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Can Linux Open-Xchange Replace Microsoft Exchange?

The Many Moods of Open-Xchange

  • January 21, 2011
  • By Joe Brockmeier

Whether you're replacing Microsoft Exchange or just looking for a competent groupware suite, Open-Xchange is one of the leading contenders for Linux. How does it rate? Very well, with a few caveats.

This month I'll be looking at the administration side of Open-Xchange. Next month I'll report in on the actual end user experience and whether Open-Xchange is worth deploying.

So what is Open-Xchange? Basically it's a collaboration platform that can replace Microsoft Exchange, or simply serve as a groupware offering for small or large organizations. It can support integration with Microsoft Active Directory, if you need that, or provide LDAP services. It has all the groupware features you'd expect for a modern workplace — email/Webmail, calendaring, task management, contact management, document storage, and so on. OX has connectors or (prepare for a truly bad pun) "OXtenders" for synchronizing with Outlook, Mac OS X, and mobile devices.

Got all that? Now we need to select a version of Open-Xchange to deploy.

The Many Moods of Open-Xchange

Like many open source based solutions, Open-Xchange has several versions. You have the option of a hosted version through one of Open-Xchange's resellers, the Server Edition, Appliance, or the Community Edition. Confused? It's not really that bad:

The hosted edition is offered through providers like 1&1. They do the setup, you pay per month or per user. Or if you're a hosting provider, you might offer this yourself. That's way beyond the scope of what I'm looking at, though.

The Server and Appliance editions are for companies that want to host their own supported versions of Open-Xchange. If you want to install Open-Xchange on a server running other services or have support contracts with Red Hat or Novell, then you'd go with the Server edition. In other words, you're going to install the packages yourself. The Appliance version is for installation on a bare server or delivered as a VMware image that you can slap in and boot up.

Finally, there's the Community Edition. This is unsupported and as you might expect, is going to take a bit more elbow grease to install and configure. It is, however, free. This can be somewhat challenging to locate on the Open-Xchange site, at least if you're coming through the front page. To put it mildly, the site needs help. Let me take that back — the site needs an intervention, not just help. Finding anything, like a simple and straightforward explanation of what Open-Xchange is, can be difficult. Finding the downloads for the open source editions can be incredibly difficult.

But they can be found. To get a feel for Open-Xchange, I've looked at the Appliance version and Community Edition.

As you can see from the installation guide, installation and basic configuration of the Community Edition is going to take a while. I'd budget at least a half a day to get Open-Xchange installed and ready to handle users. Really, I'd budget a full day because you're also going to want to read through the docs and if anything is missed give it another go.

The Appliance edition is much simpler. You can get it installed and ready to configure for users in an hour or so. Figure in a bit more time for plowing through the documentation.

Speaking of the documentation, it's a case of good news and bad news.

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