What would you exchange Exchange for?

It's long been clear to me that the biggest lock-in Microsoft has, at the enterprise level, is not with Windows or personal apps, but with Exchange Server. And the biggest problem there is this: it's good. Enterprises like it. And, since Exchange works only or best with Windows machines, the lock-in extends to much else. Linux and Mac boxes get purged and replaced by Windows ones.

Or so goes the story I hear from folks at big enterprises.

So I'm wondering about alternatives. Not just about applications, but about who's doing what. Is Google using Exchange? Are Sun, IBM or other open-friendly companies? If not, what ways have they found around it? What do they give up and what do they gain?

Feel free to comment below or contact me directly if you're not comfortable posting here.

FWIW, I'm most interested in hearing what big enterprises -- in business, medicine, education, government -- are doing. Because that's where the lock-in is biggest and there are the fewest alternatives.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Garn LeBaron's picture

We switched to the Zimbra Open Source version and it is working quite well. There was some initial resistance from users, but that has largely dissipated over a couple months of use.

We're small, but we dropped exchange for Google Apps

Rakesh's picture

We're small (20 person software company), but we dropped Exchange about 2 years ago in favor of Google Apps. We lost seamless contact and calendar sync on some mobile phones in the office, but we gained a bunch of time from our IT administrator (that was otherwise spent administering exchange), we gained a great deal of stability and reliability, and we gained all the benefits of Google Mail (http://rake.sh/blog/2006/05/08/using-gmail-for-work/).

What's The Best Hope For Exchange Clients?

TesserId's picture

And, for those of use who had been so happy with our FOSS clients and then were forced to connect to an Exchange server, what is our future.

I'm convinced that the clients play a big role in applying market pressure.

What is the best option and best hope for the future in the way of cross-platform open-source clients?


crprod's picture

I'm a consultant at a large university. The school in which I work has a Sun IMAP server for most staff and students. Web and client-based email works well, but they have no good mobile solutions. Some people have a full Exchange solution with calendaring and email. A larger group has a different Exchange server with calendaring only, but Outlook tends to load this server up with users' email even when they use it with IMAP for the Sun server. Since the user quota on this server is very small, nothing will work right then. and it takes lots of my work to fix it. The ultimate plan is to go to Exchange for everyone so that this three server mess will go away, and all problems will be with a single system.
My employer which, besides me, mainly supports small businesses resells a lot of hosted Exchange accounts to very small businesses which can't afford Exchange servers of their own.


Serge van Ginderachter's picture

The plus with Exchange is it's integration with a directory and file/print server. (Don't even try to mention Samba/Ldap/.. combinations.)

Zimbra (Network Edition, not the free/oss edition) gives full Outlook integration, and probably works just as good as Exchange, functionally wise.

Unfortunately, for my customers (very small business), Zimbra's pricing is not up to par, and compared to Windows SBS pricing even way too expensive. But I guess for enterprise environments it's a very good option.


Anonymous's picture

OK guys wich software do u think is the best other than windoze on linux?

Google all the way...

Anonymous's picture

As a startup heavily developing in/for Windows, we played with the idea of running Exchange. After all, we also use Outlook/Office... the thought of spending so much up front and much more in IT later on got us to look elsewhere. So, we moved everybody to Google business accounts and haven't looked back since! it does everything Exchange does and more for a fraction of the cost. We also ditch Outlook altogether!

What about open-xchange

Babar's picture

Have been hearing a lot about this. Does any one has any experience with it

To answer the question in

GK's picture

To answer the question in the article: Sun is using Sun Mail server (or Java Messaging Server or whatever the latest version's name is, I'm just too lazy too look it up), IBM is using Domino/Lotus, Novell is using GroupWise. Don't know about Google, but as some said they're using Google ;)

The biggest reason for Exchange being so popular is the Outlook and MS Office integration. I used to work with GroupWise back in the day and the # 1 reason why everyone (well except Novell) eventually switched over to Exchange is it's MS Office integration. There's also a glaring lack of standard for scheduling/calendaring, and again that's where Outlook comes in. So it's not even Exchange per se, but it's Outlook/MS Office being the reason behind Exchange being #1 mail platform.

There are open source alternatives to Exchange, but unfortunately none of them integrates with Outlook 100%. Which is pretty much the main reason holding them back. Even my Windoze admin admits that he would ditch Exchange in a heartbeat if he could find something else that works with Outlook 100%.

Yeah I know, both Sun Mail and GroupWise can integrate with Outlook, but somehow there's a total lack of either marketing or interest by these vendors to go up against Microsoft. When was the last time you saw an ad for either Sun or GroupWise mail?

I used to work for a company that was looking to upgrade from an ancient version of Sun mail (iPlanet). So we invited some vendors to come in. Novell was basically a no-show (their own fault). IBM and MS both did a good presentation. Management didn't even consider Sun. In the end it was "executive decision" to implement Exchange. Pretty typical story as far as I can tell.

