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Drop-In Replacement For Exchange Now Open Source 434

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the another-one-bites-the-dust dept.
Fjan11 writes "Over 150 man-years of work were added to the Open Source community today when Zarafa decided to put their successful Exchange server replacement under GPLv3. This is not just the typical mail-server-that-works-with-Outlook, it is the whole package — including 100% MAPI, web access, tasks, iCal and Activesync. (The native syncing works great with my iPhone!) Binaries and source are available for all major Linux distros."
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Drop-In Replacement For Exchange Now Open Source

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @04:53PM (#25078817)

    I've not looked at this software, but Exchange is one hell of a piece of machinery. Say what you want about MS, but I've seen an Exchange server with terabytes of email, gigabytes per day, keeping up fine. It's a pain in the ass sometimes to be sure, but I wouldn't trust my production network to this today anyway.

  • by pak9rabid (1011935) on Friday September 19, 2008 @04:58PM (#25078873)
    ..I'll DEFINATELY be installing this for our company's mail server. I currently have Zimbra setup, which is very nice, but the bosses don't like it because it doesn't integrate into Outlook very well (iCalendar, contacts, etc), without the outlook connector that you have to pay for. No hate on Zimbra though...I absolutely love it's capabilities and ease-of-use, but it's a deal-breaker w/the management types if won't support the 'advanced' features in Outlook.
  • by Hatta (162192) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:00PM (#25078907) Journal

    The nice thing about GPL software is that it's easy to go in and change arbitrary limitations like that.

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:01PM (#25078917)

    don't you want to provide additional capabilities so that Exchange systems are forced to upgrade to you,

    Actually you want to provide additional capacities so that going back to Exchange is a true downgrade.

  • by bogaboga (793279) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:02PM (#25078943)

    ...Zarafa decided to put their successful Exchange server replacement under GPLv3. This is not just the typical mail-server-that-works-with-Outlook, it is the whole package including 100% MAPI, web access, tasks, iCal and Activesync...

    While I hail this development, I wonder what "successful" means in this story. Here are questions I might want answered:

    Was it "successful" at sales? If so where are the figures? I would not really praise them that much if the original goal - to make money, could not be reached making these fellas to opensource everything...much like what Netscape did years ago.

    Was it "successful" at actually replacing Exchange with no [significant] trouble for Systems Administrators? I need to know. How come it is not that known in IT circles? What's going on?

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:02PM (#25078957) Homepage Journal

    Say what you want about MS, but I've seen an Exchange server with terabytes of email, gigabytes per day, keeping up fine.

    BS. I've seen Exchange servers with gigabytes of mail and megabytes per day roll over and cry until we put a FreeBSD/Postfix/Amavis/ClamAV server in front to lighten the workload by 95%. If this is built on top of FOSS components, I don't doubt for a second that it'll run rings around Exchange.

    Exchange has traditionally had exactly one reason for its popularity: vendor lock-in. If this really is a drop-in replacement without annoying CALs, we'll be Microsoft-free on our servers by Monday.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:15PM (#25079103) Homepage

    Over the last few months, I've been forced to use Exchange/Outlook a lot, and for the life of me I don't get the big deal.

    I don't think it is a very big deal. I've supported Exchange servers in companies of various size, and it's really not doing anything astoundingly complicated, and what it does it doesn't do all that well. But still it does a bunch of things that other solutions haven't done an even worse job at, and does them all together. Things like "I can send a meeting invitation to my boss and his assistant can check his mail, accept his invitation, and reply on his behalf without actually logging in as him."

    I know, it doesn't sound like that sort of thing would be all that important, and it's not even clear all the time that it makes a lot of sense, but there are companies that run on this sort of procedure. So there are a bunch of random things like shared calendars and push-email to phones that people don't want to live without, and unless you can provide a seamless replacement, you're stuck with Exchange.

    I, for one, am eager to see a suitable Exchange alternative. I have a real love/hate relationship with Exchange. There are some options out there, but none of the options I've tried have worked out.

  • Sure, but there's a lot of difference between offering a similar feature set, and being a drop-in replacement that is compatible with all the crufty MS protocols.
  • by joelleo (900926) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:25PM (#25079263)

    Not until Q4 2008

    From the features pdf

    http://download.zarafa.com/zarafa/en/Featureslist620.pdf [zarafa.com]

    "Integration with the Blackberry Enterprise Server to get email, calendar items, contacts and tasks real-time on your Blackberry. Available Q4 2008"

  • by LibertineR (591918) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:35PM (#25079411)
    Sorry, that is just bullshit.

