IBM Verse: An Office 365 competitor?

We all have specific ideas of what to expect from certain companies, right? Some companies invoke images of trendy over-priced laptops. Other companies may invoke images of ridiculously overpriced “watches”. Maybe I am thinking of the same company twice there…

So what do you think of when I say “IBM”? First thing that comes to mind for me is a very “Mad Men”-esque scene of a smoke filled room filled with 50 women behind typewriters. Maybe you think of the cash register in an Old Western general store. If you have a rather modern association with IBM, you may even think of a green-screen AS/400. One thing I am sure no-one associated with IBM is a company that could produce a valid competitor to Office 365.

IBM Verse is not to the point of being a real competitor to Office 365 yet, but even in the early version that I have access to it’s better than Google Apps.

After some very preliminary testing, I can say it just might be possible that IBM is on to something here. Now before we get carried away here, let’s just do a little bit of level setting. Office 365 is a huge service that has been around for almost 4 years. Before Office 365 Microsoft had another similar product called BPOS. Microsoft also run Hotmail (now rebranded Microsoft owns a huge percentage of the corporate desk top operating system market, include the default set of office productivity tools (Office). There is no way that IBM (or any other company for that matter) is going to jump out of the box with an Office 365 competing product that is even going to come close in a feature by feature comparison with Office 365.

So what is IBM Verse? Verse is a cloud based email, IM/presence, and file sharing based service aimed at the corporate workplace. Verse brings some interesting ideas without going totally off the rails trying to “change the game”. IBM Verse is, in its present state, about a Google Apps level entry into the space. Verse still has quite a way to go, but from what I have seen so far IBM is on the right track.

Let’s take a look at some of the feature of Verse.

Verse’s web based email client has all the standard email features you’d expect. IBM seems to be banking on its inbox organization feature to be the main selling point here.


At the top of Verse’s inbox each user has the buttons pictured above. Each button corresponds to a different sorted view. The first button is the entire unsorted inbox. The second button is “Needs Action”, showing you messages that you have tagged as needing some action on your part.


The “Needs Action” interface allows you to mark a due date and put a short note on each message to help you remember what action you are expecting yourself to take.

The next button in line is the “Waiting For” button. This is the opposite of the “Needs Action” button in that it allows you to mark outgoing messages with a reminder for yourself about something you need someone else to do.

As of now, I only have a single Verse account. I assume both of these features will show other users in Verse the “Needs Action” or the “Waiting For” notes, but I cannot confirm that is the case at this point.

The next two buttons, the NO and the picture of the bee, are favorites. Verse allows you to save favorites buttons that will show you a view of your inbox for a specific contacts. Here I have favorites created for one of my other email accounts, and for the IBM Verse team. Clicking on either shows me a view of my inbox with only messages from that specific contact.

Beyond email, Verse also includes calendar, IM, and a file storage and sharing feature. At this time, I don’t really see anything in any of these tools that are beyond what would be expected as standard. I’ll keep checking in with Verse to see where it goes.