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Volution: Promising Solution, GUI Not Quite There Yet - page 4

A Volution Overview

  • March 20, 2002
  • By Dee-Ann LeBlanc

All right, this is what I was here to see. Caldera touts how easy this mail server is to configure, how even the non-technical staff can set up email accounts with it. You know that's like waving raw fresh bloody meat in front of a shark when you say this to a reviewer.

The instructions for the first login are pretty simple. From any user account, you open up your favorite web browser and access a particular URL. No problem, this action brings me to what you see in Figure 1.

From here the instructions are to log in with the default login and password. I try that. The login page just reloads. I scratch my head and wonder if I was too literal and go over the instructions again. No matter what I try the login page just reloads. I read the instructions in three different places, written three different ways, and they all just confirm that I'm doing it right.

I tear some hair out and walk away, and eventually came back to try and show my other half what was going wrong, and ... it worked. I haven't had the problem since and I've logged out and back in many times since then. The initial screen is shown in Figure 2.

Of course, the first order of business is to change the default administrator's password. Caldera wisely plasters this all over the manual, and scrolling to the bottom of the left-hand menu takes me to the Admin Password link. After changing the password, I return to the main screen to take the configuration tool through its paces.

Here's where I get really fussy. This administrative tool was written specifically for two operating systems, and during the installation we're told to use a specific installation class. The programmers know where all of the important files are, and while they cannot assume that some savvy Linux administrator hasn't messed with the defaults, they can certainly write something to see if the defaults are what's expected.

So, if this is the case, then I shouldn't have to step outside this nice GUI interface much. Everything I want to do should be right here, right? Well, let's see. I can tell Volution about my virtual domains using the GUI, but I have to leave the interface and create MX records either by hand or using (as the documentation suggests) Webmin, and if I want to learn more about how to do that I have to go consult the OpenLinux Server documentation. The same goes for adding the DNS information, network addresses, and so on.

It seems to me that the admin GUI should handle this for me, or at the very least give me the chance to let it handle such things while stepping me through it so I can make sure it's doing what I want and edit as needed (or skip it all together). If I wanted the office non-techie account manager to add virtual domains as customers need them, there's no way that person is going to figure out this process, and I sure don't want to let them even go as far as trying to fiddle with the Webmin end of things. That's just too much access to too many vital system issues.

At the very least, let Volution Messaging Center's GUI open up the appropriate Webmin module. Then I'd be more comfortable.

Once I set up a few domains it's time to create some email accounts. Remember what I said about email accounts having nothing to do with /etc/passwd? Right now, there are no email accounts on this system as far as Volution Messaging Center is concerned, except for the mail administrator's that is. I must go through and create every user's email account by hand through the GUI interface. It would be nice to see an import feature here.

The account creation screen (Figure 3) incorporates both standard user account information and LDAP, so you can enter everything from general user information to contact information. With proper training a non-techie should be able to fill in these items without a problem. I don't quite feel that the interface is completely idiot-simple though, there is terminology that a non-techie wouldn't understand, and there are important field distinctions that come into play. For example, every physical user is supposed to have only one user ID in the system, that's used across all of the mail domains. This ID is what the user utilizes when logging into the mail server, and in fact can't be the same as any login ID that might already be set in /etc/passwd--and I see no automated checks to warn us when we try to create an overlapping user/login ID.

It's on another part of the form where we fill in the person's actual email address for this one specific domain, and this address may or may not be related to their user ID. If we want to create a "webmaster" account on all of the domains and point them all to the same person, once again we have to do all of this by hand, or set up a number of aliases by hand. The alias creation form confuses me with the terminology, so I imagine once again that a non-techie would need some hand-holding to get used to this aspect of account management as well.

By this point you might be surprised to learn that there are actually things I like about this package. Where it really shines is allowing users to update their own LDAP information, change their own passwords, set up their own email forwarding (though I'm of mixed feelings there, I've seen forwarding used for strange purposes), and even has a script you can run if you're a Microsoft Outlook user that will configure Outlook to properly connect to the server. I especially have mixed feelings about the vacation notifier setup, though I suppose most mailing list software these days manages to filter out these notices.

It's while looking at the user features that I could really hear the collective sigh of relief from overburdened system administrators. The only real concern I have there is that all users need to be warned that their LDAP information is available for any other user to search for. This information may be essential in an office environment but there are other situations where it would be nice to be able, as an administrator, to shut that feature off.

There are some other nice features as well. Want to integrate virus checking into your mail server? This is an ability I was actually looking for, and there it was: you can grab Sophos Sweep or CA InnoculateIT, edit the file vscan.conf, and suddenly your server is set up to protect your users from viruses. Mind you, I'm not sure why we have to edit a file, there should be a GUI feature for that. All we do in the file is uncomment a line of code.

You can also incorporate anti-spam policies, which is another feature I was specifically watching for, through a combination of Postfix utilities (though for some reason they don't include an updated Webmin Postfix module with the mail server even though they know that the existing module in OpenLinux Server is out of date). And of course Caldera was wise enough to ensure that their mail server is set up to not allow relaying. Secure Sockets are also implemented through OpenSSL, and are set up automatically, leaving an administrator even less issues to have to fool with--at least for the mail server. An odd pair is user mailbox quotas and attachment sizes. Mail is not stored in ASCII files with Volution Messaging Server, and since the accounts don't actually exist in /etc/passwd the mail isn't stored under individual users either. It's all kept within a Cyrus database, so if you want to set up mail user quotas you have to do so through Cyrus. This is another place where it would be nice to have integration with the GUI utility rather than having to set up these issues manually.

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