    Exchange inflexible?

    What do you say to the Hundreds of Thousands of clients who get their Exchange via SBS (Small Business Server)? And that's just the 2003 version.

    How many Enterprise apps do you know of by ANY vendor that dont degrade with low disk space? Come on, dude, that aint fair and you know it.

    Exchange is one of those apps that can look bad if installed by an idiot. You would think a proper architect would have worked out space and usage requirements early on.

    How do you reach a low space condition ANYWAY, if you are making proper use of quotas? No product takes more abuse due to stupid administration than Exchange server.

    But please, inflexible? When you have dozens of 100K+ client installations of Exchange humming along at places like Chevron and others, while the very same product can keep 20 people happy on a $500 box, you cant call it inflexible. Thats just wrong, pal.

  • by shaitand (626655) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:37PM (#25079451) Journal

    Yet another open source exchange replacement that didn't open source everything required to interact with outlook.

    Without that, whats the point?

  • Re:Oh Really? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:41PM (#25079523) Homepage Journal

    Google for the debate on debian-legal about whether it complies with the DFSG. Anyway, the crux of the matter is that authors can embed unmodifiable sections in their code, and you are not allowed to alter that code even if you will not be giving copies of it away. The theory is that you're distributing the output of the program, which is part of the program itself - or some nonsense like that. This goes against decades of precedent for the idea of usage versus distribution.

    For example, if you VNC to a machine on my home LAN, you could potentially run Quickbooks. It would be executed on my machine and exporting its display to yours, but no one would ever consider this to be distribution. However, if I were running an AGPL'ed equivalent of Quickbooks on my home web server and you accessed it, the authors of the AGPL would claim that I distributed a copy of that application to you. That's their legal theory behind restricting my usage of it.

    Another poster said I was spreading FUD. Yeah, I am, and with good reason. I fear that some project I depend on may adopt the AGPL. I'm uncertain that I'd be able to use it given the additional restrictions that it piles on top of the GPL, to the point that I actually doubt it.

  • by rrohbeck (944847) on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:44PM (#25079547)

    why enterprises run Windows?
    Does anybody have links to success stories of large(-ish) corporations converting to Zarafa?

  • Re:Woohoo! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:44PM (#25079551)

    I've tried other Exchange alternatives, and with some of them, even if the directions look pretty easy, it takes a ton of tinkering to get the thing running.

    Much like the actual product.

  • by Joe Enduser (527199) <joe.enduser@NOspAm.kidsfromfame.nl> on Friday September 19, 2008 @05:51PM (#25079611) Homepage
    Let me enlighten you a bit on the "success" factor for the sysadmin. I implemented this at a very small organization. While it does integrate nicely with Outlook, and handles the calendar and contacts stuff very nicely, it is the first time I am trying to manage a mailserver which blatantly has dropped mail regularly and silently, at least in a previous version. In the current stable version, an imap client cannot delete a mail from any folder. This is fun when a client does not actually move mails between folders or the trash, but copies first and then deletes, such as Apple Mail. Also, an update of the server version to a new main version, i.e. from 5.xx to 6.xx does not only involve a new version of the Outlook plugin on the clients, but also mandates a new user profile in Outlook. That is a lot of work. I hope that opensourcing this stuff eventually makes it more maintainable, but I have not been able to find out about access to the actual source repositories which might enable actual collaboration on the product.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:05PM (#25079775)

    As a former MAPI programmer (don't worry - I've largely recovered) I have to point out that this is utterly irrelevant.

    The only compelling reason to use an Exchange compatible server is to support Outlook. The issue is that Zarafa charges for the Outlook connector. This is not a new business model, people, and truth be told its been a fairly common paradigm of 'Exchange-killers' for quite awhile now. Nothing is killed until the connector is free. Full stop.

    So why doesn't anyone offer a free connector? Because it is ridiculous amount of work to build and it is something corporations are willing to pay for. It's not that replicating the server functionality is difficult, it's that Microsoft twisted and violated open standards into something utterly unholy known as Exchange to ensure that nobody but Microsoft could communicate with it. MAPI is Microsoft's obfuscation of traditional messaging protocols and is infamously poorly documented.

