Outlook Replacement? Unison Brings Ad-Supported Email To Small Businesses

Free, ad-supported email is making its way into the enterprise and challenging the stranglehold that Micrososft and IBM still have with Outlook/Exchange and Lotus Notes.  Google is trying to push Gmail as an Outlook replacement, but many businesses don’t quite feel comfortable giving up their email servers just yet. An angel-backed startup called Unison Technologies is iaunching a beta on Tuesday of its powerful client-server communications software. It like a combination of Outlook and Skype, bringing together email, enterprise-wide instant messaging, and a VoIP gateway/phone messaging system.

Unison looks like Microsoft Outlook, complete with email, contacts, and calendar. It also has presence management through its own IM that can interoperate with Jabber, Gtalk, MSN MEssenger, and ICQ. And it acts as a PBX for VoIP phone systems, complete with follow-me phone numbers and the ability to pause calls on the desktop or switch them over to another phone. The phone system is also tied into the presence management so that when you pick up the phone, your status changes to “not available.” And you can listen to, save, or forward voicemails through the desktop software just as if they were emails. You can also record phone calls.

The software is not a Web app. Unison is a fat client-server app that works on Linux or Windows PCs. It took a 60-person team and more than $10 million to build.

The software comes in a free version that is currently sponsored by Ubuntu and Intermedia, but will contain dynamic ads in the future. Personal identifying information will be stripped out, but Unison will have the ability to target advertising by company and even by department. Companies can pay for an ad-free version, but they may not be so averse to a few ads in these trying times. The concept might be catching on. Another startup combining advertising and corporate email is WrapMail, which serves a company’s ads wrapped around each piece of outgoing email. (Watch WrapMail’s Elevator Pitch).

Here are some Unison screen shots with ads inserted for illustrative purposes, including the IT manager’s control panel: