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Similar to classic SaaS solutions, the business messenger market offers both out-of-the-box solutions such as Teamwire, which are ready for immediate use and are supported and continuously developed by the vendor, and open source messenger solutions based on the Matrix communication protocol, for example, which can be individually programmed.
The business messenger market has evolved rapidly in recent years. And it is still doing so. Its still young history is primarily the history of open source messenger providers on the one hand and software providers on the other, who offer their ready-made messenger standard product “out-of-the-box”. What characterizes the key difference and where this development comes from, you will learn in this article. This article is the first part of the blog series “Open Source vs. Out-of-the-box”, with which we want to create transparency about the developments, potentials and challenges on the business messenger market.
The origins of messaging can be found back in the 1990s when AOL Messenger launched services such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and ICQ. In 2003, Skype was founded as an instant messaging service and already included communication via microphone and webcam. These solutions thus formed the basis for later Unified Communication & Collaboration (UC&C) solutions, which also enabled targeted companies to communicate internally via chat messages as well as video conferences and the simultaneous, digital processing of files – but only for office employees, not for mobile workers.
But it was not until the smartphone became widely established at the turn of the millennium that the focus shifted to the mobile availability of apps, and in this context primarily messenger apps, while messaging via the desktop was also frequently carried out via chat functions of the social networks. This may also be the reason why WhatsApp has been available as a messaging app since 2009, but has only really become established since 2011. As the name suggests, consumer apps of this kind initially established themselves in the private sector and advanced communication beyond desktop solutions on the one hand and SMS and telephony on the other.
In parallel to the growing number of both consumer messenger apps and out-of-the-box UC&C solutions – especially from large companies like Microsoft, Google & Co. – the open source protocol Matrix was developed in 2014, an open source communication protocol for text, voice and video communication between two or more users. One of the motives was to enable seamless communication between users despite different service providers – so-called bridging. This combines matrix with messaging, end-to-end encryption and voice-over-IP telephony. This means that users are not only able to exchange text messages and make online calls, but can also do so independently of their own communications service provider and that of the other party. And they can do so completely encrypted from one communication device to another.
The distinction resides in the openness of the source code, which is available and changeable in the case of open source solutions. With an out-of-the-box standard product, on the other hand, the source code is not accessible and can therefore only be adapted or further developed by the software provider. Open source software can be used and further developed by anyone, but requires programming skills. In contrast, no programming know-how or effort is required for a ready-made software solution – apart from individual configurations.
As early as 2007, Gartner predicted that instant messaging would shape internal corporate communications. At that time, there was speculation of a triumphant march equal to that of e-mail, which would make messenger the standard tool for voice, video and text communication in companies and replace consumer solutions. Gartner predicted growth of 150 percent for the global business instant messaging market.
However, the development of the market for business messengers as out-of-the-box solutions will not really take off until 2015. Many start-ups with first out-of-the-box business messenger apps tried to establish themselves in the market. Almost at the same time, the open source protocol Matrix was released to the developer community, so that business messengers can also be developed on the basis of this “code language” since then. As of June 2019, Matrix is no longer in beta and the protocol is fully suitable for productive use. In contrast, out-of-the-box business messengers like Teamwire have been able to elaborate a development lead of about four years. They are rock-solid, innovative and cover the communication needs of small to medium-sized companies and even enterprises to the greatest possible extent. The advantage is that they can be used directly with all business functions and security and compliance levels. To use Matrix as a basis, the user interface requires so-called clients such as Element.io.
Today, the standard protocol Matrix is one of the biggest players in the open source communications market, along with xmpp. There are more than five established providers for secure business messaging in Germany and more than 20 out-of-the-box solutions within the European Union. Teamwire is one of the market leaders in the German-speaking countries.
Whether business messenger or UC&C solution ultimately remains a decision that depends on the intended use in the respective organization. The question of whether to choose an open source solution or an out-of-the-box product, on the other hand, involves many more criteria that need to be taken into account. These include data protection and security, interoperability and costs, and ultimately the question of how long a company can wait to develop its own open source-based messenger when there are ready-made business messenger solutions on the market. In the upcoming article, we will take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of open source-based business messengers compared to out-of-the-box solutions. You can expect a practical checklist that will help you find the right business messenger for your organization.
In our second part of the blog series “Open Source vs. Out-of-the-box”, we provide you with a checklist. It compares the two options so that you can choose the right solution for your own business messenger.
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