Exchange alternatives: Pros and cons

Testing shows Microsoft's Exchange still tops for features and management hooks.

With the release of Exchange 2007, Microsoft opened the door for some substantial competition. The upgrade costs, hardware requirements, and hassles of jumping to the latest version have many businesses asking, is Microsoft still the right answer? In this Clear Choice Test, we explore how Exchange alternatives stack up against Microsoft's offer, as well as each other.

For many enterprises, Exchange is synonymous with corporate e-mail.


Screen shots of front ends, back ends of Exchange alternatives

How we tested the Exchange alternatives

Archive of Network World tests


The one-two punch of Exchange server on the back end and Outlook e-mail client on the desktop has allowed Microsoft to pull down 65% of the enterprise messaging market. (Compare messaging products.)

However, with the release of Exchange 2007, Microsoft opened the door for some substantial competition. The upgrade costs, hardware requirements, and hassles of jumping to the latest version have many businesses asking: "Is Microsoft still the right answer?"

In this Clear Choice Test, we explore how Exchange alternatives stack up against Microsoft's offer, as well as each other.CommuniGate Systems), Kerio MailServer (Kerio Technologies), MDaemon Pro (Alt-N Technologies), MailSite Fusion (MailSite), Scalix Enterprise Edition (Scalix, a Xandros company), and Zimbra Collaboration Suite, Professional Edition (Zimbra, a Yahoo company).

Our testing focuses on products for midsized deployments of 1,000 mailboxes or less. We tested six Exchange alternatives: CommuniGate Pro (

We installed and tested each, focusing on client and mobility support, scalability up to a moderate number of users, ease of use, and support for compliance and legal discovery features.

While all were rock solid when it came to basic tasks such as sending and retrieving messages, there were key differences when it came to manageability and product integration, support for different clients, and system performance.

While there are places where our Exchange alternatives outdo Exchange -- such as in price/performance, Macintosh interoperability, and manageability for mid-sized deployments -- Exchange still beats the competition in many areas because it offers a range of features that aren't easy to find in the third-party market.

While it's difficult to point to one overall best product among the Exchange alternatives, there are clear strengths and differences based on features supported and product style.

Our top scorers, Kerio MailServer and Zimbra Collaboration Suite, offer a good combination of multi-platform interoperability, a good end-user experience and solid Outlook integration. While each has faults, these are good starting points for anyone looking for an alternative to Exchange. Other products in our test also have special areas of expertise, such as CommuniGate Pro's VoIP integration and high performance. This breadth of options bodes well for any system manager looking for a different path.

While MailSite Fusion and Scalix both had high points, both also had significant drawbacks for the midsized deployment. Scalix's lack of integrated management makes it more appropriate to very large deployments where a technical staff is available to handle the increased operational burden, and MailSite Fusion's lack of a MAPI connector knocked it out for any business wanting to keep the high-quality Outlook experience.

Snyder is a senior partner at Opus One, a consulting firm in Tucson, Ariz. He can be reached at Joel.Snyder@opus1.com.

NW Lab Alliance

Snyder is also a member of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to www.networkworld.com/alliance.

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