Until the late 90s, it seemed that Microsoft was a juggernaut in every field associated with information technology and, in some aspects, even the World Wide Web. However, slowly but surely, other companies have been steadily chipping away at the former reigning king, effectively finding and exploiting a number of chinks in its armor that surprises even the most jaded industry experts. While Apple has been actively targeting Microsoft Windows users for years in an attempt to lure them away, it’s the search engine goliath Google that has become a real threat to Microsoft. Not content to own a lion’s share of the search engine market, Google has been devouring fringe companies that offer products that are comparable to Microsoft’s and re-branding them as its own. The result is that many Microsoft product users that have grown weary of the giants notoriously buggy and confusing platforms are making the switch, which is becoming a danger to Microsoft’s bottom line.

One of the newest threats is the release of Google Apps. Google Apps is a comprehensive email, productivity and collaboration tool for businesses that is finding a foothold in a market that Microsoft previously had an iron grip on with it’s Exchange Server platform. While Exchange Server still possesses a majority of the market, Google’s release is quickly becoming a popular alternative and is gaining momentum because – for many business applications – it seems to work more intuitively and at a significant reduction in licensing costs.

Like many of Google’s offerings, Google Apps has a standard edition that is completely free for use for individuals and even businesses. The standard edition includes features such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Talk, Start Page, and Page Creator. Google touts a 99.9% uptime guarantee for email and over six gigabytes of storage. For the expanded service, Google charges $50 per user per year and even offers a free 30-day trial. The laundry list of offerings will appeal to even the most dedicated Exchange Server fan. In addition to all of the features already listed, Google Premier also offers resource scheduling and conference room, mobile access, no preset user account limit, an administrator control panel, message recovery and policy management, intuitive APIs that integrate with existing infrastuctures, dual delivery email routing controls, email migration tools, 3rd party applications and services, and 24/7 phone support.

Out of all of these features, it is the seemingly simple things that appeal to most Google Apps users; things such as intuitive collaborative calendaring that integrates seamlessly with the other functions such as Gmail. For service-based companies or any other business that requires constant, reliable contact Google’s offerings can be a breath of fresh air. Other features such as from-anywhere email access, company name-based email, and the extremely intuitive Gmail interface for all email also make Google Apps a popular option.

Even with Google’s apparent answer to everything, Microsoft is refusing to go quietly into the night. Like Google, Microsoft’s Exchange Server 2007 platform focuses heavily on reliable, instantaneous communications for businesses with integrated calendars and email. Unlike Google, Microsoft has the added benefit of having a strong foothold in (some would actually call it a ”grasp on”) the industry with applications already included into Windows, particularly Outlook.

Exchange Server 2007 focuses heavily on something that has been a thorn in Microsoft’s side for years: security. Because Microsoft is the most-used platform out there, it is also the one that is focused on the most by spammers, hackers, and tech-savvy identity thieves – all of which probably drool at the prospect of access into closed business communications applications and email. Microsoft answers the challenge of security issues quite well with heavily beefed-up communications security measures and encryption efforts with Exchange Server 2007 that, to date, have held up quite well to any well-publicized system breach attempts.

Exchange Server 2007 users have been pleasantly surprised at the level of sophistication that the new platform has incorporated. One of the most innovative end-user benefits is the single inbox access of all business collaboration and communication. Users can access all of the features of fax, email, and voice mail in their primary inbox, saving them time and their business the expense of maintaining multiple network systems. Furthermore, Microsoft’s experience in the industry has ensured that a plethora of devices work seamlessly with the platform, which means that they can be accessible from work, on the road, and even at home.

One important security feature that Microsoft has over Google is not even a feature at all. Many have questioned the integrity of a company like Google that has grown so rampantly, holds so much information, and does so while releasing almost no information in regards to their operational practices, and ultimate goals. So companies are rightly concerned hosting all of their email and collaboration – which will undoubtedly contain proprietary information – on a web-based application hosted by Google. In the end, who knows if Google is actually reading your email or not? Conversely, since Exchange Server 2007 is hosted on the company’s own hardware, while it may be a resource hog, your private files are under your control at all times.

Microsoft or Google? Both of their networking and collaboration solutions have their pros and cons. While many may get a cozy and comfortable feeling knowing what to expect from Microsoft Exchange Server, the more daring may opt for Google Apps. In the end, it will all most likely come down to which system saves your company the most money while giving the least amount of headaches.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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