Free can be costly:

Paul Lavin would prefer to spend a pound than a penny

Paul Lavin: be pound wise (was this a decent 21k's worth? Don't forget to write in!)

The world of email was thrown into turmoil with the arrival of ‘free’ email software bundled in nice and snug with Microsoft’s Windows for Workgroups.

However, there is free and there is ‘free’. Anyone who purchases Windows for Workgroups (or gets it ‘free’ with a new PC) will find that the basic Microsoft Mail (MSMail) client software is bundled in the operating environment, at no extra charge. Windows for Workgroups also comes with the basic MSMail post office software, permitting an organization to set up a complete Microsoft Mail on the LAN for free.

Rumours: they’re free, too!

Rumours are rife that we’ll see more advanced email features in Chicago/Windows 95; but there is a lot of code to be debugged between now and their mid-95 shipping goal. Who knows what features will stand and what will fall to get the much delayed ‘Windows 4’ out the door before next Christmas? If the full measure of the Microsoft hype is delivered, this promises to herald another upheaval in the LAN email marketplace, since it will change the rules of the game more than just somewhat ...again!

Any organization wrestling with a LAN email decision shouldn’t base its choice on the fact that email clients are ‘free.’ Didn’t your mum tell you there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch? In the case of ‘free’ MSMail, the price is a long term commitment to Microsoft and the direction it is taking with email.

While the emasculated version of MSMail that you get bundled is sufficient for a local email, you can’t get directly into the Internet with it. For that you have to wait to see if Chicago’s promises are fulfilled. But you can add to your ‘free’ software if you want to dispatch messages on the global Internet.

Leather upholstery is extra

Email is a lot like buying a new BMW. Boy, those sleek beemers have a surprisingly low price tag, don’t they? But you wanted alloy wheels? Just a small addition, sir. Don’t like the plastic seats? A small supplement for leather is in order. And will sir be satisfied with the smaller engine size? You get the picture!

The same holds true for email. Often, the most insignificant portion of an email project is the cost of the user software. Since that’s also the most exciting part of the overall system, particularly as new features and fancy technology flood the market, many organizations make their decision based on how friendly a client software program is. Yet, while the basic user software might be inexpensive or free, it is the cost of the various email gateways, administrative tools, utilities and application programs that add up. A well hidden cost is the lock in factor to that platform that restricts future choice...unless you can calmly anticipate changing your email platform completely.

The support, maintenance and ancillary costs beyond software add up and up. Simply put, implementing an email network costs money. And if you find yourself locked in (would Microsoft do such a thing?) it costs even more.

The only antidote, as anyone who had IBM’s around the shop knows, is to go for open standards. Then if you find a good deal, or better features or technology moves on, you have a clear migration path ahead instead of proprietary vendor roadblocks.

The insurance policies you are looking for are POP, MIME and SMTP. You can get all of those by buying a gateway package for a few hundred pounds to add to your ‘free’ MS Mail clients but you are still stuck with that MSMail post office running on rinky-dink server software that’s never made the big time (OS/2) or is still in Version 1.0 (NT).

If you do get sucked in by the ‘free’ client, you do get a reasonable integration with Microsoft’s other products. But that isn’t unique to MSMail anymore. Any package written to comply with MAPI (Mail Applications Programming Interface) can integrate with Windows, apps too. So don’t let that cloud your decision.

Yes, giving away ‘free’ client software was a brilliant stroke for Microsoft, ensuring a future revenue stream for gateways, upgrades, admin tools and so on. However, it might be an equally brilliant stroke for you to just say ‘no’ to free email software that has a big gotcha attached. Open standards are the way to go and MSMail just ain’t got ‘em.

Take a look at some of the contenders: an email review index, starting with CCmail, Mail-It2, WinMail remote

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