    I wrote about this issue for Redmond magazine about 2 years ago and nothing's changed. The connector is still the kicker and, regardless of how nifty the back-end is, until an open-source Outlook connector appears Exchange will remain one of MS's top 5 products.

    Nothing but PR to see here. Move along...

  • by gander666 (723553) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:16PM (#25079907) Homepage
    Well, the reality is that senior executives have always had personal assistants (used to be secretaries) who really opened all their mail, sorted it, and typed responses to the mundane, and took dictation for the serious ones.

    The executives typically have 100% trust in their admin's and this feature is absolutely necessary to the proper functioning of a senior management team. It may seem like a security risk, but in the cases that I am aware of, both users are aware of their status, and it rally operates like it did in the pen and paper days.
  • by funkatron (912521) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:31PM (#25080095)
    Having others able to act on your behalf without using your login simplifies the process of proving that you did/didn't actually do something. The information about who logged in and did what on whose behalf can easily be logged. If, on the other hand, you have a system where your login has to be used to act on your behalf then the logs can only show your username no matter who actually used your account.
  • by Kjella (173770) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:35PM (#25080143) Homepage

    FUD? Well, I'll let others be the judge of that but the difference between GPLv3 and Affero GPLv3 are HUGE:

    "Notwithstanding any other provision of this License, if you modify the Program, your modified version must prominently offer all users interacting with it remotely through a computer network an opportunity to receive the Corresponding Source (...)"

    This is the FSF on steroids, it's the anti-ASP license and it's also unsuitable for any software you want to improve internally and not share if it in any way interacts with externals. It's still not an EULA as creating derivates is one of the copyright holder's exclusive rights (except fair use) but it's definately stretching copyright law to the absolute limit in order to force the release of code.

  • by Kaboom13 (235759) <kaboom108@@@bellsouth...net> on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:37PM (#25080161)

    You have to have an account specifically granted the privilege to do what he is describing, and you can place restrictions on what they can do. In his example, the secretary has the authority to say "my boss will attend this meeting", and that authority translates to his electronic calendar, the same way it would in real life. Sure his secretary could have a breakdown and screw up his schedule, but she could do that anyways just by not doing her job, and how many office environments have you seen where the secretary didn't frequently have physical access to her boss's machine while it was logged in?

  • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:40PM (#25080197) Journal
    Jesus H. Fucking Christ. 99.9999999% of all companies just want to buy a tool that works. They don't want to build the fucking thing. They don't even want to fix it. That's why they buy the support license. This whole 'we can customize the code if we want' is a huge stinking load of specious crap. Companies of any size BUY their software because they don't want to customize software they don't have to. Like office software. Customizing a huge billing system is one thing (if you are a big enough company to warrant doing that), but why would an insurance company, or a local widget maker, or a medical clinic want to become an email server programming company???? Get a grip. They'll go out and buy exchange or lotus notes or whatever because they just want the frickin tool. And if it is buggy so what? It works for the most part and they don't have hire programmers or keep programmers around to fix bugs that said programmers introduced when they screwed around with the source code. It's cheaper to pay for the licence for a year than to pay for an unneeded programmer for a year.
  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:45PM (#25080243)

    If others can act on your behalf without actually logging in as you, what proof is there that e-mails allegedly sent by you were actually sent by you?

    If others can be delegated permissions to act on your behalf in specifically designated manners without logging in to your account, then, if the system logs who did what under what account, there will be accountability.

    OTOH, if others can't act on your behalf without logging in as you, and you have a business need them to act on your behalf, you have no choice but to give them your access credentials (dongle, password, whatever) and then there really is no accountability, and no control over the manner in which they can act on your behalf.

    So, rather than destroying accountability, supporting delegation enhances accountability (and security).

  • I disagree (Score:2, Insightful)

    by way2trivial (601132) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:56PM (#25080377) Homepage Journal

    it's around 2,400-- but then you also require 25 outlook licenses.

    once again, the price of the software is negligable compared to the cost of 25 employee's salaries...

    go ahead, waste a week of each one's time teaching them whats different about the new program.

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday September 19, 2008 @06:56PM (#25080379) Homepage Journal

    You are limited in the amount of diskspace you can put in a server without switching to a SAN. There are only two useful configurations for Exchange in this respect (and they are identical in configuration, just different in cost). Quotas don't solve the problem if they are too small or you hire more people than you expected (merges for instance).

