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Stalker aims to creep up on Exchange

The company's new messaging and collaboration software is designed to replace Microsoft's package while still offering access to the Outlook e-mail program.

    Stalker Software plans to unveil messaging and collaboration software next week in an attempt to lure away some users of Microsoft's rival Exchange Server package.

    The Mill Valley, Calif.-based company said that the new CommuniGate Pro 4.1 with its Groupware suite is designed to replace Exchange on systems while still offering an interface for Microsoft's Outlook e-mail program.

    The upgraded software also promises to increase the ability of mobile workers to retrieve messages, plan meetings and collaborate with colleagues. CommuniGate Pro 4.1 extends the Outlook interface to wireless devices and includes updated features such as better calendaring abilities when a worker is logging into the system via the Web.

    "As the number of remote users in the work force continues to grow, organizations must provide them with secure access to e-mail, contacts and calendars while away from the office," Stalker CEO Vladimir Butenko said in a statement.

    The company estimates its software costs about half as much as Exchange Server to install and maintain. The CommuniGate Pro package can run on Linux, Unix and a range of operating systems in addition to Windows, whereas Exchange requires Microsoft's server operating system.

    The new version of Exchange, which handles e-mail, calendars and contact lists, is scheduled to be released in mid-2003. It is Microsoft's first major update to the product since releasing Exchange 2000 nearly three years ago. In the e-mail and messaging market, Microsoft ranks first in the number of users. Major rivals include Novell, IBM and newcomer Oracle. In addition, a number of smaller companies are hoping to fill specific niches.

    Stalker hasn't received a great deal of buzz, but analysts and trade publications have praised the company for creating high-performance, low-cost software that's easy to administer. Nevertheless, Tim Sloan, director of Internet infrastructure research at Aberdeen, said Stalker isn't likely to convert too many companies that currently use Exchange, because most information technology buyers within corporations aren't really evaluating different messaging servers. Instead, they stay with Exchange because it fits into their existing Microsoft systems and doesn't require a separate software license.

    "The status quo runs against Stalker," Sloan said.

    But because almost every company uses messaging software, there is an opportunity for niche players. Sloan said Stalker's best prospects are among Linux users, who already make up the company's largest customer base. Linux users account for about 45 percent of the company's sales to small and medium-size businesses. Sloan said companies that decide to switch to Linux are already looking for lower-cost products and are more interested in keeping track of technical details, making them more likely to adopt CommuniGate Pro.

    "Stalker has very nice software that allows companies to embrace Linux and still offer Outlook interface support," Sloan said.