The Hole in Microsoft’s Messaging Strategy

Why is there no startup beating the tar out of Microsoft as a small-business replacement for Exchange Server? As most people likely know, Exchange is a fine thing, but it is not the sort of product you lightly install in a business with 20 or fewer employees and then march off to do other stuff. Exchange requires tweaking and support, ideally done by a part-time IT person.

Case in point: One company I’m looking at right now has eight employees and they want to integrate calendars and contacts. They can do that fairly readily in something like Yahoo Mail, but not in their preferred client-centric solution, Microsoft Outlook. They simply don’t have time to install and manage Exchange to make that work as a back-end solution.

If you look around, you can find all sorts of solutions to the problem, most of them involving third-party synchronization of .PST files. And that’s fine, but it’s nuts, the equivalent of dealing with uncooperative auto vendors producing non-standard cars by having them pass regularly through machines that fold, spindle, and mutilate them to the correct size.

Yes, Microsoft is apparently set to launch a service hosted on MSN that will address some of these issues. And that will be a solution for some folks. But why in this increasingly peer-to-peer world can’t we have a client-centric solution to shared calendaring, contacts, and messages?

[Update 9/2/2004] A few people have read this piece and reminded me about Bloomba Pro. For folks who haven’t seen it — I was a tester a while back — it is idiosyncratic but worth a look; it gets you at least part-way down the above path.


  1. Frank Ruscica says:

    An open source project to deliver this app is well underway, via $5M from Lotus founder Mitch Kapor:

  2. Most small business I know use outlook with pop3. For calendar sync they mail each other the appointments. IMAP with outlook works ok as well. For remote access they could use squirrelmail. All that is needed is an old pc running linux as the server.

  3. Right, that is what I see as well. Most small businesses I know use Outlook with pop3, then email around appointments. While it works it verges on appalling, like an office network built around tossing USB flash cards up and down the hallway. There has to a better way …