Groupware has become ubiquitous in the business world, but oddly enough, until recently there haven't been many viable choices for groupware, especially for mid-sized offices reluctant to run expensive servers. Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, and Novell Groupwise are probably the most popular choices at the enterprise level, but they are expensive and require skilled administration. They are also plagued with horrid marketing buzzwords like "collaborative portal management" and "dynamic collaboration solution," but that is a rant for another day.
SOHO users have had few solid choices as well. Time & Chaos's inexpensive price tag and ease of use have earned it a faithful following on small peer networks comprised of Windows PCs. More prevalent have been "outsourcing" services, or Web-based subscription services, where users' data are stored on the vendor's servers and accessed via the Internet.
Of course, that still leaves a gaping hole in the groupware market for mid-sized offices. A relatively new entrant in the groupware field for mid-sized companies is SuSe OpenExchange. Built on quality open-source components, OpenExchange has a lot to offer to companies looking for a relatively inexpensive messaging server solution. OpenExchange's open-source components include:
- Apache 1.3
- Cyrus IMAP
- Transport Layer Security (TLS)
- Simple Authentication and Security Layer (SASL)
- SMTP Authentication (SMTP-AUTH)
- Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)
A Standalone, Dedicated Messaging Server
OpenExchange includes SuSE's Enterprise Linux 8 operating system and is meant to be installed and run as a standalone, dedicated system. Using Samba and OpenLDAP, the OpenExchange box can be used as a primary domain controller for mixed Linux/Windows networks. Samba enables file sharing across the network, while OpenLDAP is used for the user authentication database.
A note of warning, though -- SuSE's Enterprise Linux comes with its own user administration tools, as do all versions of Linux. Do not try to use them to configure OpenExchange, however; instead, use only OpenExchange's configuration tools. OpenExchange, like its predecessor SuSE Linux eMail Server, comes with two ready-made admin accounts, cyrus and mailadmin, that should be used instead of the OS admin tools.
The mail server component is fully-featured, with built-in security (SMTP authentication and Transport Layer Security) and support for multiple domains, virtual domains, POP, IMAP, Webmail, and fetchmail. Dial-on-demand can be set up with minimal hassle, and SpamAssassin handles spam filtering. SpamAssassin adds tags to messages it thinks are spam and then allows the user to decide how to handle the tagged mails. For example, users can create their own filters to automatically delete all mail tagged by SpamAssasin, or they can have the tagged messages sent to a folder for manual review.
Some SpamAssassin fans report greater than 98% accuracy. It uses advanced text and header analysis to detect spam, rather than simply creating a database of known spammers, which is futile and outdated from the moment of creation. Unfortunately, retaliation is not one of SpamAssassin's options, but aside from this minor shortcoming, it's a first-rate program.
The primary feature that stands out in OpenExchange is its browser interface, both for admins and users. The browser interface for mail eliminates the need for a standalone mail client, although OpenExchange does support all the major mail clients for users who must have them. Still, using a separate, stand-alone mail client really doesn't make sense as the browser interface offers full functionality.
OpenExchange supports all the major Web browsers, including Mozilla, Netscape, Konqueror, Opera, and Internet Explorer. Mozilla and Opera run on multiple operating systems for easy standardization. Unless your users are exceptionally thick, it won't take them long to master the clean, well-organized browser screens. Users can easily access the system from anywhere, on any platform, and have access to certificate, SSL, and authenticated SMTP security options.