Many the solo and small firm lawyer have to be mobile these days, which means access to their data no matter where they are. Of those, a good percentage use Outlook to maintain calendar and contact information, as well as process e-mail and keep case information. Smart phones like Treos and Blackberries are good for e-mail and contact information, but how do you access all of it while away from the office and change it when necessary? Two solutions come to mind.
First there is the use of an Exchange Server to maintain the information, which can be accessed from anywhere by an Outlook client with Internet access. The problem is that these servers are expensive to establish and maintain by a solo or small firm (PCConnection lists it for $1,220 for the server software and a 5-user license, which does not include the cost of the server hardware it would run on; additional 5-user license packs sell for $410 each). The solution comes with Internet hosting providers, such as 1and1.com, that let you use their servers to host an Exchange server for a monthly fee per e-mail address. You can use Outlook or a web site to access the data from anywhere with a Net connection; you can read and respond to e-mail, as well as maintain your calendar, to-dos, and contact list (essentially any information you maintain in Outlook). I use 1and1 and am happy with it, but other companies offer this as well: 123Together, Intermedia, and MailStreet to name a few.
Second, there is Windows Home Server (WHS) which I discussed in a previous post. That platform was designed so that third party vendors could provide add-in application solutions to expand on the usability of the server. One vendor has, in fact, developed an application that enables you to obtain web access to your Outlook data on the WHS from anywhere with an Internet connection. This is possible because WHS is built on Windows Server 2003, which includes Internet Information Services 6 (IIS6), so that one can easily add a new web application to IIS on the server. This does not appear to allow access through the Outlook client, but it does allow for said access without the expense of Exchange Server or a shared Exchange Hosting company. Also, if one vendor has designed something like this, others may well follow, once WHS goes to market this fall.
Although only the first solution is available now, the second one shows that there is development in this area that will bring this technology to the solo and small firm where it had probably not been affordable previously. If you need this kind of access to your data, and you are looking to implement something between now and the end of the year, you should consider these possible solutions.