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Is Outlook finally looking over its shoulder?

I am (obviously) very interested in the email space and have been tracking two parallel announcements that make me believe that Microsoft might be worried about the future of Outlook as the dominant mail client for enterprise use. First, a recent article on Microsoft’s private testing of Outlook Live as a way to bring a new set of users to its service and the increased progress that the Mozilla Calendar project leads me to believe that competition for the corporate and home “power user” is about to get more intense.

If you have ever used Microsoft Outlook in an Exchange configuration, the product gets the job done. There is good, tight integration of mail, calendar, tasks, and other features. However, Exchange is a fairly expensive product to deploy on a per-seat basis, requires some level of competent IT support to administer, and frankly is overkill for organizations beyond a certain scale.

While there are definitely other mail clients out there that can be used in an enterprise setting, I have trouble thinking of a good package to recommend. If Mozilla can get the integration right, there should be an opportunity to target small-to-medium organizations who need this functionality but don’t necessarily want to spring for Exchange. I believe that email has reached the “other 80/20” point that happens with maturing software products — 80% of your users make use of about 20% of the features. Developing a feature-competitive offering should be an attainable goal.

Also, it is interesting to note that Microsoft has targeted Hotmail and MSN premium users with its offering. I can only assume that they will soon expand to Yahoo! and AOL diehards who need a more powerful solution.

It could be awhile before the Mozilla offering becomes a meaningful competitor to Exchange in larger deployments (for example, I have no idea who will provide support and maintenance for the Mozilla offering should a customer desire such things), but there is certainly an opportunity to raise the bar for what your power home user of SME user has.

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