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The truth about ASPs, Part II

An optimistic beginning
Written by Steven J.Vaughan Nichols, Contributor

We kicked off the project by contacting Mi8, a New York-based ASP that hosts email and other applications. Mi8 CEO Dave Castellani jumped at the opportunity to host a Lotus Notes-based email service for us over a two-week period in early February.

We know Notes well. Our publisher, Ziff Davis Media, uses Notes as its e-mail and workflow standard. Our distributed editorial staff uses Notes as a native messaging client on everything from Fast Ethernet to 56Kbps modem connections.

What we didn't know, however, was that Notes' Java-based client should not be used in an ASP environment. We chose this client because it allowed us to access our hosted Notes server through standard Web browsers. But it was a bad choice, because the Java client's performance was downright terrible. (Lotus, not Mi8, deserves the blame.) Our advice to Notes-based ASPs is to stick with the native Notes client, because Lotus' Java-based browser client was painfully slow on even our fastest 500MHz Pentium III with 128MB of RAM and T1 connections to the Internet.

Even with the Java interface up, reading messages was as slow as running a marathon on crutches.

Adding insult to injury, the Java-based client interface lacked many features we take for granted in the native Notes interface. For example, we couldn't spell-check our documents; cutting and pasting didn't work as expected; and we had to re-enter our login and password to get attached files from messages. Mi8 tells us that its "real" customers also want more features. The problem? There aren't enough Notes developers to go around.

The automatic sign-on process also was troublesome. About 20 percent of our staff had trouble with it. Mi8 admits that this is the company's most common problem, with about 5 percent of customers reporting issues in this area.

Other freeware email systems offer better performance. (Qualcomm's Eudora and Pegasus Software's Pegasus Mail come to mind.) Yet Mi8—like many ASPs—is working overtime to upgrade its infrastructure in a bid to bolster performance and improve customer satisfaction.

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