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Sun brews Java email plan

The company enters the groupware arena with a Java-enabled, open-client email server in an effort to do battle with MS and Lotus.

    Sun Microsystems (SUNW) will enter the groupware arena next week with a Java-enabled, open-client email server, determined to prove that there is enough room on the groupware court for another player along with market leaders Microsoft and Lotus Development.

    The Sun Internet Mail Server (SIMS) 3.1 Global Business Edition will support IMAP4-, LDAP-, and POP3-based clients, and also will host a new Java Management API (JMAP)-based administration package and a MIME/ESMTP (extended simple mail transfer protocol) Internet message transfer agent that will have delivery notification, authentication services, and spam-blocking capabilities.

    Although Sun sees the product as part of its effort to do battle with Microsoft's Exchange and Lotus's Notes/Domino, analysts question whether SIMS 3.1 has a chance.

    "I think they're stuck in third place," said Eric Brown, an analyst with Forrester Research. "It's hard to get excited about this because the market seems so mature to me."

    He said in order for Sun to make a difference in the groupware world it will have to be as aggressive in the small- and medium-sized business markets as it is in the big-business market. "But Sun doesn't have a product that can fit into the middle market because it doesn't run on [Windows] NT. They're running it on Solaris."

    But Sun executives believe there is plenty of room for a third player in the groupware market.

    Roger Nolan, Sun's groupware market manager, said he fundamentally disagrees that the market is too mature for his product. "This is a $1.7 billion market, with about a 30 percent growth rate a year. Sure Lotus and Microsoft dominate a large part of the market, but there is still growth out there."

    Sun is trying to take advantage of the explosion of the Internet in the business world to propel its product beyond its competition, Nolan said. "There is faster growth in the market because of the Internet," he said. "There has been a fundamental shift in this market. The Internet changes everything."

    Nolan said SIMS 3.1 is addressing the needs businesses to not only connect with each other, but also with the rest of the world. "It's why Internet standards are at the core of the product."

    Sun will initially target the Fortune 500-size enterprise for SIMS 3.1, Nolan added.

    Brown thinks Sun may have a good chance in battling with Netscape SuiteSpot, rather than the more entrenched Microsoft and Lotus. "The two have similar capabilities. I don't see people moving from Microsoft and Lotus to Sun's mail server," he said.

    The newest Sun mail server has interoperability with Netscape Communicator, Microsoft Outlook Express, and Qualcomm Eudora Pro.

    The release is the follow-up to the company's Solstice Internet Mail Server 2.0, according to the company.

    A former user of Solstice and now a beta user of SIMS 3.1, Greg Thomas said SIMS has made his job a lot easier. As chief technology officer for Northwest Regional Education Service District (NWRESD), he is responsible for building and running an email system for all the school staff and student body in his district.

    "We need something that will be able to organize all of the accounts. Under 3.1, we have LDAP [lightweight directory access protocol]. That is critical for us," he said. Students, who move from classroom to classroom, need to check their accounts as they go. With SIMS 3.1 IMAP4 support, Thomas said students can look at their accounts regardless of what terminals they use. "They're like a mobile workforce," he said.

    SIMS 3.1 is expected to be priced at $1,495 for the departmental and $3,495 for the enterprise version. Mail connectivity services bidirectional directory synchronization to Lotus, Microsoft, and IBM mail packages will come at the end of the year, starting at $5,000.