BlueTie, launched in 1999, was one of the first hosted e-mail and collaboration services – the company says the very first. It was designed for small businesses as a low-cost alternative to Microsoft’s server-based Exchange e-mail and personal information management product.
BlueTie says it has 230,000 small business customers today and manages over four million e-mail boxes.
It’s an e-mail solution first and foremost, like Exchange, but also includes instant messaging (IM). And it lets users manage contacts, calendars and task lists online as well.
BlueTie offers e-mail and collaboration capabilities designed as a low-cost alternative to Microsoft Exchange.
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All data, including e-mail, is stored on BlueTie’s secure servers so you can access it from any Internet-connected computer and some handhelds by keying in your user name and password.
BlueTie also offers some integration with Microsoft Office Outlook, including automatic synchronization between Outlook and BlueTie databases using BlueTie’s DirectConnect application. So it’s also possible to store BlueTie data locally.
Small companies can centrally manage calendars for a number of employees. A contact center agent or receptionist with proper authorization could book appointments for multiple field sales people, for example, and the meetings would appear automatically in the individual’s calendar view.
They can also centrally manage contact lists and maintain a Web-accessible store of shared documents and other files.
The BlueTie browser interface somewhat resembles Outlook. A button bar across the top shows links for launching the principal functions – daily summary, e-mail, contacts, calendar, tasks, etc.. The main work area, as in Outlook, displays whichever function you choose.
Along the left side are two smaller panels. One displays contacts – filtered if desired so that only personal, enterprise or shared contacts are shown, or only contacts currently online in BlueTie.
The other panel shows icon links for creating new e-mails, events, contacts and tasks. Clicking one launches a pop-up window with a fillable form. To book a meeting with members of your team or company, for example, you click New Event, type in a title, click Contacts to display the contacts list in the New Event dialog and click on names to invite to the meeting.
Then you can select a date using pop-up calendars, or click First Available, which analyzes the participants’ calendars and automatically books the meeting into the first time slot in which all are available.
BlueTie has begun to integrate additional online services from partners, including Web-based fax, e-mail marketing and travel booking through Orbitz. The integration with Orbitz is quite elegant.
You can choose departure point and destination and see flight options automatically overlaid on your BlueTie calendar, for example. And BlueTie recognizes e-mailed Orbitz e-tickets, automatically extracts the itinerary information and inserts it in your calendar.
The free version of BlueTie provides 5GB of online storage and support for as many as 20 people. The Pro version costs $5 per person per month and adds advanced features, including IM, Outlook integration and live technical support.