An open alternative

SuSE'sOpenExchange Server edges Microsoft Exchange in client support, groupware features, and price

Microsoft Exchange is a known leader in the groupware/e-mail server space, along with IBM/Lotus Domino and Novell’s GroupWise. But the biggest problem with Exchange, aside from its clunky browser interface, is that it only supports Windows clients.

With the growth of Linux in the enterprise, administrators want a groupware/e-mail server that supports Linux clients as well as Windows clients. And if the server will run on Linux, even better. SLOX (SuSE’s Linux OpenExchange Server 4) fits the bill. It's a capable and easy-to-install groupware and e-mail server that supports a wide range of clients, and its features go beyond what Exchange offers.

SLOX is based on open standards, primarily IMAP and LDAP. It offers scalability up to at least 500 users per server, flexible security including role-based administration, and substantial groupware features including shared calendars and address books, project management, task lists, pin boards (bulletin boards), document management, a searchable knowledge base, and discussion forums (news groups). It supports all common IMAP e-mail clients, including Outlook 2000 and Outlook Express 5.5 or later, and provides a Web browser interface that allows access to all groupware features, as well as synchronization with both Palm and Pocket PC PDAs.

SLOX is $1,249 for 10 groupware clients and unlimited e-mail clients, including SuSE Enterprise Linux 8. SLOX is much less expensive than Windows 2000 Server and Exchange 2000 Server, and is easier to install and configure, at least for administrators with basic Linux experience. The documentation is solid, and support includes a year of maintenance and software upgrades and patches.

We installed SLOX on an HP PIII/600 server with 512MB of RAM. Installation is simple and straightforward, mainly a matter of selecting the default configuration settings, and much more straightforward than configuring Active Directory. The total installation of both the Linux OS and SLOX took less than an hour. Once the installation was completed, we configured the server via a browser — the only gotcha being that the default administrative login was not the root account of the server, but a different user name ( cyrus ), with the same password used for root. Once we discovered that, logging in and creating new users, groups, and shared folders was easy.

SLOX  also makes it simple to create shared address books, group mailing lists, shared calendar entries, and other group collaboration functions. The licensing model for SLOX is a refreshing change from most groupware — only users that are logged in are counted toward the maximum number of users. A virtual user function allows the administrator to create role-based accounts, and a virtual domain function allows multiple domains to be supported on one server.

Accessing a user account is easy and well-documented, whether through a standard Linux e-mail client such as Pine or Mozilla, through Outlook 2000 or Outlook Express 5.5 or 6, or through a Web browser. Interestingly, response using the browser client was much slower on a Windows 2000 system using Internet Explorer 6 than on a Red Hat Linux 7.3 system using Mozilla, although both systems had identical CPU, memory, and I/O specifications.

SLOX is a capable and cost-effective alternative to Microsoft Exchange, for both Linux-based organizations and heterogeneous networks with multiple client operating systems. It's inexpensive and easy to configure and install. Any IT shop looking for an alternative groupware platform that supports up to 1,000 clients should definitely investigate SLOX.

Considerably less expensive than Microsoft Exchange

Supports a wide variety of clients, including browsers

Provides a wealth of groupware functions

Easy to install and configure

Supports open standards on both client and server

Online documentation is not available on installation CD, but only after installation is completed

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