Exchange exchange....

Peter's picture

At home I have just been playing around and setting up my own mailserver on Opensolaris, so that kind of trimmed my options down somewhat.
I found Axigen works well, I downloaded the free version, which only allows 5 accounts, but otherwise fully functional, it is scalable up to enterprise edition.
Cheers, Peter

It's the calendar

Andrew Diederich's picture

The "killer app" portion of exchange is the calendar. The integration between the mail client (outlook) and the calendaring (outlook + exchange) is the thing that really ties companies to outlook. (And the decision makers think "outlook," they don't think "exchange.") Thunderbird, etc. may have a good mailclient, but since it doesn't hook well into the calendar the decision makers don't use it.

Manager: Schedule me for a meeting on that. Great idea.
Techie: Write this down: 9 AM Friday.
Manager: No, send it to my outloook.
Techie: Um, that's hard to do with mutt...

A close second feature is offline mail (ost files in outlook speak). People still spend a lot of time disconnected with laptops, and they want to be able to work offline, and sync up and down when they come back online.

All that being said, I used Zimbra briefly a year ago and liked it.

Usefull Microsoft Updates

Jason's picture

I hear microsoft changed the name of outlook express and added a new splash screen. Lets all hook that back up to a free hotmail account where they dont charge you for passing bulk spam to your inbox - FREE from Microsoft. SuperSpamBox by M$...patent pending. Funny thing is a couple of people I know from M$ get pop mail from a linuxbox @ M$ so they say.

I'd be interested in knowing what institutions (govt or private) that have upgrade / growth plans for 2009 are considering now with the pitiful state of the economy. How is the economy changing fundamental infrastructure technology and how FOSS is going to help us get through.

Sun's IMAP server

Songmaster's picture

I work at a DOE .gov science lab which does use Exchange in some parts but my division has always been different and for servers is mostly SUN-based, using their IMAP server and a veritable cornucopia of MUA programs. We use the Sun calendar server as well for shared calendars, but it's not integrated like Exchange and since we install most of the popular MUAs on the user platforms (Solaris, WinXP, Fedora, MacOS-X) it doesn't integrate into the Mail solution at all, so many people use other programs for personal calendars anyway.

I agree that this has been an Achilles heel for FOSS for many years.

Zimbra is probably the best

Luke's picture

Zimbra is probably the best open source enterprise email/collaboration product on the market as they didn't just try to copy Outlook/Exchange like other competitors, eg. Scalix

FYI: Google use gmail :)

google uses google

Anonymous's picture

google uses gmail. doesn't everybody :)

CommuniGate Pro. Or just

Anonymous's picture

CommuniGate Pro.

Or just throw away Exchange and use Google Apps/Docs/Mail, as many businesses do. Google Apps are so much better!!

Security concerns

Anonymous's picture

I work in IT Security for a large governmental entity in the health care field. I would have some serious concerns about security and privacy using gmail for ANY business.

It's hard enough to teach end users (we have about 17,000) that if they send patient data they need to encrypt it. Now companies are hosting all of their proprietary information on a third party network.

That would keep me awake at night...

replacing exchange

Anonymous's picture

Our University including our medical school and hospital went with Google and it has been a big success. Those that doubt the Google solution from a security or legal standpoint need to get educated.

> from a security or legal

Anonymous's picture

> from a security or legal standpoint need to get educated.

Then please educate us!

e.g. Why is using an American-hosted e-mail service safe for patient data that should legally remain in the EU?
e.g. Why is allowing confidential American patient medical data outside of a secured encrypted network a good idea?

Forgot to mention the URL of CommuniGate Pro

Herbert G. Fischer's picture


Herbert G. Fischer's picture

There is CommuniGate. It's a very good software, supports MAPI and ActiveSync also.
We are using it for clusters with hundreds of thousands of mail boxes.


Shawn Powers's picture

I know in education, many K12 schools use GroupWise. It's often limited to staff, however, due to cost. A few use Exchange, but the price is just too steep.

For smaller districts (like mine), we tend to use "Not a darn thing" -- which is just as frustrating as it sounds. There are projects out there that offer some of the same features, but while they're open, they're also obscure.

I'm also curious to hear what responses you get.


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


Jeff's picture

Hey Shawn,

I've started deploying horde in my district - the configuration is a bit daunting (for me at least) but I've so far been very impressed with its breadth and depth. Given most fo our back-end is linux (CentOS) with openldap+postfix+cyrus-imap the integration is good, scales well so far, and will let me store prefs in ldap as well.

Price is right for K12.

Article in LJ? (by someone more adept than myself)... K12 needs good FOSS solutions for collaborative tools.