LJ Archive


Exchanging Exchange

Doc Searls

Issue #180, April 2009

On progress toward dislodging Microsoft's biggest enterprise lock-in.

More than five years ago, Linux-friendly IT executives told me (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7414) there was one Microsoft product that was not only highly entrenched but appealing as well: Exchange Server. “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.”

That was then, but what about now? Recently, I asked readers on the Linux Journal Web site how they'd replace Exchange.

Zimbra came up big:

  • “Zimbra is open source (though not free software) and has a feature set that is on par with and sometimes even exceeds Exchange. If you are not running an MS-only shop, Zimbra is the best alternative.”

  • “Zimbra is extremely good, though not light on resources, and it requires a dedicated server to run. It does work flawlessly with free clients like Thunderbird and Evolution while having good support for Outlook. The downside is that it is not completely free (the YPL is open source, but entirely free).”

  • “Zimbra, hands down. If you're looking for an open-source alternative to Exchange, one of the most important things to look at is the community. The Zimbra community on the forums is awesome, and the Zimbra staff really pay attention to what we as the community say.”

  • “I also have used Zimbra (free) for my other gigs, and it has worked well, but the packaging of Zimbra is not very desirable.”

  • “I love Zimbra, as it has a cohesive PIM suite that simply and seamlessly syncs with my mobile devices.”

  • “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.”

  • “Zimbra (Network Edition, not the free/OSS edition) gives full Outlook integration and probably works just as good as Exchange, functionality-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.”

  • “Zimbra is probably the best open-source enterprise e-mail/collaboration product on the market.”

There was some support for Google Apps:

  • “Google Apps does not have the high degree of client seamlessness that Zimbra has: Web, complete Outlook (PIM, Filters, GAL, etc.), Zimbra Desktop, iPhone/WAP, OTA ActiveSync and so on.”

  • “We're small (20-person software company), but we dropped Exchange about two 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.”

  • “Google uses Gmail. Doesn't everybody?”

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

  • “Our university, including our medical school and hospital, went with Google, and it has been a big success.”

IBM Lotus Domino/Notes was endorsed for big enterprises, but not without respect for Exchange:

  • “We've installed IBM Lotus Domino/Notes at a dozen small (10–100 users) businesses. Its versatility is awesome. It's so much more than e-mail. It's rock solid. We run servers on SUSE, Red Hat and Windows. We run clients on Windows, Mac and, yes, Linux! And the pricing is so very affordable.”

  • “I used to work for a multinational (100,000+ employees) consumer goods company who used Notes/Domino, then was moved to Big Blue who also used Notes/Domino. I now work for a much smaller bank (6,000 employees) that uses Outlook/Exchange. Experience has shown that larger companies with massive user bases tend to use Domino, as it just scales better than Exchange used to. Microsoft has put a lot of effort into making sure Exchange is more robust and that it scales better....Having used both, my preference is for the Notes/Domino combination, as I miss having my workspace.”

Citadel got props:

  • “...you really want to take a look at Citadel. Although it looks nothing like Exchange, it solves many of the same problems (e-mail, calendars, address books) and some new ones (instant messenger, chat, forums and more), and it does so in a way that is more intuitive. Many who try it soon find that they can't live without it.”

  • “We use www.citadel.org. It is open source, free, rock solid and well supported. Now we have 50 accounts (but 40GB of indexed mail).”

Scalix (along with some of the others in some cases) got mixed reviews:

  • “I used Scalix at the last company I worked for and liked it a lot.”

  • “Scalix is not open source, and the Community version is seriously broken (no CalDAV, etc.).”

  • “OX/Scalix/Zimbra are bloated and pretend to be open source.”

Others: Kolab, Dovecot, Gordano, Bynari, Postfix+dovecot+chandler-server, Axigen, Communigate, Mailtrust, Novell Groupwise, OpenExchange, Zafara, Sun suites. There was no mention of Scalable OpenGroupware.org, which Francis Lachapelle and Ludovic Marcotte reviewed in April 2008.

So the challenge remains. Any bets on how long it will take to finish the job?

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal. He is also a fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and the Center for Information Technology and Society at UC Santa Barbara.

LJ Archive