Lightweight Directory Access Protocol quickly gained that power because the directory market is small and immature. No single vendor or technology had grabbed the market share and the momentum to drive the market when LDAP came along, so the standard took center stage.
In the messaging market, things are different. Yes, we have Internet standards that have a significant impact. Vendors are lining up to support SMTP, POP3, IMAP4 and LDAP as the Internet becomes the foundation for inter-company communication and commerce.
But the messaging market is relatively mature. Customers have understood the strategic importance of messaging for some time and have deployed lots of products. We also have a small number of well-entrenched vendors with large market shares.
Standards have much larger mountains to move as they attempt to take over corporate messaging systems. For example, the degree to which customers can base messaging systems on pure standards implementations remains a question of priorities.
Today, many pure Internet mail products cannot match proprietary products feature-for-feature because the Internet messaging protocols have yet to gain the functionality an enterprise customer might need. Replication remains a shortcoming, and there’s no standard calendaring and scheduling protocol. And while IMAP4 has a lot of promise, it has drawbacks such as a single-server architecture, the lack of server-based conversation threading, and no support for server-side filters and rules.
This features gap between standards-based and proprietary products will be a factor in buying decisions for some time. Customers can implement pure standard protocols while waiting for them to catch up in functionality or implement proprietary protocols to get functions they need.
That trade-off is also causing vendors to make some interesting choices as they build products. Established vendors such as Lotus, Microsoft and Novell are creating multiprotocol servers that support both proprietary protocols and Internet standards, for example, but they’re competing based on the features their proprietary protocols provide. For customers with large installed bases of proprietary messaging systems, such a multiprotocol approach may be the best migration path toward Internet standards.
On the other hand, vendors such as Netscape are positioning their systems as “pure” standards products. But to remain competitive, Netscape is working feverishly, fostering standards creation, extending current standards to add important functions and using proprietary protocols when necessary. For customers who put standards support before functionality, such an approach may be the best option.
Despite the features trade-off, Internet messaging standards are extremely important. Customers should demand support for them from their vendors, and should plan to deploy them in their organizations.
The effort to create more functional standards is under way. Meanwhile, customers must carefully judge what’s important to them now, and five years from now, as they implement messaging solutions.