One of the hassles involved in running a small to medium sized enterprise is managing the software that your employees use to go about their daily tasks. Leaving aside word processors and spreadsheet applications for a moment, the one set of tools that pretty much every business requires is centred on communication: e-mail, contacts, calendar and to-do list (or task management, if you prefer).
There are plenty of applications on the market capable of handling these tasks, and it’s likely that Microsoft has the lion’s share of the market. However, for companies wanting a less desk-bound solution, some online alternatives are coming out of the woodwork.
One such alternative is MailXchange from Open-Xchange and 1&1 Internet, the latter more widely known as a hosting company. MailXchange is an entirely browser-based application, written in Java, which loaded quickly in our tests over a modestly fast Internet connection. A username and password are required for login, after which the user is presented with a ‘Start’ page providing a summary of the relevant information – calendar entries, new mails, tasks, etc. – for the current day.
This Start page is customisable and users can quickly navigate to the various sections. The mail client, for example, is little different in look and feel to a corresponding desktop application, with all the options you’d expect for reading, writing and organising mail messages, handling attachments, trapping spam, managing black- and white-lists and so on. Data can be synchronised with Microsoft Outlook and there’s a ‘push’ option for accessing mails and other items on Windows Mobile smartphones.
Where the MailXchange solution really comes into its own is when using its features for collaborative working. Documents can be uploaded to an ‘InfoStore’ which incorporates version control, file locking and the ability to share files and folders with selected other users. Calendars, tasks and contacts, meanwhile, can also be shared with other users and again, the look and feel will be familiar to anyone who’s used to conventional Windows PIM applications. There’s 5GB of mail storage and 2GB of document storage available per user. Simple, clearly-written PDF documents are available for users and administrators.
You can’t actually edit documents through the MailXchange application, but combine this arrangement with something like Google Docs and you could theoretically run the majority of your business using dumb Internet terminals and smartphones.
Administrators can create and edit the settings for new users, form groups, manage ‘resources’ (such as meeting rooms) and generally decide who can do what, all through a separate browser-based interface. It’s easy to use and means that less time should be wasted on hardware and software configuration by your company’s IT department.
However, it should be noted that in the event of an Internet connection failure, your staff will be able to achieve very little; much less than if they were using local applications for mail and PIM activity.
Company: 1&1 Internet