Top 5 Open Source Alternatives to Microsoft Exchange - Page 2

By Carla Schroder | Posted May 04, 2011

More Open Source Alternatives to Microsoft Exchange


The Zimbra collaboration suite is another commercial many-bells-and-whistles, open source-based server with proprietary add-ons. It includes all the usual goodies: email, Webmail, shared folders, shared contacts, calendaring and scheduling, instant messaging and mobile devices, plus Outlook sync.

Zimbra's Web interface is called Zimbra Desktop. Zimbra Desktop supports all of Zimbra's features, and it supports syncing external accounts such as Gmail, Yahoo, or any POP3 or IMAP mail. In fact, a feature common to all of the groupware suites in this article is they have excellent Web-based client interfaces, so you don't need standalone clients like Outlook or Evolution. If you can wean users away from their beloved Outlook you can make administration a lot easier, and not have to hassle with the cost of using special Outlook connectors.

Zimbra has Zimlets, which is their name for mashups, which is another name for usefully-collating multiple sources of information. This lets you do things like check your calendar, set appointments, and pick a restaurant to meet in without ever leaving the email you're reading. Zimlets make a lot of information available on mouseovers such as phone numbers, flight schedules, status messages, maps, address books entries, and lots more. (A picture is worth a thousand words, so check out the demonstration video.) There is a whole gallery of Zimlets to choose from, and you can write and share your own.


The historical stumbling block for replacing MS Exchange has been Microsoft's closed, proprietary MAPI protocol. In 2007 the European Union ordered Microsoft to open several of its protocols such as CIFS (Common Internet File System), MS Active Directory protocols and MAPI. When Samba 4 is released it will have full support for the Microsoft protocols, providing an Active Directory alternative. MAPI is key to natively supporting MS Outlook, and to interoperability between Exchange and other groupware and mail servers.

The OpenChange project has been developing a portable open source implementation of MAPI, with the goal of native Exchange and Outlook support, and you can see this in action in the SOGo groupware suite. SOGo supports multiple languages, and multiple clients such as Outlook, Thunderbird, Blackberry, iPhone, and Android. SOGo is Free software and free of cost.


Zarafa, based in the Netherlands, also offers native Outlook support. Zarafa is designed to add on to your existing mail server and WebDAV server. An easy way to get acquainted is to set up a Fedora Linux test server, because Zarafa is included in Fedora.

What Sets Linux Groupware Servers Apart?

When you do a Web search for "linux groupware servers" you'll find many more, such as Scalix, Horde, eGroupware and Kolab -- all with similar feature sets. Underneath you'll find much of the same software, such as Postfix, Dovecot, Apache, PHP, MySQL, Squirrelmail, OpenWebmail, Courier and Linux. The differences are in integration and polish, ease of installation and management, support for proprietary devices or protocols, support for extensions (like Zimlets), and licensing and support costs. It is a feast of good choices.

Carla Schroder is a system and network administrator and author of The Book of Audacity, Linux Cookbook, Linux Networking Cookbook and many how-to Linux articles.

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