    Exim, postfix, qmail, sendmail, etc are capable of operating when you have low disk space because you can give it more diskspace by either moving parts of your mail server into a cluster (exchange does not do this in a way that is easy or transparent). or you can use an inexpensive NAS to provide the additional spool space without horrible performance issues. Exchange really can't use NAS in a useful way, you are stuck jumping directly to SAN.

    The lack of options for configuration is why I call it inflexible. It's a reasonable usage of the word "inflexible".

    Now you might use Exchange anyways because of the other features it offers that are not available in other products. And it might be flexible in ways other than scalability. Also, I'm not saying that anyone should use my evaluation as a complete coverage of all the issues used to make these sorts of decisions. I only want to point out that for cost and flexible scalability, Exchange is not the top dog.

    When you have dozens of 100K+ client installations of Exchange humming along at places like Chevron and others, while the very same product can keep 20 people happy on a $500 box, you cant call it inflexible

    That's essentially my point. Exchange offers no middle ground. You either have a crappy small office mail server on a spare Windows box, or you have an enterprise environment with SAN. Perhaps it's just evil to change your messaging infrastructure in mid-step, but companies grow.

    I think I would recommend that everyone just start with a standard SMTP/IMAP solution, hire a Unix admin if you have to. And hold off on switching over to Exchange until they can afford a SAN.

  • by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Friday September 19, 2008 @07:05PM (#25080487) Homepage Journal
    <vent> Well, project maintainers tend to be very lazy when it comes to things like Freshmeat, which is why I maintain something like 120 project records and semi-regularly update 50+ others that I've subscribed to. (I should be paid full-time by Sourceforge or someone for the level of work I put in. Yeah, right.) If project maintainers were, oh, a little more forthcoming and not hiding releases, we'd all be a damn sight better off. </vent> Google should be a good source, but the problem there is that it's so hard to search for anything where all your keywords are common words. There's no good, juicy, unambiguous keyword to use, and search engines just aren't any good at semantics. They're only useful for syntax-based searches. The FSF's software page is excellent for projects the FSF knows about and is associated with in some way (even if just as an umbrella or as a webpage host), but you'd not get much done if you only used software they linked to. A pity, but they can't do everything, though they do try to do exactly that. Sourceforge's search engine seems to turn up everything Sourceforge hosts, and there are a million and one Sourceforge-like sites these days. Getting information, therefore, depends massively on volunteers trawling every imaginable report, rumour and hint of Open Source and indexing it somewhere. And there just aren't anything like enough volunteers to make anything close to a dent in what's out there. Which is a real problem, as projects that nobody knows about WILL die. Even when something IS known about, if updates aren't announced in a meaningful way, it will also die. Likewise, if people don't contribute, the project will die. Or if the maintainer doesn't release early and often, the project will die. And even after all that, if it's not in any of the major distributions, there won't be a sustainable userbase or a large enough supply of bug reports and the project will die. In this case, I think most of the above apply.
  • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Friday September 19, 2008 @07:34PM (#25080727)

    there are a lot more copmpanies out there that barely know what a PC is. Software houses are a tiny minority compared to retailers, to name one. Think how many back office staff exist to serve them compare to the number of programmers. Then go to the next class of business, repeat a thousand times.

    I'd say 0.0000001% is a bit of an exaggeration, 0.1% is more like it.

  • by baileydau (1037622) on Friday September 19, 2008 @07:41PM (#25080803)

    it's around 2,400-- but then you also require 25 outlook licenses.

    once again, the price of the software is negligable compared to the cost of 25 employee's salaries...

    go ahead, waste a week of each one's time teaching them whats different about the new program.

    This is server software we are talking about here. The end users don't change their software (that's the entire point). So there is no cost for retraining end users.

    You would obviously have to train the server administration staff, but even if you did put in a "Genuine Microsoft" Exchange server, you would probably still have to do this.

    Besides, even if the front end did change, a week of training is a LOT. As it would be replacement software, the concepts are the same, it's only which button you push to do it that changes. So if you can't train them in a matter of hours, if not minutes, you really do need new employees.

    Where I work, we use a non-MS stand alone calendaring solution. Our end user training takes a couple of hours.

    How long do you think it would take to train users to use the new version of MS Office?

  • The MS protocols tend to be crufty because they are developed in secret, don't get any public review, and are allowed to evolve in a completely ad-hoc manner.

    That's not to say that all protocols developed by open processes are wonderful, but on average they seem to be better.

