Mac users over the age of 30 know that we once had very few options when buying software. This is no longer the case. Today, we have so many options it’s often difficult to quickly decide what's best. We’ve struggled with this ourselves, especially when recommending collaboration software. Everyone has different ideas of what it means to collaborate. For some, email is sufficient, while others prefer an entire project management suite.
To help ease the decision making process, we've created a Group Software Matrix along with brief summaries of recommended software (listed below). We understand there are more options available than we've listed. However, the solutions below are ones that we recommend and support (some we even use) and this introduction can serve as the impetus for a more in-depth discussion regarding what solution might work best for your office.
If you feel we're missing a key application (and you feel strongly enough to provide a valid argument for inclusion) then please share your thoughts with us and we will consider updating our list. Feedback is critical to keeping this document alive and up-to-date. Let us know what you’re using, what you like and don’t like, and what you see missing!
Very few people will disagree that email is as critical today as electricity. When it goes down, everyone takes notice. Like many small businesses we once hosted email in-house. However, today most small business are better served outsourcing their email hosting (some say you can even outsource your email responses!)
When compared to the price of outsourcing, it’s nearly impossible to make a business case to build and maintain the resources required to keep email humming 24-hours a day. Below are four email hosting solutions we recommend and support. All of these solutions are available in The Cloud. The Cloud simply means that email is hosted offsite and available to you from anywhere you have Internet access.
Microsoft Exchange is the corporate standard. If you have a mixed environment of Mac and Windows users, want to seamlessly send and receive meeting invitations with your corporate clients, and share a centralized company directory (not a shared company address book that includes clients and vendors), then Exchange is the way to do it. Exchange lets you use desktop software or webmail if you’re away from your computer. You can also stay in sync with a Blackberry or an iPhone. In addition, with the latest release of Microsoft Outlook for Mac 2011, Mac users are closer to having functional parity with Windows users.
Kerio Connect is a direct competitor of (and replacement for) Microsoft Exchange. The significant difference is that Kerio is much more Mac friendly than Exchange (UPDATE: with Exchange 2010 server and Outlook 2011 client, this "benefit" has all but disappeared). Furthermore, it’s a bit cheaper than Exchange (although beware: many hosting prices do not include spam filtering). One downside that we see is if you’re coming from an Exchange environment, then some things may not work like you're used to.
Rackspace provides a great email hosting solution that continues to grow in features. You can connect via IMAP or webmail, and Rackspace is the only solution we know of that allows customers to combine low cost IMAP accounts with more expensive Exchange accounts, all on the same domain. Full disclosure: we use Rackspace for our email hosting and we are a Rackspace reseller. The shared calendar and company directory features make this a very affordable alternative to Exchange.
Google Apps is an option growing in popularity. Our only complaint with Google Apps is some things just don’t work as seamlessly with OS X as we would like. Address Book doesn’t sync Contacts reliably, there is no push email and Google’s implementation of IMAP is a bit strange. In addition, offline access is limited.
Capsule CRM is an online contact and project management suite that integrates with many best-of-breed online solutions. At this time, Capsule CRM already integrates with Zendesk, Freshbooks, Google Apps, and social networking sites. Though we have not tested this solution yet, it looks quite promising!
As much as we love hosted solutions, there remains times when we need an application to run locally. We have only one application worthy of mention in this category and that application is Daylite.
Daylite is not an email client, but it does store copies of email messages linked to appropriate contacts and organizations using the Daylite Mail Integration (DMI) plugin for Apple Mail (and only Apple Mail). Daylite runs only on Macs and provides sales pipeline as well as project and task management features (and more). It also syncs with Address Book and iCal. Daylite Touch for iPhone and iPad is a great addition to a very feature-rich application. Something that should not be overlooked when moving to Daylite is the learning curve. This is a very deep application and training is strongly recommended. Despite a few quirks (all applications have them) Daylite really is a great tool. Contact us if your users are Mac-based and you’re interested in running this application.
BusySync lets you share iCal calendars without the need for a server and it syncs with Google Calendar. They also have a solution called BusyCal that is described as iCal Pro. It’s simple to setup and maintain, but it’s recommended only for small workgroups of a few users (less than 10). It doesn’t rely on a central server (great if you don’t have a server), but this means you may have to occasionally visit several workstations to clean up duplicate entries in calendars. Fortunately, BusySync makes this easy with their free iCal Cleaner (good for iCal even if you don’t use BusySync).
All the solutions mentioned previously (except for maybe Exchange) will benefit from MobileMe. (now called iCloud. We are still investigating iCloud options). MobileMe allows individuals to automatically keep their contacts and calendars up-to-date between multiple workstations and their iPhones. It just works. Please note: this is a solution for an individual with multiple devices. It is NOT for multiple users with single devices. As the name implies, it’s for individuals and is not a groupware solution.
MAC OS X SERVER?
iCal and Address Book Server are open source based services that run on your local server and can host features similar to Apple's publicly availible iCloud. Like iCloud, the both use either a CalDAV or CardDAV account for pushing of shared content to computers, iOS devices and a web interface. The key difference is that with iCal Server users are able to view (and edit if enabled) other user's calendars, schedule workplace shared resources (like a projector or conference room) and even use an availability panel to see what meeting times are available for selected individuals.
In our experience with iCal Server we've found that it can provide a worthwhile function for offices of around ten users, providing the server has been configured properly (DNS, SSL, Open Directory and Web services all play a role). iCal Server, however, can become a pain to troubleshoot if an issue happens on the server and you're forced to restore from backup.
Despite Apple’s claim that Mac OS X Server v10.6 Snow Leopard (Lion, v10.7 has also been released but it is undergoing testing) provides a shared contact and calendar solution, it’s simply not something we can wholeheartedly recommend. Although many will find iCal Server sufficient for calendaring needs, Apple's Address Book Server is built for individuals. It's similar to a locally hosted iCloud. It's NOT a workgroup solution.
Technically Address Book Server can be made to work in a small workgroup environment. However, this requires sharing a user account. If you go this route beware that if two people make edits to the same contact within minutes of each other, then there's a good chance one edit will be lost. In addition, we've seen duplicate entries appear after making edits. This can typically be fixed with a restart of Address Book, but it's not encouraging to see.
It's worth mentioning that Bento now has workgroup features for up to 5 users on a local network. This may be a great solution for small offices, but we have yet to fully test it.
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