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SuSE OpenExchange Server: Linux-Based Groupware to Rival the Big Boys


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SuSE OpenExchange Server: A full-featured groupware server for Linux or mixed Windows and Linux clients that contains a full set of collaboration features for a very reasonable price Enterprises heavily invested in Linux now have a new groupware option. SuSE Linux OpenExchange Server offers the standard collaboration features, along with some nonstandard ones like knowledge management and newsgroups, for a price far below that of Domino or Exchange.

For many administrators, the term groupware brings to mind Microsoft Exchange, or even Novell's GroupWise or Lotus Domino. However, organizations that depend on Linux rather than Windows Server or NetWare can't use Exchange or GroupWise, and they may be reluctant to invest both time and and money for Domino server.

A relatively new alternative is version 4.0 of SuSE Linux OpenExchange Server (SLOX), a groupware offering with a full set of collaboration features for a very reasonable price.

SLOX runs on SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 (SLES), which is included in SLOX's base price of $1,249. Also included in this base package are 10 groupware clients and an unlimited number of e-mail clients. Since SLES is $749 when sold separately, the e-mail/groupware server breaks out to only $500.

The whole platform installs in less than an hour, including the operating system and SLOX. As long as the PC supports a bootable CD, the operation is no more difficult than a standard Linux install, which is to say, not difficult at all. Once the server is installed, the mail server is configured through a browser. The only difficulty we encountered (and it is our one gripe with the product) is that the default administrative account is not root, but a separate account named "cyrus."

SLOX accounts can be accessed via a browser or through any standard e-mail client that supports IMAP, including Pine and Microsoft's Outlook. This makes the platform ideal for mixed Windows and Linux environments. SLOX even comes with an LDAP server that stores account information, the Apache Web server for browser access, and an integrated spam filter. The Linux distribution also features Samba for Windows connectivity, a DHCP server, a DNS server, and monitoring software to keep track of server utilization.

The groupware capabilities include all of the standard functionality that sys admins and users have come to expect -- a calendar, address book, to-do list, and e-mail client, as well as a discussion forum (newsgroups), document management, a public list of browser bookmarks, a searchable knowledge base and project planning. The document management function is not just shared folders, but a document check-in/check-out system. Synchronization with both Palm and Pocket PC devices is also included.

Configuring users is simple, and permissions can be granted to aliases and delegates, enabling an assistant to add schedule items or answer e-mail. Users can make delegation settings themselves, rather than requiring administrator intervention. Creating address books, group mailing lists, or shared calendar items is easy, as is scheduling shared resources such as conference rooms or projectors.

Licensing is by logged-in users, so only licenses for the number of users that will be simultaneously logged in must be purchased, rather than a license for each account.

For organizations migrating from Exchange to SLOX, SuSE offers migration support through its resellers. The on-site support includes migrating domains, users, mail accounts, along with e-mail, and calendar items from the Exchange server to SLOX.

Accessing accounts is easy, whether through a browser or an IMAP e-mail client. Instructions for using Outlook 2000 or Outlook Express is well-documented, as are those for using Pine. The browser adds all the features that may not be accessible through a groupware or e-mail client, and performance via browser was fine, although noticeably slower on our system running Windows 2000 and Internet Explorer 6 than on identical hardware running Red Hat Linux 7.3 and Mozilla.

The documentation is clear and readable, and support includes one year of upgrades and patches.

For administrators supporting Linux clients, or a mixed Windows and Linux client network, SLOX is well worth investigating.

Pros:Much less expensive than the well-known groupware solutions; Can be used with any Web browser and clients including Outlook, Pine, or Mozilla; Installation is simpler than for major groupware products; LDAP and IMAP support; Offers knowledge management and newsgroups in addition to standard groupware functions
Cons: The default installation creates an admin account that is not mentioned during the installation -- you have to find it in the documentation before you can start configuring the server

Reviewed by: Logan Harbaugh
Original Review Date: 2/13/2003
Original Review Version: 4.0

This article was originally published on Feb 13, 2003
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