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Farewell MS Exchange, Hello Linux Open-Xchange

The User Oxperience

  • February 18, 2011
  • By Joe Brockmeier
It is the cherished dream of many a server admin to be liberated from babysitting Microsoft Exchange. One attractive option is a nice stout Linux server running the open-source Open-Xchange-- but what if your users revolt?

Where oh where can we find refuge from Microsoft Exchange? One option is Open-Xchange, a groupware suite that serves as a replacement for Microsoft Exchange. From a licensing and cost perspective, OX looks like a great deal--but that means nothing if your users are going to revolt. So let's look at how OX stands up from the user's perspective, and whether you can cut the ties or not and still keep users happy.

Now, it doesn't take much to convince Linux-friendly admins that Exchange is expendable. But many admins are just as happy using Mutt and IMAP rather than Exchange, and you're probably not going to convice the account department that Mutt is a suitable replacement for Outlook. (Sorry.) Last month I looked at the admin's eye view of OX, but this time around I wanted to actually spend some time with OX and see if it was end user friendly.

Some background first. I've used just about every mail client on Linux, and find them all wanting to some extent. Right now I use Mutt for most of my mail, but get my mail through Google Apps for Your Domain. I still use the Gmail interface quite a bit for searching through my mail, and I also use Google Calendar to manage my calendars. I've also used Outlook for work email in the past (thankfully, not recently) and have also used Outlook's Web interface recently for one client project.

Initially the plan was to use Open-Xchange on top of Debian Lenny on my own setup. After a bit of fiddling, I decided that I wanted to have a real user experience with OX and switched over to the 1and1 offering based on Open-Xchange. There may be some differences between the community edition and what's offered by 1and1, but the per-user price (about $10 a month for one user) was low enough that I decided it was worth taking the paid version for a spin. Again, this is a time versus money trade-off--if your company has a solid IT staff and you have the time to set it up, the community edition may be better value. If you have a small business and want to use open source alternatives to Exchange, the community edition is available--but might be more costly in the end to maintain than a service provider like 1and1.

The User Oxperience

Part of the user experience depends on whether you're using a desktop client for email or the Webmail interface, or if you're getting to your mail via a mobile device. To test OX, I tried a bit of each.

The first thing that caught my eye in setting up the Webmail is that you can connect to Gmail. It looks like MailXchange (the 1and1 setup) just accesses mail via Gmail IMAP and doesn't actually store the mail "locally," which is a bit of a letdown. You can get to Gmail from OX, but if you're trying to migrate it doesn't look like it sucks down the mail so you can close the Gmail account. The plus side is that it doesn't count against your mail quota.

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