E-mail lends itself well to hosted services providing services to users across the Internet. All the early free e-mail services, like Yahoo and Hotmail used the hosted model.
What once was is once again, as hundreds of hosted e-mail services offer full Microsoft Exchange systems, or comparable systems that provide the same collaboration tools but charge less because they don't have to pay the license fees to Microsoft. Some of these you've heard of, some you haven't.
One you have certainly heard of is Lotus Notes, gobbled by IBM years ago but flourishing in spite of that. Notes is the second most popular e-mail platform, lagging way behind Microsoft Exchange. But Notes fans say comparing apples to a complete fruit stand, since Notes does so much more with message threading, knowledge management, and communication workflow than Exchange.
â€œNotes In The Cloudâ€ describes how Notes will move to a hosted platform. IBM seems determined to undermine Microsoft by focusing on Linux in many divisions and pushing toward the cloud. After all, browser-based applications hosted by IBM don't need Microsoft Windows of any kind to access, since they work quite well in browsers running on Linux and Macintosh systems. Perhaps IBM is finally trying to dish some payback for Microsoft pulling the rug out from under OS/2.
A name you may not have heard of Zimbra, but the Exchange equivalent system was starting to make headway against Exchange, especially in smaller companies, before being gobbled by Yahoo a while back. Now they've moved to Yahoo's enormous hosted platform and focused on the education market. All the fun details are in â€œYahoo's Zimbra Reaches for the Cloud.â€
It's becoming a hosted world, as I talked about in â€œAGATT â€“ All Google All The Time.â€ Hosted services make great sense for smaller businesses. Let the experts handle the security patches for you, and let them amortize the cost of their hardware and software over thousands of customers, rather than you amortizing hardware and software over a few dozen employees. Anything you can do, especially today, to save hassle and save money should be examined carefully.