WebEx has added email to its WebOffice hosted applications suite for small businesses.

WebEx Mail is a hosted Ajax-based email service that the company claims is as agile as a desktop-based application. It has a built-in search feature, virus and spam protection and a central admin console.

The service supports POP and IMAP and comes with public email folders to let users share messages with others. The WebOffice suite itself also includes a document manager, group calendar, database, task manager and Web meetings.

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. The service has gained particular momentum in the past 12 to 18 months, thanks to infrastructure improvements, such as 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 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 and startups like Zimbra.

WebEx Mail costs $5.95 per mailbox per month, although discounts apply based on volume.