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A Near-Outlook Experience

By Michael Caton

For companies looking for a groupware solution that taps Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook on the desktop, Stalker Software Inc.'s CommuniGate Pro 4.1 delivers a comparable experience to Microsoft's Exchange.

CommuniGate Pro 4.1

CommuniGate Pro 4.1 from Stalker Software (www.stalker.com) matches Microsoft Exchange groupware functionality with broader server hardware and operating system support. Groupware Connector gives companies a way to provide Microsoft Outlook users with nearly full groupware functionality without running Exchange at the back end. Priced at $499 for a server with a 50-user license, CommuniGate Pro is a good investment for sites that can afford it. However, adding groupware, per-user Exchange client access and features such as clustering greatly increases its cost.

  • PRO: Supports almost the full range of Outlook/Exchange groupware functions; easy to manage; broad hardware and server operating system support; good security features.
  • CON: Doesn't support Outlook forms; Web-based management interface is too uniform across functions.

    IBM's Lotus Software division's Lotus Domino 6 and Lotus Domino Access for Microsoft Outlook Microsoft's Exchange 2003
    CommuniGate Pro 4.1, which began shipping in July, delivers robust groupware support via a Groupware Connector for Microsoft Outlook 98, Outlook 2000 and Outlook 2002. In eWEEK Labs' tests, CommuniGate Pro and the connector delivered a comparable groupware experience to Outlook and Exchange, with some minor holes.

    CommuniGate Pro will give an organization some advantages in platform choice over Exchange and can cost considerably less than Exchange when purchased in volume.

    CommuniGate Pro starts at an affordable $499 for a server with a 50-user license with basic Post Office Protocol/ IMAP connections. Adding groupware costs extra, however, with the Groupware Connector ranging from $20 to $47.96 per concurrent user, depending on volume. Per-user Exchange client access licenses cost $67. The CommuniGate Pro clustering server costs $99,999. This is considerably more expensive than the $3,999 Exchange 2003 Enterprise Edition.

    In tests, we used CommuniGate with Outlook to perform almost all the same groupware functions that we could perform when connected to an Exchange server. We could create and manage groups, discussions and shared folders and could perform group calendar and scheduling functions.

    In addition to sharing folders, we could also share tasks. On the calendar and schedule side, we could schedule and reschedule events and respond to invitations. We could perform all these functions from the Web mail client as well.

    Making group calendaring and scheduling functions available did require going through additional steps, however. We had to download Microsoft's Web Publishing Wizard and publish each user's free/busy schedule, which is located in their individual directories on the CommuniGate Pro server. CommuniGate Pro doesn't support Outlook's forms feature, so we could not create and manage forms as we could with an Exchange server. The connector works only on Windows versions of Outlook.

    We liked the systems management and security features we found in CommuniGate Pro. The connector can be installed remotely from the server and, most importantly, is self-updating. This will be beneficial in keeping up with changes that occur in Microsoft's MAPI (Messaging API) communications between Outlook and Exchange. The connector is a DLL that maps MAPI calls in Outlook to the IMAP store in the CommuniGate Pro server.

    The server management console is Web-based, and although we generally found the console easy to use, the consistency of the user interface across all functions of the console could be a bit confusing. The inclusion of a few more visual clues within the console would have helped prevent losing track of exactly where in the console we were.

    We liked the broad range of security features available, within the connector and those inherent to the product. The connector supports Secure Sockets Layer/ Transport Layer Security as well as secure authentication.

    Some of the more granular security features include the ability to require that users access Web mail only from a fixed IP address. This would enable an IT organization to ensure that users with kiosk access to e-mail are checking only their e-mail from an assigned workstation. CommuniGate Pro also supports LDAP directories.

    CommuniGate Pro supports a broad range of server hardware, including x86-based systems, Apple Computer Inc.'s PowerPC-based servers, IBM's S/390 and AS/400, and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s SPARC-based systems. Server operating system support is also broad and includes FreeBSD, HP/UX, IBM OS/400, Linux, Mac OS X and Solaris.

    Discuss this in the eWeek forum.

    Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.

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