  • by that this is not und (1026860) on Friday September 19, 2008 @08:39PM (#25081241)

    The MS protocols are crufty because the direction of the design of them is left up to middle managers.

    That should explain it fully to anybody curious.

  • by LibertineR (591918) on Friday September 19, 2008 @09:46PM (#25081737)
    So tell me; did you present your management with a cost/benefit analysis, supporting your request for additional hardware? Did you point out what a catastrophic failure of the Exchange infrastructure would cost them in lost man-hours and productivity? If everyone in your company is getting "mailbox -full" notices, it would seem to me an easy argument to make in DOLLARS, as to the amount of time spent by staff just to find items to delete each week. Am I wrong?

    Have you looked into tools like GFI's Mail Archiver or the Mimosa tools to get you some disk space back, and bump up overall performance?

    See, it is very easy to just say, "management sucks, exchange sucks, yada, yada", but until or unless you have done all you can do to make your case, I repeat: IN DOLLARS, you have to bear some responsibility. This is what is wrong with IT these days. I'm guessing you didnt do a cost analysis, and you would not be alone in that regard, but someday, IT folks are going to have to prove that we are REAL professionals, or management has no good reason to pay any attention to us. IT is not just about technology, you have to sometimes be a teacher and a salesman to be effective, even when Management makes you not want to really give a shit.

    Personally, if you had done what I suggested, and gotten the response you described, were I you, I would have walked out of there, before I let anyone put my name on a fucked up server.

    But, that's me. (climbing down from my soapbox)

  • Re:Hell yeah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dolda2000 (759023) <fredrik@dold[ ]00.com ['a20' in gap]> on Friday September 19, 2008 @09:55PM (#25081817) Homepage
    I don't see how they can do that. If the source is open, how could it possibly even be hard to remove that limit?

    That being said, though, I would guess that the greatest contribution isn't actually the program itself, but rather the fact that it lays open the protocols involved, so that other MAPI servers could be written. Maybe it could even be implemented as another protocol for Dovecot?

  • by sweet_petunias_full_ (1091547) on Friday September 19, 2008 @10:08PM (#25081899)

    "...they can finally have something that works!"

    Hear, hear. And maybe they can finally have something that doesn't try to break protocol standards, introduce a non-interchangeable mail archival format, artificially create a need to have ten times as many server licenses as necessary... in short, businesses would do well to uh, swap it for something else.

  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @01:39AM (#25083013) Homepage Journal

    ``Jesus H. Fucking Christ. 99.9999999% of all companies just want to buy a tool that works.''

    You are right about that (well, maybe not about the percentage, but the general point), but that doesn't contradict anything I said. They _would_ rather buy something that Just Works. They _would_ rather spend money on software licenses than spend more money on developing their own software. And all this makes perfect sense.

    ``They don't want to build the fucking thing. They don't even want to fix it. That's why they buy the support license. This whole 'we can customize the code if we want' is a huge stinking load of specious crap.''

    Now, I don't know where that comes from. Who said anything about having to "build the fucking thing"? Did you miss the part where Zarafa is called a "drop-in replacement for Exchange" and "binaries ... are available"? You don't have to build anything, and you don't have to fix anything. You seem to have confused what you _can_ do with what you _must_ do. Having to fix something is a Bad Thing. Being able to fix something is a Good Thing.

    The comparison is like this:

    On the one hand, you have Microsoft Exchange. There are various versions, each with their own bugs and limitations. If you need those bugs and limitations removed, you might be able to buy a different version, you might have to wait for a newer version to become available, or you might be simply out of luck. You pay for the software itself, and for client licenses - the more people use the software, the more you pay.

    On the other hand, there is Zarafa. There will be various versions, each with their own bugs and limitations. If you need those bugs and limitations removed, you might be able to obtain a different version, you could wait for a newer version to become available (possibly with a patch from some company in the same position as you), or you could remove the bugs and limitations yourself. You can get everything for free.

    Now, you tell me which seems to be the more attractive option.

    Finally, I would like to point out that open source software tends to get easy installation procedures and low maintenance cost once Linux distributions start packaging it. Also, if running a particular piece of software is too tedious for you, you can always get it hosted by someone else. There is Exchange server hosting, and I imagine there will be Zarafa server hosting, as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2008 @10:31AM (#25085143)

    And you think that exchange is admin friendly?

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