Software.com tally speaks volumes

Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange may get the headlines, but lesser-known Software.com claims its total of 37 million mailbox licences tops them both.

Yes, the comparison is apples to oranges because Lotus and Microsoft sell primarily to large companies, while Software.com pitches its InterMail messaging servers to service providers. However, that's an enormous number of server access licences by any measure. And, as the accompanying graphic indicates, Software.com has clearly muscled its way into the upper echelons of messaging vendors.

"It's wrong to compare Hotmail to Exchange or Software.com's InterMail to Lotus Notes; however, a mailbox is a mailbox," says Eric Arnum, editor of the Electronic Mail and Messaging Systems newsletter. "Software.com has 37 million licences out there and [at last count] 28 million of them are installed, so this is a significant vendor."

Software.com sells InterMail servers and the client licences to access them to the likes of AT&T Worldnet, GTE.net and Bellsouth.net, which in turn offer consumers and companies a range of hosted Web mail and business-class e-mail services, including integration with voice mail, fax and pagers. The company does not sell client software, so customers access the servers using Web-based e-mail clients or Internet standard-based clients.

"We like the product, and we get reasonably good support," says Jon Crumrine, product manager for application services at Intermedia Bus-iness Internet, a network services provider in Beltsville, Maryland. "It's doing well principally because it is the leader in its market, and there's not a lot of competition."

According to Crumrine, Software.com may need to guard against growing pains, however.

"I wish it was a little bit more responsive in that information requests sometimes take a little bit of time, too," he says.

Software.com was founded in 1993 and merged with Accordance Corp in 1996, with dual headquarters having been maintained since in California and Massachusetts.

"The No. 1 reason for our growth is that service providers are moving off Unix sendmail, the freeware/shareware technology that most of them used to get started," says Valdur Koha, company president. "They are basically looking for a robust, commercial-strength, carrier-scale messaging product."

The ability to scale to tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of users has always been Software.com's calling card. That card will continue to open doors as more ISPs, telcos and portal sites offer ever more sophisticated and voluminous e-mail services, Koha says.

"We're talking to customers who are not only thinking about, but planning for, tens of millions of users," Koha says.

Accelerated demand for Web and ISP mail services has accounted for much of the company's recent success, Koha says. However, he also sees 1999 being the year that outsourced corporate e-mail finally delivers on its much-hyped promises, which will mean even more business for Software.com.

"Since last year, many if not all of our [service provider] customers have committed to a significant number of mailbox licences on the business side," Koha says. This means they have corporate clients waiting in the wings.

In addition to the service provider do-it-yourselfers that build their own messaging systems based on sendmail, Software.com faces competition primarily from Sun and Netscape.

"All three of the companies seem to be doing very well in that market, but Software.com is doing best," Arnum says.

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