Start-up aims to challenge Microsoft, Skype, Google

Perzonae will charge US$40 per year for its unified communications service when it emerges from a beta test

Dutch start-up Perzonae Unified Communications is working on a service that will combine e-mail, instant messaging and, later, calls and teleconferencing on PCs and mobile phones. The first public beta is now available, it announced on Wednesday.

By combining all these methods of communicating, users will eventually no longer need existing tools and software such as Outlook, Thunderbird, MSN, Hotmail, Skype or Gmail, according to Chris Troost, marketing manager at Perzonae.

At the same the company is very much aware of the fact that it's just a small network, so it is looking to integrate with all the major networks for e-mail and instant messaging, according to Troost. Universal chat client Pidgin has been a big inspiration, he said.

What Perzonae hopes will set it apart from the competition is the ability to communicate more efficiently using a concept it calls zones.

Users can, for example, create different zones for business or private communications. If users don't want to be disturbed by private messages or calls during work, they can shut off that zone and view the messages later on, according to Troost.

The public beta, version 0.6, will at first support just e-mail. Support for instant messaging will be added in about two weeks, Troost said.

Perzonae will also support geolocation, so that contacts, with the user's permission, will be able to see where they are.

The company is planning to put out the first stable release, version 1.0, in approximately six months.

It will include IP telephony, video and audio conferencing as well as desktop sharing, according to Perzonae's roll-out plan.

Support for unified communication integrating all three main means of communication, telephony, e-mail and instant messaging, is still uncommon in Internet based services, which leaves an opening for Perzonae if it can get there first.

The enterprise space, on the other hand, is a virtual hornets nest with companies like Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Alcatel-Lucent competing for corporate dollars.

Currently, the Perzonae client runs on Windows XP. Soon there will be a version for Mac OS X, and there are also plans for Linux and Windows Vista clients.

By the time the first stable release comes to market, Perzonae also hopes to have a client ready for phones running Windows Mobile.

It is also looking into support for other mobile platforms, including the iPhone, Symbian and Android.

With the arrival of the first stable release, Perzonae plans to start charging for its service. A basic subscription will cost about US$40 per year, and include e-mail and instant messaging.

A professional subscription will cost from US$40, and then users will have to pay more as they add, for example, telephony, according to Troost.

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