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Microsoft Exchange vs. Outlook: Which One Is Right for My Small Business?

Despite the rising popularity of messaging apps and business communication platforms like Slack, email still remains the most popular way to communicate. In the U.S. alone, 95% of businesses use email as their primary form of internal communication and the use of email is expected to grow by 2 to 3% every year until 2023. With companies depending so heavily on email, both for internal and external communication, it’s important for each business to find the email solution that works best for its individual needs and users.

In recent years, the methods of hosting and storing email have changed. That’s particularly good news for small to medium businesses, which may no longer have to hire a specialized IT staff for running the hardware and software. New email options can eliminate the often-expensive initial investment required to maintain a server and provide in-house email, while at the same time giving businesses more options in managing the number of users and providing greater security over their system and their data.

But in some cases, it still makes sense to use a server, such as when multiple people need to access the same data, resources are being shared and you are managing email for a growing number of users.

Two options from Microsoft allow SMBs to choose the solution that best fits their needs. Microsoft Exchange is an email server that works from the Windows Server operating system and can store and manage all of your emails. Microsoft Outlook, on the other hand, is an email client that is part of Microsoft Office and lets you keep all of your information in one place. To better understand what each one has to offer, let’s first look at how they’re different.

Email Client vs. Email Server

The two programs function differently because Outlook is an email client while Exchange is a mail server. An email client is a piece of software on computers that is used to send and receive emails. Those emails are stored on that individual computer and can be accessed quickly.

An email server is a piece of hardware that delivers, receives and stores email in a central location and is accessed by a number of different users. It relies on standard email protocols such as IMAP and POP3.

While they basically serve the same end goal — to send and receive emails, store contacts and access calendars — the way they go about that, how they are accessed and how they store information is different. Knowing those differences can help you determine which one is better for you.

What Does Microsoft Outlook Do?

Microsoft Outlook is popular as an email application, but its capabilities extend far beyond email. As part of the Microsoft Office suite of software and programs, it can manage emails, contacts, calendars, tasks and social networks from one centralized place. It can be used as a valuable productivity and organization tool, as it basically lets you manage all of your personal information from one location.

Because it is part of the Microsoft Office family, it is included with such programs as Excel, PowerPoint and Word. It can be accessed through a web browser using Outlook on the web, which has an interface that is similar to the full-blown Microsoft Outlook program but doesn’t have the full range of software applications.

Business users who choose to rely on Microsoft Outlook will be pleased that its spam and phishing filters are robust, and since it integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft programs, it is easy to keep to-do lists and schedules organized. It allows users to search folders quickly and also can organize, thread and label messages. The many features make it easier to get through large amounts of email quickly and categorize them more effectively, which is notable since the average worker in the U.S. spends nearly 30% of his or her workday reading and answering email.

What Does Microsoft Exchange Do?

Microsoft Exchange Server is a software that makes the email process faster and more efficient. It stores and manages all of the email, contacts, tasks, etc. in a centralized database. It’s a proprietary email server solution that uses Microsoft Exchange Server with Microsoft Outlook as its email client.

As an enterprise-class software, it is more complex and can be deployed across multiple data centers. With Exchange Server 2019, Microsoft has made administration simpler, allowing the ability to assign delegate permission and manage events. Administrators now can manage restrictions on forwarding meeting requests, and new algorithms have been implemented to make data protection more secure. It is scalable and has new, smarter calendar management options.

Which One Is Right for You?

Choosing between Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft Outlook will come down to what your business needs. Both of these work together; however, if you are looking for a server system with an email management solution that multiple users can access, Microsoft Exchange would be in line with your needs. It can provide the back-end solution for your resources while keeping administration simple.

Microsoft Outlook, meanwhile, is an email client that is part of the Microsoft Office suite and, while it’s also the preferred email client for accessing Exchange Server emails, it does not require Exchange. If your IT admin resources are limited, it’s more likely to be the better option for you.

Once you know which option is better for your small business — an email client or an email server — you’ll have a better idea of which of these options is right for your company and can help you grow into the future.

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