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CommuniGate Pro stalks Exchange
By James R. Borck
With the lion’s share of the collaborative groupware and e-mail market sewn up by IBM, Microsoft, and Novell, there hasn’t been much growing room for newcomers.
But times are changing and CommuniGate Pro 4.1.5 from Stalker Software offers a reliable alternative to lowering the cost of your groupware investment. CommuniGate Pro proved a robust and scalable platform, well-suited to processing high volume e-mail traffic, and capable of satisfying most essential Exchange groupware requirements.
On the downside, the true cost of the platform can quickly soar when designing beyond a basic configuration. Groupware client access licenses will tack roughly $20 to $48 per concurrent user onto the sticker price.
Favorably, though, CommuniGate Pro’s broad platform support potentially frees your operation from additional OS licensing overhead, and the CALs (client access licenses) sell at about a 20 percent discount to comparable Microsoft fees.
I was impressed with CommuniGate Pro’s flexible architecture. It's versatile enough to function alone or be deployed in symmetric configurations using NAS or a cluster file system storage implementation on the back end.
In addition to supporting most e-mail protocols, good support for RPOP (Remote POP) and LDAP directory stores, and good authentication and security -- namely SSL/TLS (SSL/Transport Layer Security) -- help round out this application’s highlights.
Setting up the CommuniGate Pro server on Windows 2003 Server Enterprise Edition was an uncomplicated task. I installed the Windows service as well as the separate MAPI (Messaging API) connector, configured the usual cadre of IP parameters, and integrated my LDAP store without incident.
I used most of the features that Exchange facilitates: publish/subscribe group scheduling and calendar functionality, respond to invitations, as well as access notes and contacts, set up tasks, and share folders. End-users can manage discussions and groups without ever knowing they weren’t connected directly to an Exchange Server.
On the downside, CommuniGate Pro did not support Outlook forms. This discourages adoption by a good number of companies that rely on them for processes such as approval automation.
In addition, CommuniGate’s HTTP module serves browser-based accessibility to user accounts, supporting HTML and WML (Wireless Markup Language).But the interface is by no means comparable to the Microsoft Outlook Web Access (OWA) experience on Exchange. In general, the CommuniGate interface was clumsy and might throw a frustrating learning curve at transitioning employees.
The WebUser interface scores well, though, on functionality. I was able to retrieve and edit my accounts with the same ease I'd have using the Outlook client natively, including groupware tasks and e-mail composition, with full spell checker and address book access.
I found administering CommuniGate’s many features well-proffered through the Web-based interface, from which individual servers as well as entire cluster farms can be updated in unison with granular control. The interface, though, suffers from the same lack of maturity as the WebUser interface and could benefit from improved navigation and streamlined usability.
Modern-day necessities such as spam and anti-virus support are also available. I easily set up the inbuilt services for spam protection that performed well in trapping and refusing e-mail through basic rules-based filtering. And, for tougher spam support, CommuniGate can integrate MailShell as well as anti-virus plug-ins from third-party vendors McAfee and Sophos.
In all, my experience with Stalker’s CommuniGate Pro was favorable. It offers sturdy performance and easy integration without sacrificing features or functionality. For an entry-level e-mail server, it's a no-brainer for SMBs (small to midsize businesses) looking to capitalize on the efficiency of groupware.