Linux may be heading toward World Domination, but there still are plenty of incumbent legacies that haven't been dominated. There's only one way to deal with them.

In geology, the term competent applies to hard and useful rock. Climbers prefer competent rocks--so do builders. Right now, I'm sitting in a Scottsdale hotel, looking at a big example: Squaw Peak, a mountain standing in the middle of the flatness that is Phoenix. Squaw Peak's rocks have proved their competence for 1.7 billion years. Camelback Mountain, Squaw's neighbor to the east, is 300 million years younger. Yet both are near the ends of their lives, slowly downwasting to sand and gravel. In another few megennia they'll be gone. To weathering forces, rocks merely are a source of dirt. Squaw Peak and Camelback Mountain are the near-solitary remains of a departed landscape now almost entirely reduced to flat desert floor. Most of the surrounding rock has been blown away or washed to sea by red and brown rivers. Today, the nameless mountains and plains of the former Arizona are layers of mud slowly lithifying below the floors of oceans.

This kind of perspective is helpful when considering the existence--and the persistence--of certain heavy-duty enterprise platforms and applications. Mainframes, for example, date from computing's Precambrian Era and have been headed for extinction since its Paleozoic. Yet, they still persist as irreplaceable building materials for large enterprises of all kinds. IBM mainframes even host smaller virtual computers of the sort that was expected to replace them.

Oracle, around for about a quarter of a century, continues to withstand threatening improvements by MySQL and PostgreSQL. Amazon, Orbitz, EMC and Southwest Airlines all deploy Oracle on Linux. Wim Coekaerts and his team at Oracle also are involved closely in the development of Linux itself, in cluster file systems, for example.

Oracle isn't the only commercial database with ancient origins that continues to find itself at home on Linux. The other day I was talking with Adam Hertz, the VP Technology Strategy at Ofoto, a company that deploys its services on many terabytes of disk space on Linux servers. After he told me the cool stuff Ofoto was doing with Linux, I asked him which database he was using to manage the huge piles of data on company servers. His answer was Sybase, and the reasons were both technical and corporate. The two companies enjoy a good working relationship.

Over the past year I've spent a lot of time looking into the growing independence of IT shops from vendors and the growth of DIY-IT, or Do-It-Yourself IT. While the DIY-IT trend involves growing independence from vendors, it also involves two other developments: 1) healthier relationships with vendors that understand and embrace Linux and open source; and 2) new products, by both vendors and independent Open Source communities, that provide interoperabilities that some vendors--for example, Microsoft with Exchange--don't always welcome.

IT personnel are notoriously reluctant to talk on the record about what they're doing with Linux--or anything, for that matter. It's been pounded into their heads that talking to the press specifically is not a part of their job descriptions. Most are willing, however, to talk off the record, as long as it's not made clear which company is the source of the information.

With very few exceptions, IT folks have been telling me lately that Linux continues to make enormous advances inside their organizations, in nearly every area except the one where Microsoft maintains the same degree of persistence we witness with Squaw Peak. That one exception is Microsoft Exchange. "We can easily see our way to replacing Microsoft Office and even Microsoft Windows", one executive told me. "But we can't get along without Exchange. If you're looking for Microsoft's real lock-in with enterprise customers, Exchange is it."

It would be a big mistake to dismiss Exchange as merely another problem program sustained by Microsoft's monopoly powers. The CEO of a nearly all-Linux technology company recently told me her IT chiefs are seriously looking at Exchange. There are, it seems, some things that Exchange does better than anything else, even though it requires Outlook as its client. Here's what I was told just last week by a top IT guy at a major entertainment company:

Outlook is kick-ass if you want to meet with ten other people. That's great for Windows desktops, but we have Linux desktops as well. Those guys use the Outlook Connector for Exchange from Ximian. I have a Linux desktop too, a dual boot Mandrake. But, I can never get it to work with Exchange, mostly because I have to go talk to the guys in black robes running the Exchange server. And they don't make it easy.

