Startup Offers Ad-supported Unified Communications Software

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New York startup has launched an ad-supported Linux-based unified communications software suite aimed at competing with Microsoft and IBM in the small and mid-sized business market.

Unison this week will begin offering a free version of its Unison 1.1 unified communications platform in addition to the fee-based version, said Rurik Bradbury, chief marketing officer of Unison.

The client/server software, which runs only on a Linux server OS but can run on either a Linux or Windows desktop client OS, is aimed at giving companies a cost-effective alternative to software from Microsoft or IBM to run a unified suite of e-mail, telephony, voice-mail, instant-messaging and other communications and collaboration applications.

Bradbury said Unison's client/server architecture has characteristics of both Microsoft Exchange/Outlook and IBM Lotus/Domino. In addition to e-mail, directory, telephony, instant-messaging, calendaring and contacts capabilities, Unison also includes antispam and antivirus software, he said.

Microsoft offers Exchange as its messaging server, with Outlook as its e-mail client. It also has a product called Office Communications Server that acts as a unified-communications hub that is easily integrated with Exchange/Outlook. IBM offers Lotus Notes and the Domino server as the basis for its collaboration and unified-communications offering.

Unison is targeting companies with about 20 to 2,000 employees, which may find deploying unified communications using software from IBM and Microsoft cost-prohibitive.

The ad-supported version of Unison is especially cost effective, as it comes at no charge, Bradbury said. "Instead of spending [money] on Microsoft Exchange you can spend zero dollars and use Unison," he said.

The ad-supported version of Unison is being launched with business-targeted ads from two advertisers -- Intermedia and Ubuntu Linux, which is maintained by Canonical. The ads appear in the desktop client and also in the administrator's control panel, and are not intrusive to users of the software, Bradbury said.

Unison charges US$50 per user, per year for the standard version of its platform, which does not have ads.

Unison currently has about 4,000 users testing its software, Bradbury said. The company began developing its product several years ago before launching the product officially in July. Now that the ad-supported version of the software is available, Unison plans to step up its sales efforts to build a solid customer base, he said.

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