Open Source Alternatives to Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino

Microsoft Exchange is a messaging and collaboration platform that has quickly gained adoption among many corporate organizations, specially those who have standardized on Microsoft Windows Server for their infrastructure. It brings in one package many enterprise features including messaging (using its own proprietary MAPI/RPC protocol or open standard protocols such as POP3/IMAP and SMTP), shared calendaring, resource management, directory services (LDAP/AD) and many others. In later releases, it has added web access, mobile sync (supports Windows mobile, Blackberry, Android devices) clustering, and high availability features making it suitable for large organizations and mission-critical deployments. If deployed and integrated with other products from Microsoft‘s suite of server solutions such as Sharepoint (for collaboration, document management and workflow) and OCS (unified communications and collaboration), Exchange can be a formidable platform for any vendor to match.

Lotus Domino on the other hand has been around earlier, and is still used in many organizations who have decided to deploy corporate groupware solutions early on with Lotus Notes. Like Exchange, it is a messaging and collaboration platform but in addition is also an application development platform commonly used for forms-based or workflow applications. In recent releases, IBM has made Domino an extensible platform with document management services, portal services, unified communications and collaboration (with Lotus Sametime), and others.

Both platforms are mature and have enjoyed wide use in many corporate deployments. Lotus Domino has the advantage of being in the market earlier, while Exchange enjoys the advantage of having an excellent and ubiquitous client in Microsoft Outlook and great integration with Microsoft’s market-leading products.

However, customers looking for an alternative from the open source community or commercial open source vendors are in luck as there is now a host of choices. On top of standard messaging and collaboration features, many of them bundle a ton of other features and functionality, such as built-in antispam and antivirus, file or document management, cross-platform support (ie can often run on both Windows and Linux) and many others. In this post, I’ll try to list down the well known enterprise-ready alternatives and rate them based on their features, extensibility and adoption. Let’s get started:

