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New Scalix open source groupware is competition for Microsoft Exchange

By Cory Buford on August 19, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

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Scalix collaboration platform, with its latest release version 11.4, aims to be a good alternative to Microsoft Exchange. Based on the HP OpenMail platform, discontinued by Hewlett-Packard in 2001, it has been further developed by Scalix and now acts as an enterprise email and group calendar server with the option of integrating systems like ERP, CRM, and billing into the Scalix system using its open API. It is compatible with most LDAP authentication mechanisms, such as those in Windows Active Directory, Novell eDirectory, and Red Hat Directory Server. The most prominent feature of Scalix is its Exchange compatibility; you can use an Outlook client to access the Scalix platform. Scalix also provides an AJAX-based client that is nearly identical to Microsoft Exchange Outlook Web Access (OWA). Aside from Outlook compatibility, Scalix also claims to coexist peacefully with other existing Exchange email systems.

Version 11.4 of Scalix, released in May, offers several new features and upgrades. Web-based access has been improved by adding theme customization and an overlay calendar, which allows you to view multiple calendars at the same time in day, week, and month views. Firefox 3 is officially supported. The new release supports data feeds (RSS and ATOM) using Scalix proxy folders. Optional antispam and zero-hour antivirus, based on Commtouch technology, have been added. CentOS 4 and 5, which were not supported as platforms for previous versions, now are.

Scalix offers four packages: the Community Edition, Small Business Edition, Enterprise Edition, and Hosting Edition. The four vary by the number of standard and premium users, support levels, and additional advanced features. The difference between standard and premium users is that premium users can have access to advanced features of Scalix, such as establishing an Outlook connection with Scalix, while standard users are limited to basic features such as POP/SMTP/IMAP, calendar, and Web-based email -- so for Scalix to be a true Exchange alternative, most of your users must be premium users. While it is true that mail servers such as Postfix and Sendmail can't provide all those features, other open source mail servers, such as Courier Mail Server, can in a webmail environment. Another popular mail collaboration suite, Zimbra, can provide the same functionalities, but an Outlook connector is not available on its open source edition.

For the free Scalix Community Edition, you can have unlimited standard users and up to 10 premium users. The Community Edition doesn't support advanced features and add-ins like high availability, antispam, antivirus, and Exchange coexistence. The Hosting Edition offers all the features, including multi-server support, but requires 100 premium users as its minimum when you purchase it. Choosing the appropriate edition boils down to the number of premium users you want. For complete details of Scalix editions, check the company's comparison chart.

Scalix deployment

With an abundance of high quality documentation and resources, installation of Scalix is easy and straightforward if you meet all of the software's requirements and have the necessary dependencies. Before installation, be sure that your Linux distribution is supported. Version 11.4 runs under Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 4 and 5, CentOS 4 and 5, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 4 and 5. Fedora 7 and openSUSE 10.2 are also supported, but running Scalix on either is not recommended for a production environment because these two distros are community versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server respectively, and important patches and updates available for the enterprise versions may not always be available for the community versions. Finally, 1GB of memory is recommended and 1GB of disk space is required for the base installation, plus additional space for user mailboxes.

For this article, I installed both the Community Edition and Enterprise Trial Edition on a RHEL 5 server. During the installation process, I encountered problems with both the network environment and the dependencies, but installation continued smoothly once I resolved everything.

I was surprised to find that the Scalix installation will stop if SELinux is enabled on the system, and it will recommend you disable or put SELinux into permissive mode for the installation to continue. While the Scalix installation instructions do say that it is better for the firewall to be disabled, for a self-respecting network administrator, that is unacceptable. Since mail servers are exposed to outside threats, disabling the firewall is not a good idea. However, I was able to proceed without any difficulties by merely disabling SELinux with the firewall enabled.

Scalix requires that Apache, PostgreSQL, and Sendmail already be installed and will install Tomcat during the installation process if it needs to. The Tomcat installed by Scalix is its own special version (though the company doesn't say how it differs from the standard version), meaning that you have to depend on Scalix for future Tomcat updates. As for Sendmail, I think Postfix is a better choice in terms of security and, since Scalix also claims to work with Postfix, there should be an option to select Postfix during the installation.

Scalix configuration and management

After the installation is complete, the Scalix services work right away. Using a username and password generated during the installation, I quickly established a Web mail session. The Web mail client is based on AJAX and the interface is similar to that of Exchange OWA, so anyone who uses OWA will feel comfortable. Scalix Web mail and calendar features are comparable to those of OWA, but OWA offers more flexible features such as sending email at a specified time and appointment scheduling, which Scalix Web mail lacks. I tested Web mail using IE7 and Firefox 3 and encountered no problems. Still, because of the Web client's limited functionality, premium users will likely stick to using Outlook. One security concern that I have with the Web mail is that it doesn't redirect to an SSL session when a user logs in.

I also tried using Outlook 2003 to connect to Scalix. For Outlook to connect to Scalix, you must first install a connector on the client. For large networks with many clients, there is a guide available detailing automated deployment of the Outlook connectors using group policy and other methods so that client deployment is less of a problem. After that, just create a Scalix profile in Outlook and you can retrieve messages and configure your calendar to synchronize with Scalix.

With the Scalix administration console, you can easily manage settings with one simple interface. Unlike the Web mail, the administration console automatically uses SSL when you connect. You can manage server settings, view queue contents, create users and mailboxes, enable and disable services, and even monitor Scalix server status by services and logs. Everything you have in Scalix you can find in Exchange, though the Scalix administration console is a little more simplified than that of Exchange.

With regards to LDAP integration, Scalix works surprisingly well with Active Directory. With Scalix Active Directory extensions, which are available for the Small Business Edition and above, you can easily synchronize Active Directory users with Scalix. You can also create Scalix users, their account settings, and mailboxes, and configure mail nodes, using Active Directory.

Overall, Scalix works well as a mail and groupware server, comparable to Exchange, but I found a few concerns that need to be addressed, such as the fact that backup and restore operations need to be done from the Linux command line instead of being integrated with the administration console. Also, since Scalix targets existing Exchange users, administrators who are used to Exchange must learn Linux as well as technologies like Tomcat and PostgreSQL.

Can we finally replace Exchange?

One selling point of Scalix is that its features are comparable to those of Exchange for a lower cost. However, if you look at Scalix pricing, you will see that, when comparing the Scalix Enterprise Edition, