
Collaboration features
Outlook integration yes yes yes yes yes
Global address book yes yes yes yes yes
Shared private address books yes yes yes yes yes
Shared calendars yes yes yes yes yes
Public folders yes yes yes yes yes
Free/busy publishing no yes no no no
Instant messaging yes option yes no no
Price per user for 100 users ex. VAT (base mail server + collaboration features) £5.15 £20.08 £12.32 £5.05 £8.89