You've got to look at the big picture from the long-term perspective. Exchange isn't just e-mail. It's business groupware done right. It's not as totally proprietary as Lotus Notes. And it uses e-mail as the groupware context, which works well for people. Especially the group calendaring. You're in Outlook. You want a meeting. You look at people's calendars and set something up. Messages go out. Everybody delegates who has rights to see parts of their Outlook calendars. The whole system works very well.

See, the problem with Exchange is that it's a good product. It's also deeply entrenched inside organizations. In our case it took about two years to set up all the trust relationships and to relieve executives of the need for secretaries. You need think about the sociology of all this, and how important it is.

In other words, Exchange is a competent product. There are a lot of increasingly competent competitors that work with Linux--Bynari, Kroupware, Oracle Collaboration Suite, SuSE OpenExchange, PHPGroupWare, Easygate Workgroup, Stalker CommuniGate, ExchangeIT!, Samsung Contact (leveraging HP's abandoned OpenMail), Bill Workgroup Server (and exchange4linux), SquirrelMail--but I don't see a huge market rush toward any of these solutions, even when the problem being solved is just getting off Exchange (which many customers want to do, in spite of its virtues). At least not yet. If I'm missing something, please tell me.

So, while Exchange and other useful legacy products continue to withstand the erosive forces of Linux and other open-source alternatives, interoperability is the guiding virtue. And if Microsoft wants its Squaw Peaks to continue leveraging their competencies, they'll agree with their customers about the need for interoperability.

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal. His monthly column is Linux For Suits, and his bi-weekly newsletter is SuitWatch.


Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal


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Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

don't ignore the oracle collaboration suite. not only does it present itself as a client suitable for outlook, but all mail and attachements are stored in an oracle database itself. ms are only now looking at putting a true rdbms on the back end of exchange - at the moment it is some crappy object db.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for the interesting read. I must say I was surprised by the compliments for Exchange and degradation of Lotus Notes/Domino... Then again, I am very biased towards the Lotus products as they are my life these days. Domino is more stable, runs on more platforms and has more user interfaces than any of its competition's products. IBM is also starting to put add clients focussed at Linux workstation users.

Having said that, I'll agree with two things. 1) Lotus Domino is proprietary, even though implements open standards - after all, it's not open sourced. 2) The point of his article; For Linux to be adopted easily as a workstation tool by large corporatations it needs a full out Notes or Exchange client. Preferably Notes. ;-) Why? Because most large corporations implement one system or the other and their employees need access; not watered down access but the real deal.

Re: A Good Exchange Replacement

Anonymous's picture

I have evaluated bynari, communigate, domino and scalix and in my opinion scalix is the only one that integrates with outlook seamlessly (the user won't know that exchange is in the back end.) , high uptime and no data store corruption.

Try exchange4linux 3.0

Neuberger's picture

The 3.0 version comes out in March 2005. Take a look. The Outlook integration is compareable to Scalix but the server is completly GPL with a Postges database and the code is mainly Python. New features :

- connect via HTTPs
- complete support of offline folders (personal and public)
- complete support of all third-party MAPI client tools like PDA sync or google search etc.
- SWAP (simple workgroup access protocol) interface
- really fast
- cluster ready

test it


Why world domination?

Anonymous's picture

This ambition is their problem. Not ours :-)

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

let me start out by saying I am in no way an apologist for MS. At home I use Redhat in a dual boot with Win 2000. Win 2000 is largely for compatability. In the past I have tried to go with just linux but others have had problems when I send them files from my linux platform. I.e. a document modified in Openoffice and saved as a Word doc.

Having the fortunate (or unfortunate) opportunity of being both an Exchange and Notes Domino admin in my career I really see both products as being proprietary.

