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MIAMI – WebEx Communications Inc. has developed an e-mail service for its WebOffice hosted applications suite for small businesses, which already includes a document manager, group calendar, database, task manager and Web meetings.

The Santa Clara, California, company plans to announce on Monday WebEx Mail, a hosted e-mail service designed for a workplace setting that has an AJAX-based interface that gives it the agility of a desktop-based application.

WebEx Mail also has a built-in search feature, virus and spam protection and a centralized console for administrators to manage mailboxes, configure folders and adjust settings.

The service supports POP (Post Office Protocol) and IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) so it can be used in conjunction with desktop e-mail software and encrypt server connections to safeguard the information being transmitted. It has public e-mail folders to let users share messages with others.

Hosted applications are popular, particularly among small businesses, because they don’t require companies to invest in server hardware or spend time and effort installing and maintaining them. Although hosted software has been around a long time, it has gained special momentum in the past 12 to 18 months, thanks to infrastructure improvements, like faster Internet connections and more powerful PCs.

A lot of the activity is happening in the market for collaboration and office productivity applications, which has been ruled for many years by Microsoft Corp. with its ubiquitous, desktop-based Office, which many find expensive and bulky.

Quite a few vendors are busy building up hosted collaboration and productivity suites, including established players like Google Inc. and startups like Zimbra Inc.

WebEx Mail costs US$5.95 per mailbox per month, although discounts apply based on volume. For a limited time, the company is offering a special $3.95 per mailbox per month price.

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