Microsoft Updates Online Collaboration Suite

If you want the same messaging and collaboration capabilities as large businesses, but you don’t want to invest in costly services and drawn-out deployments, hosted services can be the answer. And if you’re comfortable with Microsoft applications, you don’t have to give that up either.

In a move designed to equip its partners with improved and easier-to-deploy hosted services, Microsoft today announced the availability of version 3.5 of the Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration. Version 3.0 of suite, which offers online versions of Exchange Server 2003, Live Communication Server 2005 and SharePoint Services, was launched in January.

It’s designed to let service providers offer small and midsize businesses e-mail services, mobile device access, collaboration and online presence information on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration version 3.5 is aimed at companies with between 10 and 250 users and is delivered to you through companies ranging from large telecommunications firms to small local service providers.

In version 3.5, Microsoft has added new mobile synchronization capabilities and security enhancements, according to Morgan Cole, senior product manager at Microsoft. That is, in addition to providing tools for desktop computers, the new release emphasizes mobile devices such as Windows Mobile-based smartphones and PDAs running Windows Mobile 5.0.

A direct-push feature, Cole said, lets small businesses synchronize those Windows Mobile 5.0-enabled devices with e-mail, calendars and tasks notifications as soon as the new data hits the server. With 3.5, he said, Microsoft has also added two new mobile security features: Administrators can wipe data from devices that have been lost or stolen and an automated rule component enforces security measures such as requiring a login and password.

While hosted Exchange offerings have existed for years, it may be the prevalence of mobile devices that is making small businesses take notice. “There has been awareness of the hosted model,” said Stephan Schirrecker, director, hosting at Microsoft, but as more workers need access to e-mail and collaboration applications from mobile devices, businesses are thinking, “this is getting too complex.”

In addition to meeting mobile needs, using a hosted service such as Microsoft Solution for Hosted Messaging and Collaboration version 3.5 allows a small business to benefit from enterprise-class e-mail services such as managing spam, virus prevention, archiving and compliance.

And that approach may sit well with small businesses. According to a recent survey of 347 SMBs (i.e., businesses with between one and 500 employees) conducted by the Radicati Group, the top three messaging concerns are all security-related: spyware, spam and viruses. The survey also reports that SMBs prefer an all-in-one approach to dealing with security.

The Radicati survey also reports that 72 percent of SMBs don’t have an e-mail archiving solution in place and 89 percent don’t use a product to address compliance issues.

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

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