However, I have to agree that Outlook is kick-ass. Particularly the latest release, 2003. The one thing gatesware does right is user interface design. The new interface in Outlook 2003 rocks.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

I have to agree. Outlook rocks. I'm a strictly Linux/Evolution user, but I have never been able to say too many negative things about Outlook aside from the obvious security issues.

As a business owner, Outlook got me started and kept me and my people going. Outlook has become a versatile tool for many small businesses.

Exchange is a time and money pit to be sure. But it's what the office culture(s) use and accept as the cost of doing business.

The Linux groupware market still has a way to go before we can say it rocks as hard as the current market leader.


Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

Good article.

If we want to beat Exchange, we must beat Outlook.

Replacing Outlook is easier, because it's so vulnerable to viruses and worms.

So, let's promote Evolution and Mozilla Thunderbird/Callendar.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

Sorry if I just missed it, but I didn't see anyone mention:

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

I support this question. Opengroupware doesn't deserve not even a mention?

And what about the new Kontact of KDE 3.2 that is suposed to interact with several groupware servers?

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

Systems like Exchange will die as the move to open standards desktops, like Linux-based ones, is accompanied by a move to web-based collaboration systems like Open Text's Livelink.

Interestingly, Livelink plays well with Lotus. Microsoft privately told Open Text years ago that they "must not go there" with MS Exchange. That's how the bully-boy keeps a hold on the market and makes sure that they control exactly where their competition is coming from.

In the end Exchange-like collaboration will become an online service because it makes the most sense that way.

Obvious Choices

Anonymous's picture

First of all, I think the most significant reason for people going with Exchange is that they probably have a bunch of Windows systems already, and all they need to do is to pick up the 'phone and license Exchange from their existing supplier - ie. Microsoft and partners - who will presumably make sure that it is supported on the stuff they have. Whether this gets them on the upgrade treadmill or not is mostly irrelevant, since if they're a Microsoft shop, they're already on the treadmill.

Now, the argument about needing all the functions of Exchange: this is a bit like people saying that they need all the functions of Office and won't migrate to, for example. It may be true that they're deluding themselves, but certainly, in the real world and contrary to Slashdot-level commentary, people do use Outlook and Exchange for more than just e-mail; typically, the basic calendaring/meetings stuff gets used, plus the enterprise-wide address book support; stuff like discussion forums and newsgroups come way down the list, in my experience.

What the open source community needs to do is to make a convenient, integrated competitor to Exchange that not only is a no-brainer to adopt (ie. some company IT strategist decides that it is the way to go), but is also technically easy to deploy. People can go on all they want about package X plus packages Y and Z doing the same job provided you edit /etc/something.conf and its 35 other siblings, but this just turns most people off.

Certainly, there are various open source projects now addressing the needs of current Exchange users, but I get the impression that there is a way to go for the fruits of those projects to become the "obvious" choices for those users, in terms of visibility, availability of support and documentation, and completeness.

Why, O why... does everyone forget...

Anonymous's picture

Novell's GroupWise.

I have used GroupWise for Small to HUGE organizations.

Matter of Fact a $5B Food Service Company (HQ'd in Michigan) that acquired 2 other $500M companies... Just did a complete review of it's File/Print/E-mail systems. Mainly because both of the acquisitions were Exchange/Windows ONLY.

Well, they Figured out what extending the Novell eDir/User Licenses/GroupWise Licenses, including the Cost of Bandwidth Requirements. Then went to figure the Microsoft, License for License... Bandwidth costs were Near 50% Higher due to the Heavier Syncing needing to be done for Windows AD and Exchange Sync.

When they realized, Just CALs for Microsoft File an Printing exhausted the same money for the Whole Shebang in Novell Netware/GroupWise... the decision was made that the $900K per year was a significant amount of money. That was just for the licensing. Not to mention 80% of the Server Hardware at the new companies would need to be flat out replaced for Exchange and Windows to handle the Complete Corporate system... whereas with the Novell Option only about 20% needed Update/replacements.

