November 7, 2002

Samsung Contact: More compatible with Outlook than Exchange?

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -

Samsung Contact
is a proprietary email/messaging/groupware server program based on HP's now-discontinued OpenMail program. It runs happily on Linux and, according to Samsung Contact chief architect Richi Jennings, it makes better use of Microsoft's Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI) than Microsoft's own messaging products.

Like almost all Linux-based (and Unix-based) messaging servers that replace Exchange functions and provide some or all of the features used by Microsoft's Outlook client, Samsung Contact claims to cost less than Exchange, and not just at time of purchase. "The cost of licensing is only a small part of the total," says Jennings." With Exchange, you have all these people running around, rebooting and defragging your servers. If you run an Exchange server, every month or every week you have to take the thing down and defrag it.


Jennings pauses, then continues, "It's 2002, not the 60s. You think they would have learned...

"This costs a frightening amount of money, having all those people running around. They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. You have grand industry analysts talking about TCO and ROI, but what it comes down to, if you run an Exchange network you spend twice or three times what you need to be spending. Conservatively."

Jennings says the licensing cost of Samsung Contact ranges "from sixty bucks to six bucks a seat. Our prices vary hugely depending on volume," and, he quickly adds, "We do not charge per server, as most do."

(To get a quick idea of how much Samsung Contact costs per seat in different quantities, go to the "Buy" page on the company's Web site and fill in the number of mailboxes and users, and you will receive an instant quote, including a year's worth of maintenance and support. You do not need to supply your name or other contact information to see the total cost.)

Jennings says he is not worried about potential competition from Free and/or Open Source groupware products now under development, such as KDE's Kroupware, for one big reason: "MAPI. MAPI's the issue. Without MAPI you don't get a great user experience with Outlook, and the users will not accept the alternative."

Samsung Contact's History

Jennings worked for HP for 15 years, and most of that time he worked on OpenMail. "It was an interesting ride, he says," but the sun setting on OpenMail was the last straw."

Samsung Contact was originally a product based on OpenMail that was sold only in Japan and Korea. When HP decided to stop selling OpenMail, Jennings and other members of the the OpenMail core group, based in Reading, England, put a business plan together, took it to Samsung, and said something along the lines of, "Here's what could be useful: Let's not just sell it in Korea nad Japan, let's sell it globally. This software, plus Linux, not just Unix, can provide needed competition to Exchange -- at a lower cost."

Obviously, Samsung went for the deal. Contact now has about 100 employees total, split between England and Korea.

When the British contigent moved from HP to Samsung, Jennings says, they told themselves, "We're going to pick up where OpenMail left off, eventually go into Unified Communications, and get serious about Linux." And that's what they have done.

One old OpenMail rumor Jennings wants to lay to rest: "I know a lot of people like to believe in a conspiracy about Microsoft," he says, "that they helped HP screw up OpenMail. HP didn't need any help to screw it up. They were doing it quite well themselves."

Toward Unified Communications

This is the Holy Grail of corporate groupware software: Integrating email, shared calendars and contact information, voice mail, PDA and other "device" access, along with VoIP PBX functions, into a seamless whole. It's the main thrust of Samsung Contact's future development direction. There is a certain amount of racing among various corporate groupware vendors to get a completely integrated messaging software solution going first. Jennings feels his group has a substantial lead in this area, but this is a "time will tell" situation. The "first mover" in a new area does not necessarily capture that business unless their products hold up against those that come later -- and may offer more features, a better price, or superior stability to the "original" product.

However, companies eager to move to unified messaging when it finally becomes practical reality ought to bear in mind that Samsung Contact may be closer to it than anyone else in the business -- at least according to Jennings (whose job, don't forget, is to market his product, not someone else's).

A Huge Client List

Some IT managers don't care about a product's pedigree as long as it does what needs to be done, but for those who do, Samsung Contact (largely because of its OpenMail heritage) can boast that it is used by some huge percentage -- possibly a majority -- of Fortune 500 Corporations, and can point to a steady stream of press releases like this one about yet another "name" company selecting Samsung Contact over the competition.

Compatibility with Linux Desktops

This is still a sticking point for almost every "Exchange Replacement" product, since there are no Linux client programs that make full use of Exchange features. Evolution, with an add-on connector program, comes closest at this point, but even it does not integrate seamlessly with Samsung Contact.

Jennings says, "This is because Evolution's connector implements the MAPI protocol, but not true MAPI.On our list is to go talk to Evolution about them doing a version of theirExchange plugin to work on Contact."

Meanwhile, Samsung Contact supports IMAP, POP3, LDAP, UAL, SMTP, and HTTP, so it will work (less Exchange/Outlook-specific features) with all common Linux desktop email software and Web browsers, and as soon as IETF finishes its "open calendar" spec (hopefully by early next year), Jennings says Samsung Contact will support that, too.

Jennings on the Competition

His words: "Exchange's problem in our view is that it's built on top of a general purpose datase. We are of the opinion that running email on top of a general database is a fundamentally broken idea. This is why Exchange sucks, and why [the latest] Oracle [email server] is going to suck, and why the last four attempts they had sucked."

About Bynari: "It doesn't seem to be terribly successful. The real kicker is that anything that puts itself as an Exchange replacement must do Outlook. It's on too many desktops, and IT departments aren't going to pay retraining costs, and you have to be able to do all the weird little Outlook features --calendars and todos -- all the features Microsoft calls "collaboration" -- and, by the way, you need to be able to open other people's mailboxes with what Micosoft calls "access control" or "delegation." And, he says, "It's important to be able to go offline, and have offline folder synbchronization."

Said more forcefully: "If you don't meet that bar, you're not in that game.

"You must support MAPI, which is -- let's be charitable -- poorly documented. Even after all the Microsoft 'opening,' MAPI documentation is scanty. I'm being really nice here.

"Even if it were well-documented, you need to know how Microsoft uses it so you can get the best performance and scalability, but you also need to know how Outlook uses it.

"What's really important is that if someone is buying an Exchange replacement they neeed someone who deeply understands MAPI and has years of experience in how it really is, not what the useless documentation says it is.

"We are the only people out there who have that deep experience of MAPI. I'm not sure you'll even find the deep MAPI experience we have in Redmond."


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