E-Mail Web Clients Face Off for Users

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Editor's note: This is a corrected version of an article that appeared in the Nov. 6 issue of Computerworld. The amount of disk space needed to install iNotes has been corrected to 40MB.

In the battle for best e-mail and groupware platform, every feature counts. So it's no surprise that both Microsoft Corp. and Lotus Development Corp. are trumpeting the features of new Web-accessible user interfaces for their respective Exchange 2000 and Domino e-mail servers.

Microsoft's enhanced Outlook Web Access (OWA) is part of the recently shipped Exchange 2000 Server. Cambridge, Mass.-based Lotus' iNotes Web Access for Domino 5.5 is in beta now for first-quarter release.

Both Outlook Web Access and iNotes Web Access present Web clients using newer versions of Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer with a user interface for standard Domino and Exchange services such as
e-mail, scheduling, contacts and task lists. Both export a user interface to thin clients using Web-based technologies such as XML and Dynamic HTML.

But there are fundamental differences between the products. The biggest is off-line access: iNotes has it, OWA doesn't. But OWA claims to offer more extensive rich text editing and drag-and-drop features. And while some iNotes features require extra client code, OWA requires only a browser that's HTML 3.2-compliant or higher.

Users will sort through these and less significant differences as they make buying decisions.

In the Outlook Corner

The newest version of OWA provides access to e-mail, scheduling, contacts and any collaborative documents in the Exchange server's Web Storage System folders.

"We've tried to streamline OWA to look more like Outlook 2000," said Mark Adcock, product manager at Microsoft.

OWA supports any HTML 3.2 or higher browser, and since Exchange supports direct HTTP access to the information store, no additional client software is required, Adcock said. OWA leverages Internet Explorer 5.0's ability to support message
drag-and-drop and rich text editing. Of course, he said, "if you're using Navigator, you just don't get drag-and-drop."

For its part, Lotus claims the multivendor high ground, saying it left out message
drag-and-drop capability to provide parity for all browser users. (It does, however, offer drag-and-drop for file attachments.)

"There are some basic functions that we don't have in OWA," Adcock acknowledges. One is e-mail rules capabilities, which iNotes supports. Another is
off-line access.

"We do not carry off-line functionality [in OWA] like we do in Outlook 2000," Adcock said. But he added that Lotus' off-line ability requires "an additional install of code." Customers "were pretty clear that they wanted nothing to be downloaded onto that [client] machine," he said.

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