Now, that Novell has Purchased SuSE and Ximian... this bodes well to make going to Linux easy.

BTW, Novell's GroupWise has resource sharing and Documents Libraries and Busy Searching (including Offline Busy Searches) for thise elusive "Hey everyone can attend" meetings. I have a feeling Ximians Evolution Might just get the additional features it needs. But Then again the GroupWise Client already is trying to become "Super Light"

Exchange not as proprietary as Lotus Notes - uh??

Anonymous's picture

I cannot see any way in which Exchange is less proprietary than Notes. And quite frankly, if your "top IT guy" is unaware that Notes beats Exchange on every count, he should not be being quoted. He clearly hasn't got a clue. Notes and Domino might have some deficiencies that deny them the accolade of "groupware done right" (ok, so I'm a perfectionist), but they are still the leader in the field by a long chalk. Many internet technologies are converging into the space that Lotus Notes explored 10 to 15 years ago. But they still have a long way to go to match Notes and Domino. And as these technologies get closer in functionality and stability as the proprietary technologies inside Notes, then IBM simply replace the proprietary technology with the new internet standard.

My business is predicated on Linux and other open source software - but I have no hesitation in buying and using Notes and Domino to run on Linux, because I think it is going to take 5 to 10 years before there is anything open source to come close to Notes and Domino. The best contender so far is Zope, but even that is years behind Notes and Domino in functionality.

I can use the Firebird RDBMS instead of Oracle (and gain some features, but lose others); I can use Firefox instead of IE (and just gain all the way). I can't use anything in place of Notes and Domino without losing all the way.

I bought into Domino using the IBM Small Business Suite for Linux (approx $400 a shot). They have unfortunately (and short-sightedly) discontinued this product. [If you are reading this Ed Brill - bring back the SBS and push it - there's a whole new market of users and businesses who can benefit from Domino. Whilst those of us who use Domino know that at approx $2000 per server Domino is still great value for money, the prospects don't know this. Why not try to get the different Linux distributors to re-sell the SBS for Linux?]

The utility and security provided by Domino are unparalleled. So many times security is an afterthought. But with Domino it is built into every level (heck, even single fields can be encrypted or hidden based on the user's access privileges). My business is run on multiple Domino servers running on Linux, with the NSF databases being replicated between the different sites over encrypted channels. Sure, with other products I could have built all the security layers myself, and created a replication mechanism, and made sure it all happened through SSH or Zebedee... but all this comes as standard with Domino, and has been tried and tested for 20 years. Why re-invent the wheel, when I need to actually just use those wheels to get going?

Any powerful technology such as Oracle or Domino or Webobjects or Zope is going to be quite complex. But another of the great things about Domino is the massive and helpful community of developers and sysadmins - with any problem one can search the user forums at IBM (or even just Google the net) and find an answer within 20 minutes. I am not joking. I don't know of any other development environment where I have been able to so quickly find answers to problems.

The weird thing is, that it is only those of us who use Notes and Domino who really 'get it'. I could not even contemplate how my business would have gotten off the ground and have the potential for expansion if I was not using Notes and Domino.

I'm not trying to sell Domino. There are an estimated 100 million Notes/Domino users, so IBM don't need my help. But for any business based on Linux, if there is one proprietary product they should be looking at, it is Domino not Oracle or Sybase (use Firebird instead). If you want to maximise the potential of your business, you owe it to yourself to learn more about Domino.

Re: Competencies

Doc's picture

One correction and one oversight.

The correction is about Oracle at Orbitz. Oracle runs at Orbitz on Solaris, not Linux.

The oversight is about Chandler, a project of Mitch Kapor's Open Source Applications Foundation. If it weren't for Mitch, there wouldn't have been a Lotus, and probably not a Microsoft Exchange, either.

