Exchange Functionality for Linux
At this stage you should have a functional client. My little tests show that you can do now all that you could do with Outlook and Exchange--send mail, make notes, use the to-do list and so on. But you also can plan a meeting, send an invitation about it to users, find users by clicking the To button when making a new mail, and clicking on Add to select users and groups. You can see whether people are available by checking the Attendee Availability tab. The attendees receive your invitation and can accept or decline it, and their replies are incorporated into your calendar. Better still, you can give your secretary the rights to do all this for you.
Not unimportant here is the price. Let us compare what one might spend on software for 50 users.
To use Microsoft Exchange 2000:
Microsoft Exchange, including 5 client access licenses (CALs): $1,29945 additional Microsoft Exchange CALs: $3,915Total: $5,214
Windows 2000 server with 25 CALs: $1,79920 additional Windows 2000 CALs: $739Final five CALs: $189Total: $2,727
The grand total is $7,941 for the combination of Microsoft Exchange and Windows 2000 server. A Microsoft Small Business Server plus CALs is $4,000, but then you cannot grow over 50 users.
The Bynari solution will cost you for 50 users:
50-person InsightServer family is: $1,095LDAP client for 50 users is about: $350SuSE 8.1: $80Total: $1,525
So, in the best case Exchange costs about three times as much as InsightServer.
Overall, I think the Bynari InsightServer with Client has done what no other company had done yet: they built a server/client combination for Linux with full Exchange/Outlook functionality that enables administrators to keep Outlook as the client and get rid of a Windows server with Exchange. I did not test how many clients Bynari InsightServer can run on specific hardware, but I expect that the mainly open-source parts--Cyrus, Apache and Exim--perform quite well on top of an efficient OS like Linux. A good *nix administrator should be able to tweak all kinds of things, of course.
Because InsightServer runs on Linux, you can use a number of journaling filesystems and all kinds of RAID tools, which you will need if you are building a serious mail server. Already, InsightServer version 3.xx offers all kinds of new goodies. Furthermore, it is fit to run in a big enterprise; the underlying Cyrus LDAP server that holds the post-boxes is scalable. The InsightServer enterprise version can run on big IBM servers, if you need that. You also can integrate it with solutions for anti-virus, anti-spam and so on. It has a basic Squirrel plugin for web mail.
The near future has more in store, as version 4 is scheduled for release later this month, if not by the time this article publishes. A distributed setup with different parts of the organization on different places will be described in that documentation. A beta release of a web mail server that talks to Outlook is scheduled for March as well. In the second half of 2003, an email-client is planned that can use all of Outlook's functionality but runs on Windows as well as on Linux and other *nixes and Mac. This last information is quite relevant, as this will enable administrators to plan a migration path from Windows to Linux. The money saved by moving part of an organization to Linux is substantial, because money is saved on both the OS and on using Outlook (Windows XP plus Outlook costs you $408 per PC).
And these days using Linux for non-specialized workers, those that need only Web, e-mail and text-processing capabilities, is quite easy. It also opens up the groupware market for businesses that use only Linux/BSD. Using shared calendars, where you can see if others are available, is something you do not want to go without once you have experienced using it. Of course, this client will not be free, but it certainly will be cheaper than the Microsoft solutions. The InsightServer product currently on the market and its near-future versions give administrators a choice to move away from Microsoft Exchange, where this was a difficult process previously. Although the Bynari InsightServer will have to prove itself in the server-room, it certainly is welcome there as far as I am concerned.
While InsightServer is available now, it is not open-source and it certainly isn't for free. Many things are on my Linux wishlist, but an all-free (open-source and free as in free beer) Exchange replacement is certainly one of them, one where Linux clients also can join the groupware functionality. It seems such a replacement is in the making in Germany.
When searching the web for information on groupware for Linux, I stumbled across the Kroupware project. Kroupware is the project undertaken by three companies contracted by the Federal Agency of IT- Security for Germany "to provide a Free Software groupware solution accessible with Windows running Outlook and GNU/Linux running KDE clients". The project is by no means finished but currently is in beta; a working version must be delivered as part of the contract. The project is intertwined with KDE and uses Cyrus for the LDAP core and Postfix as the MTA. It can be used with Outlook when a Bynari connector for Exchange is installed. For me, what puts this project beyond the Bynari solution is the fact that it is set up with new standards. Bynari InsightServer, on the other hand, is meant to be used with Outlook and its closed-source Windows legacy and, later, with its own, probably closed-source e-mail client.
Kroupware contains an e-mail/groupware server and a Linux-based client. Outlook clients also can join if they use a Bynari connector, but they will not have total functionality. Other clients might be developed as well, but they are not included in the contract for version 1. The important difference is that open standards are used for exchanging meeting requests and information and also for exchanging contact information. Contacts are send between e-mail clients as attachments, vCards, using MIME. Calendars are stored in LDAP as vCal, a format for calendaring and scheduling information, now managed by the IMC (Internet Mail Consortium).
Kroupware has a clear set of specifications that can be found here. It includes calendaring, sending meeting requests, checking the availability of other attendees, and creating personal contact lists, tasks lists and so on. The big issue at the moment is the project is not yet finished. Another issue is the project's future after the completion of version 1 is uncertain. But anyone following the growth of Linux and open source can see the potential. An open-source project, providing a much wanted solution, based on open standards can be a big success. For small companies and low-budget organizations it may be the only legal option. Because the standards of Kroupware are open, it will not be difficult to develop plugins for existing e-mail clients. Imagen Pegasus Mail already offers a calendaring and tasklist plugin for Kroupware. Pegasus is free, has IMAP and LDAP on board and is not plagued by all kinds of Outlook viruses. Many other e-mail clients can and will add plugins if the server becomes popular. Linux as a desktop system also will become much more attractive when full-featured, Outlook-like functions are on board with the Kroupware Kolab server as the backend.
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