Alex Scoble

Exchange vs open-source equivalents ... the debate thickens

By Alex Scoble
August 19, 2005 2:44 AM EDT
When I wrote my piece on why RPC over HTTP I never figured it would spark such a contentious debate (OK perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind I did).

Not that I didn't want a debate. The whole point of the last comment I made inviting someone to show me the same functionality in an opensource product that exists in Exchange 2003/Outlook 2003 was to learn something about what is out there, beyond what I already know about.

Now, obviously, Martin is an expert on open source email systems and I think that we will have to pretty much agree to disagree on whether or not companies should use Exchange or some other solution or bundle of solutions to get the same, similar or "good enough" functionality.

Having said that, I do have some pushback on some of the previous things said:

At any rate, Martin's response to my post was POP3 and IMAP4 over SSL. Sorry, but as far as I know and as far as I can tell this gets you maybe 90-95% of the way towards what Outlook/Exchange and RPC over HTTP gets you.

What does another product not give you? You can go here and here on Microsoft's site to see what you would be missing connecting to an Exchange server using IMAP4 vs MAPI/RPC over HTTP.

Here's a good discussion over the merits of IMAP vs Exchange.

This looks like it might be a good opensource competitor to Exchange

Article on CommuniGate Pro: features and issues...note how the web access functionality in particular isn't as good as Exchange OWA.

OK, now that you've followed me through some research, let's get one thing straight. Outlook and Exchange together equals a collaboration system. It's not JUST about email. Sure, if all you want/need is email, there are plenty of other systems out there. However, if you need more functionality like calendaring, contacts, tasks, public folders, all of which are multiuser as well as integration with a whole host of 3rd party tools and let's not forget about single source authentication, then you need a collaboration system.

If you want full functionality from your Blackberry, Treo or Windows Smartphone, you will pretty much have to go with one of the big three, Lotus Notes, Exchange or Novell Groupmail. Although, as MessageOne offers a redundancy backup solution for Exchange and Blackberry Enterprise Solution that as far as I can tell is completely Linux, it is possible that solutions exist to connect PDA/Phone devices to an opensource collaboration system.

As far as OSX? Microsoft sells Office for OSX and this includes Entourage. Yes, it's not as good as Outlook, but whenever the new version comes out (it might already be out, but I'm too tired to check) it's supposed to be just as good as Outlook 2003, if not better.

Linux support for Exchange? I'm sure just like everything else for Linux, that there's an opensource Outlook clone available that works almost as good. Yes, there are even Exchange clones, but none of them have RPC over HTTP and contrary to statements made, IMAP4 cannot and does not give you the same functionality as Outlook 2003/Exchange 2003 with RPC over HTTP.

In the final analysis, each company has to determine if their needs justify the purchase of Exchange/Outlook or if another solution with similar features (you still won't get all of them) will work instead. It's also a question of in house expertise. Do your IT people know Linux? Are they really comfortable with it? Do they already know Exchange/Windows Server? Is it easier to find Exchange professionals or opensource based professionals in your area? Is cost an overriding factor on the purchase or are there certain features that one product over another provide?

If you do a thorough analysis of your company's needs, aptitudes, and budget and apply that to available products and come out with a product other than Exchange, good on ya. If your analysis says that Exchange is a better fit, then it's really a no-brainer on which to choose.

I still stand by my assertion that RPC over HTTP is one of THE killer features of Exchange 2003 and that there is nothing else out there that gives you ALL of the functionality of Exchange over an encrypted SSL link. Again, maybe 95% is good enough for your organization, but for me and most of the places that I've worked, close just doesn't cut it.