Note that Mitch has, however, disclaimed Chandler as an "Outlook killer". This is from his weblog in October, 2002:

I've already seen the propensity of the media to position OSAF's project as, "an Outlook Killer" (Slashdot). CNET's story yesterday opened with this: "Can a fledgling nonprofit organization with half a dozen employees challenge the largest software company in the world?" In the real world, matters are considerably more complicated.

One thing CNET did get right -- we're not aiming Chandler at the large enterprise market. As shipped, I'm certain it will flunk the checklist because we are not doing the work to make it scale to an organization of 1,000 or 10,000 people. Selling to large enterprises is where Microsoft rakes in the big money for Exchange server(s) and license fees . In that sense, as CNET reported accurately, we're not a threat to Microsoft's business.

We are trying to level the playing field by giving small & medium organizations collaborative tools which are as good as what large companies have had. We think we can do this in a way which doesn't have the administrative burden of Notes or Exchange. We're trying to be faithful to the original spirit of the personal computer -- empowerment through decentralization.

If Chandler gets initial traction, then perhaps with another turn of the wheel it will grow up, much as Linux did over the course of quite a few years to become an enterprise-class product. So, in this sense, it's a potential long-term threat, just as Linux emerged as competition for Microsoft in the server market. If I were Microsoft, I'd be worried about open source in general, not about losing Outlook/Exchange market share any time soon. With or without OSAF, I believe all of the applications in Office will be commoditized with equivalent free versions. I can see it happening . It's not quite there yet but I bet it will be. I'm imagining there are teams of programs around the world working on this at this very moment. In a few years generic PC's will come with a free, competent office suite bundled. That will challenge Microsoft's hegemony in desktop applications.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

Some comments about this article on my blog at
Chris W. echoed some of my thoughts already -- I think that IBM Lotus have an interoperability story that trumps MS in spades, especially with the updated Outlook connector that is shipping next month.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

From the blog:

    I would argue that it's Outlook that is deeply entrenched, not Exchange.

Agreed. I've asked many people who use Outlook if they would consider an alternative to Exchange...and all say they 'need all the capabilities of Exchange'.

When asked what they actually use, most look dumbfounded. 'Well, email, (pause) and secheduling meetings. I hear that marketing/accounting/... needs it for some other fancy functions.' (Why is it that the real heavy users are always some other group with undefined heavy/advanced 'needs'?)

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

Putting on my black robes, the reason and the only reason that Exchange wins is that it can do the things you want it to do in the Enterprise. Black robes, those belong to the Lotus notes people, thats serious brain surgery.
The latest version of exchange allows you do do some very cool things if you are in an enterprise. The spam filters work, though your spamage my very, you can set up video conferences with your meetings, you can remind people of webcasts if your are doing training, etc etc. The downside is because it's microsoft you have to deal with every kiddie in the world attacking you.
As someone who's just gotten my win 2k system back after a horde of viruses came from a bar review site> (no joke). You learn the vitures of keeping up with patches. Mine snuck through the RPC patched.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

It is hilarious that you consider Notes to be 'black robe' and 'brain surgery'. Many serious developers (e.g. the J2EE developers who like to build every single piece of a framework for themselves) sneer at Notes because it is comparatively soooo easy to use. You can install and setup a Notes server in 20 minutes. Download an evaluation version and give it a go. You'll be surprised.

Of course, administering a system where a single server could scale to 150,000 simultaneous users (see if you don't believe me) - or a network that could consist of hundreds of globally distributed servers where the data is being replicated and administered centrally - is going to require some more effort to design and control.

Exchange has been playing 'follow the leader' to Notes since Exchange's inception. The organizations that choose to use Exchange in preference to Notes are quite simply ignorant. And I am not even bringing the problem of worms and viruses into the equation.

The employer I left last year had been running a Notes email system for at least 5 years. There was no anti-virus protection on the servers. And they never had a single email virus issue on the Notes system. Of course it was an entirely different scenario with the few Outlook users - they were often mortified by the email viruses that were taking control of their systems. Even the IT Director (who was a butt-kissing Gates lover) was not stupid enough to even consider introducing Exchange. He was constantly fighting the rest of the department to try to replace Oracle with Sql Server; the Notes developers used to suggest ditching Notes just to wind him up - he looked so panicy :-)

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

A couple thoughts:

1. on the downside, Exchange is unbelievably unstable, thus expensive to administer.

2. I think iCal (the format, not (just) the Mac app) is going to start to make big inroads for GroupCalendaring. Outlook users can auto-publish their Free/Busy time and use similar calendars posted by others...

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

I would totally agree with this. My last company I was at, for just 30+ users on a Quad-Xeon Dell server it took a day to re-build Exchange after a hard-crash. Of course, people had huge mailboxes, which probably accounted for a lot of the time, but still to me, this would be unacceptable. And while I might agree that biz guys really do love the calendaring, I don't agree with Microsoft's everything and the kitchen sink approach.

Another company I was at started having problems as soon as we replaced the tried and true CourierImap and Postfix daemons with Exchange. There were weekly reboots after that.

On the topic of iCal, I too have kept my eye on this. And I plan to implement it in a product I'm building. I think it's great and another thing I really love about so many Internet based app protocols/file-types is they're plain text. Microsoft's continued reliance on binary file types is a hinderance for the end-user and in my opinion, ultimately stifles innovation for the greater community at large.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

Additional consideration should also be given to the requirements of Exchange, notably Active Directory. It seems that Microsoft is adding increasing dependence on Active Directory and that could have an impact on platform selection at the corporate IT level.

I am not a Linux user, and am unsure if there is a technology that allows Linux to interact with Active Directory, if so this may not be that big of an issue.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

In addition, Exchange 2003 is leveraging IIS 6.0 on Windows Server 2003. They are actively adding new dependencies, to quote Doc, to "lithify" the platform strata in the enterprise.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

I think you might be interested in some of the products that Novell will be bringing to the Linux world as a result of it's purchase of SuSE.
It will evenually include the Groupware software that has been part of it's Netware lineup for quite a while.
They are going to provide the Central directory services from Netware as a Linux Service too.
I believe that SuSE's Enterprise Server combined with the items that I mentioned above, has the potential to create a very competent replacement for Exchange and its components.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

LDAP == AD. You can put LDAP servers/clients on any OS afaik.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture



Embrace, extend, extinguish...repeat.

Re: Competencies, AD

Anonymous's picture

FYI: Samba 3.0 interacts with Active Directory.

Re: Competencies

Anonymous's picture

If you haven't looked at Lotus Domino yet, then you're missing out. The latest release has an excellent browser client that now runs in Netscape/MoZilla. It even has an integrated Lotus Instant Messaging that is bundled with the client licenses. While Microsoft does not make it easy for you to connect to Exchange, IBM Lotus does. You can even run Lotus Domino on Linux servers if you wish.

Don't call Lotus proprietary when you don't call Microsoft proprietary. Lotus is more open-platform than Microsoft will ever think of being. Do you want to run the latest and greatest from MS? Well you'll have to upgrade to Exchange 2003, Windows 2003, MS Active Directory, SQL server (on another Windows 2003 server), etc...

Chris Whisonant

Re: Competencies

Doc's picture

Good point. Obviously Lotus Domino is a common environment in many enterprises. But I don't hear anybody voicing conflict about it. Exhange is different. IT guys bring it up in the context of the love/hate relationship they have with Microsoft. I suppose IBM and Lotus don't engender the same kind of conflicts. On the contrary, I gather (as you also point out) that Lotus Domino is highly symbiotic with Linux. If Exchange also ran on Linux, there wouldn't be the same sense of conflict, or the usual suspicions about monoplistic intentions on Microsoft's part.

As for the proprietary nature of both systems, true. But I avoid using term proprietary as an opposite of open source. Because it isn't. the opposite of proprietary is public domain. The opposite of open is closed. I explain more about the subject here.

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