  • Citadel. I got to know of Citadel from mailing lists and recommendations of some uses from message boards, forums and social networking sites. I haven’t tried Citadel but from what I was able to gather from their website, it seems Citadel has been around for a long time, making it a mature product in terms of features. It supports messaging (support for POP3/IMAP/SMTP), group calendars and address books, but in addition offers instant messaging, mailing list management, and bulletin board-style forums. It also bundles open source antispam and antivirus solutions SpamAssassin and ClamAV respectively. Notable is its support for the GroupDAV protocol (a subset of WebDAV), which makes it a great choice if you will be using open source clients as well such as Thunderbird, KDE Kontact, Evolution and others. A notable disadvantage is lack of support for syncing calendar and task information in Outlook. Lack of built-in clustering and high availability features may be a  problem for some organizations, although a knowledgeable Linux admin can compensate for this. With its support for GroupDAV and light hardware requirements, Citadel makes a great choice for organizations comfortable with open source or companies who want to extend the life of old server hardware. I would be hard pressed to recommend this for large enterprise deployments however where support, ease of use, and ease of maintenance and management are more important considerations than features.
  • Horde Groupware Webmail Edition. Horde is really a web application framework with Horde Groupware as a project showcase of what is possible with the framework. It is actually a mail client, with the mail and identity management pieces being handled by Postfix, Dovecot, Sendmail and OpenLDAP. Horde Groupware is widely used by many web hosting providers as a hosted groupware solution for customers and is bundled by some Linux distribution vendors (such as ClarkConnect) as their collaboration solution. Because of its roots as an application development framework, Horde can easily be extended and is really a collection of different integrated modules. Besides messaging, different modules handle calendaring, task management, mailing list management, antivirus and antispam (via SpamAssassin and ClamAV), along with file management, photo gallery, forums, memos, wikis and many others. Syncing data with Outlook is possible via 3rd party plugins, and it readily supports other open source clients as well such as Thunderbird, Evolution and others. My criticism against Horde is its dated User Interface versus the other choices here with their slick and snappy AJAX-powered front-ends. Another is the complicated and time consuming set up the various components (ie Postfix and others) Horde modules–admins might be better served getting a pre-packaged solution in place. Overall Horde, like Citadel, is a great choice for organizations with experienced Linux admins, who want to extend the life of old server hardware and want a feature-rich and mature solution. I would be hard pressed to recommend this for large enterprise deployments however where support, ease of use, and ease of maintenance and management are more important considerations than features.
  • OpenGroupware/InstantOGO. OpenGroupware also has a rich and long past. It was originally a commercial project which was later spun off to open source project was later spun off and called OpenGroupware. Like many here it supports messaging, group calendars and address books, scheduling and task management, support for GroupDAV, CalDAV, and LDAP out of the box, file and document management and many others. Its a pre-packaged solution and is relatively easy to set up and configure. The commercial version offers support for Outlook sync, as well as commercial support. Definitely a mature, feature-rich solution that is in many ways a good choice for midsized to large organizations.
  • Open-Xchange. Open-Xchange is a messaging and collaboration server that is OEMed by many service providers because of its rich features, slick webmail client and ease of setup and use. It supports many open standards protocols and supports Outlook sync via a commercial extension. Originally a commercial product that was bundled with Novell’s Linux Messaging product (SuSE Linux Open-Xchange or SLOX), it features messaging, group calendars/addressbook and scheduling, identity management (support for LDAP and AD), document management, portals,  and more. Recent releases highlight its social networking capabilities with the ability to share information with Social Networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. It will also soon feature support for mobile clients via Exchange’s Active Sync technology. The software is available as a community-supported product, a commercially-supported product, a turnkey appliance or as a hosted instance. Definitely a mature, feature-rich solution that is in many ways a good choice for midsized to large organizations.
  • Scalix. Scalix is also a relatively new player that from the get-go targetted the entreprise market early on. It was originally developed on top of HP OpenMail, and was licensed from HP. On top of standard messaging and groupware features it supports a lot of enterprise-grade functionality such as LDAP and AD support, high availability, multi-tenant management, support for Outlook sync and mobile devices, and many others. It features a nice, slick webmail client, but supports Outlook and mobile devices, on top of other open source clients such as Evolution, Thunderbird and many others. It was recently bought by Xandros and is now offered as a hosted instance, commercial turn-key product or a community-supported downloadable product. Because of its rich features, it should be considered as a contender in any enterprise deployment.
  • Zarafa. Zarafa is a relatively new player that is being marketed as a drop-in replacement for Microsoft Exchange. That means you can replace your existing Exchange installation with Zarafa and your existing Outlook clients and mobile devices wouldn’t know the difference. It supports Outlook’s MAPI protocol as well as the ActiveSync protocol for mobile devices. It has a slick webmail which mimics the look and feel of Outlook Web Access, and makes available a nice set of APIs so third party developers can integrate and sync data with the platform. Some popular open source applications that can sync data with Zarafa include SugarCRM (CRM) and Alfresco (document management). It is available in community as well as commercial versions, with some of the more advanced features only available in the commercial editions. The nice thing though is that the Outlook sync, unlike many here, is available as well in the community supported (ie FREE) version. Its rich feature set, compatibility with Outlook, ease of use and management ensures that this solution should be on the short list looking for a lower cost alternative to Microsoft Exchange.
  • Zimbra Collaboration Suite. Zimbra’s entry is the most interesting in that they really rethought the architecture and design of a groupware product. Zimbra is positioned as messaging and collaboration 2.0 with its mashup platform (via Zimlets which allow the product to share and sync data with third-party data sources and service providers) and its slick AJAX-powered webmail and offline client. On top of this, they still offer standard messaging and collaboration features, along with many high-end, enterprise-grade features (only available in their commercial product) such as LDAP and AD support, high availability, archiving, support for Outlook sync and mobile devices, and many others. Like Scalix, the company was recently bought by Yahoo and is now offered as a hosted instance, commercial turn-key product or a community-supported downloadable product. Like Zarafa, integration with other open source products exist like SugarCRM, Alfresco, Asterisk (IP-based PBX) and XMPP (instant messaging). Like Open-Xchange and Scalix, definitely should be on the short list for any midsized to large company looking at deploying a collaboration platform. Its extensibility and rich UI make it a good choice for companies looking for a platform to integrate with form-based and workflow applications making it my choice for companies wishing to look for an alternative to Lotus Domino.

Anything I missed? Let me know by posting a comment. Comments and suggestions are welcome!

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ClarkConnect 5.0 Features Announced

Im really excited about this. ClarkConnect has announced their target new features to be included with Clark Connect 5.0.

Some of the new features are things we badly need to improve our office network infrastructure.

ClarkConnect – Feature Overview for ClarkConnect 5.0

ClarkConnect 5.0 Feature Overview

ClarkConnect 5.0 is coming in early 2009 (schedule). Along with the upgrade to CentOS 5.x, here are some of the highlights…

Complete LDAP Integration

To an end user, having user information stored in LDAP instead of the usual Unix locations is not very exciting. In fact, you won’t see much difference in the web-based interface. Under the hood, we have put together a tightly integrated LDAP system.

