[svlug] Exchange server for Linux?

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Dec 23 14:13:53 PST 2004

Quoting Craig Oda (craigoda at gmail.com):

> I have evaluated the Firefox Calendar plug-in.  It looks good. 

I've used it pretty heavily, and like it better than the other iCAL
editor/viewers on Linux that I've tried thus far.  But your big problem
there is that it's simply not Outlook.  You're running up against the
infamous "integration" shibboleth.  More about that, below.

> Sparc Solaris is not an attractive option.

Pity, because you can get an old SPARC/Solaris box pretty darned cheap.  
The administration differences from Linux aren't huge, and won't be a
problem for any halfway competent admin.

Sun's made noises about releasing a Linux version of that ex-Netscape
iPlanet calendar server package, but hasn't moved on that, yet.  (Any
Sun Micro employees care to comment?)

> Right now, I'm thinking of spending a day trying to evaluate Bynari
> Insight on Linux.

To my knowledge, only that and the Oracle (ex-Steltor) thing purport to
absolutely fully replicate Exchange Server's functionality, when used
with Outlook.  Both are, naturally enough, proprietary and pretty

> If we go Windows plus Exchange, at least I know that some
> poor-soul-of-a-consultant can get it to work.

You'll also be strong-armed into Active Directory in a big way.  Not to
mention ongoing security and maintenance headaches, etc.

> If we go Linux (strong preference), it's not clear to me what the best
> outcome will be.  Will there be 100% compatibility with Outlook?  90%
> of the features?  It's unclear to me.

That's the way Microsoft Corp. likes it.  ;->

An entire generation of business executives have been conditioned to
want the "integration" features that have traditionally been unique to
the Outlook/Exchange combination:  The e-mail, appointment,
contact-data, and group-discussion functions are all heavily
intertwined, and the two packages discuss all such transactions using a
secret RPC-based suite of communication protocols.  Coding a plug-in
substitute for Exchange Server that does everything the Microsoft way
is, accordingly, extremely difficult.  

Alternative #1 is to do things a non-Microsoft way on the back end, but
still aim to give the same functionality.  Solutions of that sort always
provide an Outlook plug-in piece.  Kolab1 (Kroupware) and the Kolab2
beta do that, for example.

Alternative #2 is to use the prior Microsoft protocol suite (now being
phased out by Microsoft Corp. in recent products), which I believe has
been retroactively labelled "workgroup mode", and involves periodic 
(as opposed to ongoing) syncs between Outlook and the server piece using
MAPI data.  Common misconceptions about the subject notwithstanding,
MAPI _is_ publicly documented.  

Hypothetically if you were to use a full-featured scheduling server such
as Sun's, you _would_ have very satisfactory scheduling features, using
both Outlook and (optionally) any other client software that can deal
with iCAL file data.  _However_, that does not give you the
aforementioned "integration" -- the tight coupling of appointments,
mail, "group folders", etc. -- because the server handles scheduling and
only scheduling.

I mentioned that option (exemplified by the Sun package) because,
initially, you said you just need a good scheduling server usable by
Outlook.  That's what you'd be getting, with such a server.  If, by
contrast, your guys are itching for the "integration" features alluded
to, that's a very different ballgame, and you have markedly fewer options.

One moral of the story is to make sure you're very, very clear about
your project requirements, before even looking for implementations.

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