Startup debuts free, ad-supported MS Exchange replacement

Unison targets small to midsize firms with unified communication offering

Unison Technologies is offering its Linux-based unified communications software without charge to small and mid-size companies willing to share their employees' eyeballs and attention spans.

Unison's client-server software package includes Internet telephony, e-mail, instant messaging and shared contact and calendar features, thus mimicking most of the key features of Microsoft Exchange, noted Rurik Bradbury, chief marketing officer of Unison. Bradbury noted the Unison software also offers voice telephony capabilities similar to those in Microsoft's Office Communication Server.

According to a Unison-sponsored study by Ferris Research, which specializes in messaging and content control technologies, a 50-person company running Microsoft Exchange and OCS in its data centers would pay about US$180 per user per month. That compares to zero cost for Unison's comparable software, which runs on Red Hat or Ubuntu Linux servers and installs as a matching Outlook-like client on Windows desktop or notebook PCs.

Advertisements will appear when the Unison client starts up, as well as in page-wide banner ads, said Bradbury. The advertising will tout only B2B goods and services and "not be too intrusive, since our app is the kind people keep open several hours a day, and we know people have to work," he added.

Customers can get an ad-free version of Unison for US$50 per user per year. A hosted version will be available next year, Bradbury said.

"It's a pretty nice unified communications product," said Michael Osterman, an analyst at Osterman Research. "I'm quite impressed."

Unison has 4,000 companies testing its software, said Bradbury, who acknowledged that the Web-hosted Exchange offering is more price competitive. The hosted Microsoft offering typically runs about $10 per user per month, and has enjoyed success in small and mid-size firms. Third party firms have long hosted Exchange for customers, and Microsoft last month unveiled its own hosted version.

Osterman, however, thinks that Unison software will prove more attractive than the hosted Exchange offering to companies with between 50-250 employees, those that have already dumped their PBX boxes for unified communications, and those in customer-centric industries such as law and engineering.

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Tags unified communicationsMessagingUnison

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