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Oracle inks deals for e-mail system

The company forges new partnerships as it builds support for the new e-mail server it's touting as an alternative for those facing upgrades to Microsoft's Exchange Server 2000.

Oracle has forged a handful of new technology partnerships with the aim of building support for its new e-mail server software.

The Redwood Shores, Calif., company said Tuesday that it has inked alliances with Symantec, Scansoft, Brightmail, Legato Systems, Mailshell and others to make their file and e-mail management systems compatible with the Oracle Collaboration Suite.

The Oracle Collaboration Suite is a set of applications for managing data generated by e-mail, electronic files, calendars, voice mail and search systems. The introduction of the product, just five months ago, was Oracle's entrée into the so-called collaboration software area, a billion-dollar market dominated by IBM's Lotus products and Microsoft's Exchange e-mail server software.

As for the partnerships, Oracle said it expects them to enhance the file and storage management, content security, virus protection and antispam capabilities of Oracle Collaboration Suite.

Oracle is readying a new release of the software, due in June, and has promoted it as an alternative for companies that use Microsoft Exchange Server 2000 and are facing the prospect of ponying up for upgrades as Microsoft phases out support for the previous release of the Exchange Server, version 5.5.

Analysts viewed the raft of new partnerships as a sign of Oracle's commitment to developing and marketing the new product. But some said Oracle has yet to make substantial in-roads in the market.

"It's very early days yet," said David Ferris at Ferris Research, a market research company specializing in e-mail and other electronic communication. "Oracle is investing in marketing and getting some initial customers, but it's hard to tell the take-up at this point."

Awareness of the product is increasing, however, among corporate information technology managers, said Giga Information analyst Daniel Rasmus. Rasmus said he is fielding an increasing number of questions from his clients about the merits of the Oracle product versus competing software from IBM and Microsoft.

However, Rasmus foresees relatively few companies switching from IBM and Microsoft products to Oracle Collaboration Suite in the short term, because at the moment companies are making fewer investments in new information technology systems. The greater opportunity for Oracle, he said, is two or three years out, when a new generation of e-mail and other electronic communication systems will be introduced.

Future products will be more entwined with other business systems, such as call center applications, Rasmus said. For instance, a call center worker looking up a customer history file online would be able to launch an instant-message conversation with another employee who had previously interacted with the customer, simply by clicking on the employee's name. If Oracle takes the lead in developing such changes, it could lure significant business, he said.

"That's the point (where) the big opportunity happens," Rasmus said.