One of the nice side effects of this change will be the ability to have a master server with username/password information along with multiple client servers using the same LDAP information. For example, you can have three different ClarkConnect systems on your network with different roles:

* A firewall/gateway with VPN capabilities
* A dedicated mail server
* A dedicated file server

Windows File Sharing / Samba

Thanks to some outside help from a Samba expert, the Windows Networking features in ClarkConnect 5.0 will really shine:

* Roaming profiles
* Recycle bin support
* File auditing
* Improved performance

Network Management / Peer-to-Peer

We will be introducing the protocol filtering in version 5.0. This new tool will help you manage what can and cannot be used on your network. Whether it is instant messaging, peer-to-peer, or other unwanted protocols, this new feature will help with network administration.
Mail Quarantine

The mail quarantine is back! A variation of the MailZu software has been integrated into ClarkConnect.

I wonder why their previously announced Online Backup Service was not highlighted?

ClarkConnect registration page

We use ClarkConnect extensively as a key component of our office infrastructure (we are also a partner). We chose it over other Linux-based solutions as it integrates many of the best community-supported applications out there for Linux network services such as Squid, Dan’s Guardian, Samba, OpenVPN, ClamAV, SpamAssasin, and many others and provides a nice, easy to understand administration frontend plus a support/update service delivered over the Internet.

Their support/update service which they call SDN is a bit like Red Hat’s RHN but it adds some really useful network gateway services such as hosted antispam, antivirus, DNS, Dynamic DNS, bandwidth monitoring, intrusion detection and prevention, content filtering updates, and many others.

ClarkConnect is also not a black box solution, unlike other all-in-one Linux-based small business server solutions like Collax or Nitix (now Lotus Foundation Server). The source code is still open, the platform is still extensible (you can apt-get from third party repositories, and is based on CentOS so you can use the same packages available for Red Hat or CentOS).

It compares favorably to Microsoft Small Busines Server, in that you get a file (supports major protocols such as CIFS/WebDAV/NFS, FTP) server, database (MySQL) server, web (Apache) server, FTP server, e-mail, collaboration, centralized identity management, DNS, VPN, router, firewall, content filtering, intrusion detection/prevention, backup, antispam, antivirus solution–basically everything a small office would need for basic network services (for more elaborate or advanced network services such as unified threat management, network perimeter security and others, perhaps pfSense, IPCop, Smoothwall or Untangle would be a better choice).

They have been doing hybrid-hosted services or software+services before some marketing-savvy CEO coined the term. Too bad they are not as good with marketing–it seems another company is doing it for them (I wonder if its an OEM deal? Its clear they use the same platform, but with addons to connect to SaaS providers such as Google and Salesforce.com).

Anyway Im excited about the future of ClarkConnect. Three chears to Pointclark for their continued development of ClarkConnect!

Trying out concrete5

Im having a go at a new open source content management system called concrete5. I ported our company website from our old homegrown CMS to this new platform as the old one was getting to be a pain to manage and update.

Was pleasantly surprised at how relatively easy it was. I’ll have you know that I am not a neophyte when it comes to dynamic content management systems. I’ve practically installed and tried out most of the popular ones, and have put into production for some clients most of them. The list of platforms I have worked with include PHP-Nuke, PostNuke, WordPress, Mambo, Joomla, Alfresco, Nuxeo, Magnolia, DotNetNuke, and Drupal.

While some are standouts in terms of specific capabilities and features, none have met my personal need for something quick and simple enough to setup and migrate my old website to. None except for concrete5.

Concrete5 is unique in that the CMS flows or wraps nicely around your design. Other CMS usually force the developer to adjust to the structure and design of the application. It has really clean code, a consistent API for common functions, and neatly separates presentation from logic adopting an extensible MVC (ala Cake or Code Igniter) architecture. It has a slick and fast interface using a lot of AJAX effects (via jQuery).

Its really stable, having been around for many years, in its previous incarnation being a proprietary CMS for a web design studio. They just recently released it as open source–breaking away from most projects in that they use the really permissive MIT License (instead of the viral GPL).

Some neat features I found to be really fun:

  • In-Context, WYSIWYG Editing
  • Granular Access Control
  • Users & Groups. Community on your site is built right in.
  • Customizable Metadata for both Pages and Users.
  • Extensible features such as galleries, blocks, login pages, forms, etc.

The port took about 2 days, with the rest of the content another 5 days (probably less if I did it full time). The project I am working on is now featured in concrete5’s Showcase section.

Hope to contribute back to the project some of the modifications I did such as a Suckerfish style nav, custom blocks, and possibly work on new themes.