Regarded as the de-facto standard for business email and calendaring, Microsoft Outlook can be found on millions of computers across the world. Tightly integrated with the other Microsoft Office tools Word and Excel, Outlook is a natural choice for email and contact management.
As well-used as Outlook may be, many users are less than happy with the way it works. And many finance directors are less than happy with the cost of licensing the software. Every single person in your business who uses Microsoft Outlook requires a license legally entitling them to utilise the software. An off-the-shelf copy of Microsoft Office Home and Business costs £162 and is licensed for use on a single computer. That’s £162 for every computer in your business.
What are the other options?
Several development communities have been working hard in recent years to create more cost-effective alternatives to Microsoft Outlook, and many of these projects are now at a point where they are stable and mature enough to use in business. Below are four credible alternatives to Microsoft Outlook and what to expect from them.
Platforms supported: Windows, Mac & Linux
Named after a Talking Heads song, this oddly titled package has been under constant development for years, finally gaining a significant level of recognition after being bought by Yahoo! in 2007. Now owned by virtual computing giants VMWare, Zimbra Desktop is very popular with open source users and business looking to slash their licensing costs without sacrificing the capabilities they have come to expect of an email client.
Zimbra has gained a reputation for working with most major email services such as Microsoft Exchange and its own Zimbra Collaboration Server. POP3 and IMAP support mean that you should be able to connect to just about any email service. For businesses using Google Apps, Zimbra Desktop syncs not only email, but also calendar, contacts and tasks.
In terms of ongoing support, Zimbra Desktop has a thriving forum where users help each other resolve issues. However when faced with a critical issue which is holding your business back, such an approach to support may not be the ideal solution. Zimbra have created a licensing system designed to provide a full technical support service with prices starting at $625 per year for the first 25 users (around £385 – less than 3 copies of Microsoft Office).
Finally if your business is moving into the field of social media marketing, free plugins allow you to connect Zimbra Desktop to all of your social channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) to provide another method of contact. Zimbra has a thriving ecosystem of “Zimlets” – little add-on apps that extend the functionality of the application allowing it to do much more than “just” email.
Are there any downsides to Zimbra? Besides taking a few days for your staff to become acquainted to the Zimbra Desktop layout, there isn’t really anything negative to say about the product.
More info: https://www.zimbra.com/products/desktop.html
Platforms supported: Windows only
Price: Free/Home: $0 (personal use only); Pro: $49.95 (£30) /user /year (commercial use)
If your business runs a full Windows network but wants a lightweight alternative to Outlook, eM Client may be of some interest. Using IMAP or POP3, eM Client will connect to your existing email service (such as Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail) and provide an Outlook-like experience, syncing messages, Calendar events and Contacts – again good for use with Gmail and Google Apps. There is also support for embedding Facebook into the eM Client display and Skype calling, allowing you to dial contacts directly from the address book.
There is one major caveat when considering eM Client however – the software requires a “Pro” license if it is to be used in a business. Licenses start at $50 (£30) each, although there is a reduction for each further license purchased. On the plus side however is the inclusion of support for unlimited email accounts (the standard license will only allow use of two email accounts) and “VIP support” which promises speedy remote assistance from specialist engineers.
More info: http://www.emclient.com
Platforms supported: Windows, Mac, Linux
Another open source stalwart, Thunderbird was created by the same team that gave the world the Firefox web browser. Compatible with all POP3 and IMAP mail services, your mail provider is almost certain to be supported.
Unlike Zimbra and eM Client, Thunderbird looks and behaves much more like a web browser than an Outlook-replacement, despite the fact that many of the functions remain the same. A vast collection of add-ons extend Thunderbird’s functionality by adding social media plugins, spam filtering and more. There is however severely limited native support for Google Apps, meaning that your calendar, tasks and contacts will not sync. Third party add-ons exist, but changes to Google’s service may cause these applications to stop working correctly in future.
Despite the maturity of the product, Thunderbird does not offer any additional support plans, relying instead on a forum-based system for users to request and provide assistance. The community members are usually fairly prompt in responding to appeals for help, but your business needs to carefully consider whether this level of support is sufficient.
Platforms supported: Windows, Mac, Linux, Mobile
Built directly into the Opera web browser is a little known mail client which according to the developers turns your “web browser into a complete communication tool”. Supporting POP, IMAP, SMTP and NNTP, Opera Mail provides basic email connectivity to almost any service.
Designed as a simple mail interface, Opera Mail does away with many of the additional functions you would expect from an Outlook alternative focusing instead on doing mail send and receipt well. Intelligent mail labeling and indexing makes finding a particular message very quick and easy.
However there is no calendar or task support, and no interface for connecting to external services such as Google Apps. The fact that you already have your browser open when using Opera Mail may go some way to mitigating the annoyance, but an integrated solution would be better for Google Apps users.
Support is again limited to forum-based advice from other users and moderators and there are no options for purchasing an add-on service. In terms of being a direct replacement for Outlook, Opera Mail probably only suits if you only intend to send email.
More info: http://www.opera.com/mail
Making your mind up
Ultimately your business must decide what they want from their email client before migrating away from Microsoft Outlook. Each of the options discussed are fine for sending and receiving email, but the additional functionality included varies widely between applications.
Opera Mail does email incredibly well but the lack of calendaring, shared contacts or tasks may rule it out as an option. Thunderbird comes with a great reputation and a huge collection of add-ons, but the incompatibility with Google Apps may be a deal breaker if that is what your business runs on. eM Client ticks almost all the boxes when it comes to calendaring, contacts task and email, but requires the purchase of a $50 commercial license per user. Zimbra does it all, but possibly more than most businesses need.
How do you choose? You could always give Those Computer People a call and have us help you identify what you need from your Outlook alternative and let us track the correct application down. We can even plan and implement a migration for all your staff and then train them to make sure everyone knows how everything works and be productive immediately.