Price: $1,249 for unlimited email clients and 10 groupware clients; additional groupware licenses start at $249 for 5 licenses
Pros: Nice interface; easy to manage; server software worked well, once it was set up
Cons: A few installation hassles, and failed to install on one of the test machines; price may be a bit steep
System Requirements: CPU: AMD Athlon/Duron, Intel Pentium III/4 or compatible; Memory: 256 MB of RAM; Disk space: 9 GB of free space
Tired of paying through the nose for Microsoft licenses? Want to spend less on groupware? SuSE’s Openexchange Server 4 might just be the solution you need to kick your Microsoft habit or avoid getting hooked altogether.
What You Get
While the name “Openexchange Server 4″ implies that the SuSE product is a wholesale replacement for Microsoft Exchange, unfortunately, that’s not quite true. Instead, Openexchange substitutes Exchange with Open Source equivalents like LDAP and IMAP. As long as you’re okay using a Web-based client for some tasks, Openexchange provides many of the same features as Microsoft’s product.
Installation is a Bit Tricky
My first attempt to install Openexchange on a dual Xeon machine failed.
Next, I tried an old Pentium II with 256 MB of RAM. Oddly enough, the install of Openexchange on that machine worked just fine. The complete install took about an hour and worked flawlessly, except for one glitch: SuSE’s auto-partitioning utility didn’t make use of the full disk. If I’d accepted SuSE’s defaults on both the Xeon and Pentium machine, the partitioning utility would have simply ignored about half of the disk space available.
A Good Face
If you don’t mind using a Web interface, SuSE’s Web-based groupware has a lot of nice features and is easy to use. The package includes a calendar, and a Web-based email client with some pretty decent filtering. The Web-based interface also has project and knowledge manager applications, forums, a document manager that allows users to share documents, to-do lists, and an address book. I found that each worked really well. If your users don’t like Web-based email clients, they can still use their favorite email client as long as it supports POP3 or IMAP. They can also make use of the global address book as long as their client supports LDAP.
While the software was functional, performance was disappointing. Running Openexchange on a server that met the minimum system requirements got a bit frustrating. It wasn’t unusably slow, but slow enough that I sometimes got annoyed. Since I was the only person using the server, I’d hate to see what would happen when 20 people hit Openexchange running on a box with minimal horsepower.
Openexchange’s administration tools are effective and dead easy to use. For example, I had Samba up and running in about 30 seconds. The documentation is very thorough. Like the user tools, the administration interface is completely Web-based.
I do think SuSE needs to include some tools for adding users in batch mode. It’s no big deal to add one or two users, but entering a lot of data in the Web-based form gets old very quickly.
Bottom Line: Buy
If you’re setting up a groupware solution for a small or medium-sized business, I recommend SuSE Openexchange Server. Sure, you could probably assemble a solution similar to Openexchange with available Open Source software, but SuSE’s already done the work (and more) for you.
For companies or organizations looking to replace Microsoft Exchange outright, you might want to wait until SuSE releases a migration tool. According to the SuSE Web site, such a tool will be available sometime in the future. In the mean time, SuSE will be offering migration workshops for an additional fee.
Besides a temperamental installer and a rather oddly colored user interface, Openexchange is a good groupware solution. It’s easy to use, easy to maintain, and is inexpensive.
If SuSE tightens up their installer, and polishes the Openexchange interface a little bit, they’ve got a good shot at capturing a healthy share of the groupware market.
Joe “Zonker” Brockmeier is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Linux Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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