WebEx Adds Web-based E-mail to On-Demand Apps

Small businesses sure seem to like Web-based e-mail, according to WebEx, which today announced that it is adding a hosted e-mail component to its WebEx WebOffice collaboration suite. WebEx points to research from the Radicati Group, citing that small businesses account for more than 64 percent of hosted e-mail users.

However, unlike mail services such as Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and Gmail, WebEx Mail is designed strictly for business use, according to Macario Namie, director of product marketing for WebEx. For example, e-mail comes from a custom domain and has no ads. Namie said that using public Web-based e-mail accounts can make businesses look unprofessional.

WebEx Mail will not be available as a standalone product and is designed to complement the WebEx WebOffice suite, which includes document management, group calendar, HR and CRM templates, instant messaging, task manager and Web meetings. Because it’s built specifically for WebEx WebOffice, WebEx Mail integrates seamlessly with the on-demand collaboration application suite, Namie said.

The goal of WebEx Mail is to combine the flexibility and cost savings of Web-based e-mail with the performance, reliability, security and control of business-class e-mail. For example, because WebEx Mail is an AJAX-based e-mail client, Namie said, it emulates the speed and functionality of a desktop application. For example, it includes features such as right-click menus, drag-and-drop features, keyboard hotkeys and fast page updates.

The new Web-based e-mail components also includes what WebEx describes as “Live Search” capabilities that are designed to provide real-time results as you type. You can also opt for the basic or advanced search features if you don’t want results returned in real-time.

To make access your WebEx Mail flexible regardless of where you are located, the service supports POP and IMAP standards. So, for example, you can use Microsoft Outlook or other client software to check or send e-mail from a desktop application or from a compatible mobile device. WebEx Mail provides SSL encryption for server connections to ensure the highest level of security, the company said.

WebEx Mail, according to WebEx, is designed to scale from five to 500 people. To make deploying and managing the service easier, administrators can use a single Web-based console to manage mailboxes, distribution lists and groups, configure shared folders, assign global spam settings and allow/block lists.

WebEx Mail also includes real-time virus and spam protection. Spam controls let administrators and users tune the ideal level of spam protection, according to the company. If you want to share e-mail messages with colleagues or with different departments or groups, you can use public mail folders to share messages. Access to the public mail folders is set through administrator-managed permissions.

A Nod (Sort of) to Microsoft
WebEx is quick to draw distinction between WebEx WebOffice and WebEx Mail and Microsoft Live Office and HotMail, although Namie said the introduction of Office Live validates the online application model. “It was a concession by Microsoft when it delivered on-demand to SMBs.” However, he added, that unlike Microsoft, delivering Web-based applications is core to the WebEx’ mission: “On-demand is 100 percent of our revenue. For Microsoft, you could argue, on-demand is zero percent of its revenue.” For Microsoft, WebEx argues, Office Live is a simply an opportunity to upsell.

“We’re not trying to use our WebOffice to sell small businesses keywords or enterprise servers,” said Rick Faulk, WebEx chief marketing officer, in a statement. “Small businesses deserve intelligently designed solutions tailored for their specific collaboration needs.”

Pricing WebEx Mail is $5.95 per mailbox, per month (discounts are available for companies that sign up for a high volume of accounts and a $3.95 per month fee will be available for a limited time, according to WebEx). The monthly fee buys you 1GB of storage. However, you can expand the storage to 2GB for an additional $24.95 per year.

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com’s Small Business Channel, EarthWeb’s Networking Channel and ServerWatch.

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