ServersBridging the Gap Between Linux and Exchange With Ximian Connector

Bridging the Gap Between Linux and Exchange With Ximian Connector

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Ximian Connector: Software that allows Linux users to access Microsoft Exchange Server

Until recently, enterprises standardized on Exchange 2000 that needed to also support Linux users had three choices: give anyone who used Linux two PCs, find substitutes for Windows-based desktop applications, or invest in a second mail or groupware server. The Ximian Connector for Exchange 1.2 offers a fourth option. The software enables Linux users to connect to Exchange 2000 servers via Ximian’s Evolution PIM and replicates much of the functionality found in Outlook.

In organizations that support software development on Linux but that run their internal business applications on Windows, particularly Exchange, it’s not unusual to see two PCs on each desk. One is for software development with Linux; the other is running Windows and the usual Windows applications, such as Word and Outlook.

While substitutes for Microsoft Word, Excel, and the other office applications on Linux are easily found, a stand-in for Outlook is harder, especially if the rest of the company is using Microsoft’s Exchange Server to share address books, e-mail, notes, to-do lists, and calendar information.

Going in the other direction, there are substitutes for Exchange, such as Cybozu’s Share360, but those servers can’t easily share data with Exchange users and would require the enterprise to invest in a second groupware or mail server.

Ximian Corp. has a solution, albeit a client-side solution, to this problem — Ximian Connector for Exchange 1.2. Ximian Connector enables Linux users running Ximian’s Evolution e-mail/personal information manager (PIM) to connect to Exchange 2000 servers, to send and receive e-mail, access calendar information, and use most of the features of Exchange accessible through Outlook.

There are a few caveats though. Ximian Connector supports Exchange 2000 only with WebDAV enabled. WebDAV, or Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning, is a set of extensions to HTTP that enable users to collaboratively edit and manage files on remote Web servers.

Thus, the Exchange server must also be running a Web server, an additional burden on the server and a possible security risk. The many enterprises that have not yet upgraded to Windows 2000 Server, Exchange 2000, and Active Directory are also out in the cold.
Further, installing Ximian Connector first requires installing Ximian’s Red Carpet version control software, and each copy requires a separate software key. This makes the installation process much more complex than installing Outlook, especially for Windows-oriented administrators without much Linux experience.

In our tests, the installation process went smoothly, although declining to install the full 200 MB Ximian Red Carpet in favor of the 20 MB Red Carpet Express required a bit of maneuvering. Red Carpet is required because it ensures that all dependencies in both the Linux distribution and version 1.2 of Evolution are met before the connector is installed. It is possible to install the connector without installing Red Carpet, but all dependencies must then be checked manually, and documentation to do this is sparse.

Once the software is installed, the key file must be placed in the user’s /evolution directory. Connection to an Exchange server is then simple — the information required is the user’s login name, the name of the Exchange server and Active Directory server, and the e-mail address for the account.

The installation process is oriented toward the end user. Although a master copy of Evolution and Ximian Connector is available by special arrangement for site-licensed applications, administrators buying the clients singly, or in the 10- and 25-user packs, will have to perform each Red Carpet and Ximian Connector installation separately. Since Ximian Connector installation is performed through Red Carpet, which looks to the Ximian Web site for data, the 20 MB download of Ximian Connector must also be performed every time. The only other recourse for smaller installations is to research all the dependencies, update any necessary OS packages manually for each system, and install Ximian Connector.

On the plus side, once all the installations are performed, there is no need to maintain a separate collaboration or e-mail server for Linux users. In addition, almost all the features of Exchange 2000, including calendars, group scheduling, resource management (conference rooms and such), address books, accessing and controlling permissions to public folders, task lists, delegation of calendar entries, address auto-completion, support for the vCard and iCalendar standards, and one-click adding of contacts to the address book from e-mail messages are available with the Ximian Connector. However, the Ximian Connector does not support the creation of out-of-office messages or mailing lists on the Exchange server.

Two features in the Ximian Connector that aren’t available in Outlook are: 1) local folders can be configured so users can still use their local Evolution contacts or calendar folder as their primary address book or calendar, and 2) addresses can be auto-completed from multiple address books.

For enterprises that have standardized on Exchange 2000 but must also support Linux users, the relative complexity of the initial install of Ximian Connector is offset by the ease of sharing collaboration information among both Windows and Linux users, as well as the removal of the need for more than one mail server in the enterprise.

Pros: Allows Linux clients running the Ximian Evolution Email/PIM program to access Microsoft Exchange 2000 Servers;
With Linux and OpenOffice, Evolution provides a much-less-expensive e-mail client alternative to MS Windows and Outlook

Cons: Works only with Exchange 2000 – doesn’t support Exchange 5.5, which is still in wide use;
Requires WebDAV be enabled on the Exchange server.
Doesn’t support all features that the Outlook client does;
Windows administrators will find the installation process lengthy and complex compared to installing Outlook

Reviewed by: Logan Harbaugh
Original Review Date: 1/28/2003
Original Review Version: 1.2

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