When Written: Sep 2008
VERDICT: Well priced, versatile web-based personal information management tool with full collaboration features.
PRICE: £6.99 / user /month 1- 4 users
£ 4.99 / user / month 5-24 users
£3.99 / user / month 25+ users
1&1 Internet Limited
10-14 Bath Road
Telephone: 0871 641 21 21*
Fax: 08450 762205
This is a review of a web based on-line email and collaboration system, now before you turn the page thinking as I did, ‘oh great just what we need, another web based collaboration tool’ please stop for a minute and read on as this one is well priced and has some neat features. MailXchange is an offering from the hosting company 1&1. It is based on the Open Source OX collaboration system which you can download and install it on your own server, but is offered by 1&1 as a fully hosted solution to anyone even if they do not host with them.
Being a hosted solution means users do not have to worry about server maintenance or hosting costs. You can setup and start creating user accounts in a matter of minutes as it is simple to activate and with a company the size of 1&1 handling the hosting and bandwidth requirements you have little to worry about in that department. With any company offering to host and store your company data, or offering a service that will be critical to your business, then it is very important to read their Terms and Conditions and ask for their Service Level agreements so you know exactly where you stand should things start to go wrong. That aside, using a company the size of 1&1 should give you a reliable service so you can sleep easy at night.
With MailXchange email handling is done through a now compulsory spam filter which you can black and white list email accounts as well as an ‘out of office’ facility. However, the idea of MailXchange is not to handle just email but also contact lists, tasks, calendars in a web based front-end. But it also goes further than that by allowing selected users to share documents as well as calendars and tasks so collaboration on projects is possible. There is an administration area where you can set up users and groups as well as resources for sharing. Resources can be such things as a meeting room or a projector which need to be allocated to a meeting or a project. Documents for sharing are stored in an area called ‘infostore’ this contains a versioning system so that previous versions of a file can be seen and you can be sure that your colleagues are working on the correct copy.
Users of Microsoft’s Exchange have, for a number of years, had the experience of Outlook Web Access, possibly the first mainstream application of Ajax. 1&1’s MailXchange offers similar functionality but also offers the ability to link items. With this functionality you could for example, link an email to a task as well as to a document, this helps to create groups of information into a job or project. Other permitted users can view and add to these projects to form the basics of a team collaboration system.
The problem with many of these web based front ends is that they are often dependant on the peculiarities of particular browsers. This one, like most, works best with Microsoft’s IE7 and although 1&1 state that it is also recommended to work with Firefox, I found problems with screen redrawing if the browser window was resized in Firefox 2 on Windows. However the recently released Google Chrome browse seemed to work well with it. The other problem with using web based front ends for such collaboration work is one that is common across all such products, what happens when you are off-line? Say you are in the train and away from any form of reliable internet connection and want to study an email about a project? Sorry but you can’t. There are new ways of the latest generation of browsers having their own private data store and we may see this being addressed in future products, but for now it is a problem with any on-line solution not just 1&1’s.
One area where MailXchange is different from many of its competitors is that the synchronization is via a ‘push’ technology and not the more traditional and easier to code ‘pull’ technology. By using ‘push’ technology means that the web page should always display the current data without the user having to refresh the browser window, this also extends to the synchronisation with Windows Mobile smart phones. This is achieved by installing a small app on the phone called ‘1&1 Sync’. This ability to sync also extends to Outlook with the 1&1 Outlook connector; this can be handy by creating a local copy of the information on your desktop.
Although there are many competitive products and services out there, 1&1 have pitched the price for this at a very low £6.99 per user per month, with discounts for multiple users. At this price, some other offerings may be a little slicker in their user interface, this is such good value. If your company is looking for such a collaboration solution but do not want the hassle of installing and maintaining your own server, then a hosted solution is a great choice to say nothing of the saving in hosting costs. 1&1 MailXchange offers not only very good value for money but is also a versatile personal information and collaboration system particularly suited to the small and medium sized business.
Ease of use 5
Article by: Mark Newton
Published in: Mark Newton