Ximian Evolution fuels interest in desktop Linux

Ximian Evolution--a Linux-based Outlook client--is helping to fuel enterprise interest in an alternative desktop platform. But the cost of deploying Evolution is nearly as high as it is for Outlook.

Because Microsoft Exchange is so deeply entrenched in corporate America, one of the most difficult applications to migrate to an alternative desktop platform is Microsoft Outlook.

The simplest solution would be for a company to replace the Outlook client application only, leaving its Exchange infrastructure intact. But few--if any--Outlook client alternatives exist for the Windows platform. Linux company Ximian is helping to fuel corporate interest in Linux as a desktop alternative with its products Ximian Evolution and Ximian Connector, which work in tandem to provide an Outlook client alternative for the Linux platform.

Billed as "a workgroup information management solution for Linux and Unix," Evolution looks and functions a lot like Microsoft's Outlook client. By integrating with Microsoft Exchange via an add-on component called the Ximian Connector, Evolution offers most of Outlook's functions, including corporate e-mail (SMTP, POP, and IMAP), calendaring, scheduling, contact management, and task lists. Peer-to-peer calendaring is handled through the iCalendar standard and address books are accessed via LDAP. Although Evolution can be used as a standalone POP client, its ability to integrate with Microsoft Exchange is what makes the app viable for enterprises. Evolution can operate seamlessly as an Exchange client--the Connector intercepts the data that Exchange pipes to Outlook Web Access (OWA).

We tested Evolution and the Connector using a Dell PowerEdge server running Microsoft Windows 2000 and Exchange 2000--an active server that houses mailboxes for a hundred users. For Linux and Evolution we used three Dell Optiplex GX desktop systems running Red Hat Linux 7.1. After installing the Connector on the Linux/Evolution systems and logging in, we could instantly access e-mail and calendaring functions via the Evolution client. The e-mail features and functionality are nearly identical to Microsoft Outlook's. You can send e-mail to internal Exchange recipients and external e-mail addresses, including attachments--we sent a StarOffice 6.0 document to an Outlook user, who was able to open it in Microsoft Word--and filter incoming messages, including spam. And with Evolution's scheduling you can create meetings with variable date ranges--including group meetings with attendee confirmation--and display attendee availability. Overall, performance was top notch. We experienced no real sluggishness while navigating Evolution's various components, except for minor network delays when retrieving data from Exchange.

Evolution is a work-in-progress by definition, and there are a still few things needed for the application to boast 100 percent compatibility. Currently the Connector doesn't support notes, journal folders, public folders, schedule delegation, or out-of-office messages. Still, Ximian Evolution is a major step in the right direction for a viable alternative to Outlook. While Evolution may fall a bit short functionally as a corporate Outlook replacement, economically it's a wash compared to implementing Outlook. The Evolution client is free, but you still need to purchase an Exchange Client Access License (CAL) for each Evolution client that accesses your Exchange server, and on top of that the Connector runs $69 per seat--all told, the cost is nearly the same as running Outlook 2002.

Would your company consider using Evolution? TalkBack below or e-mail us with your thoughts.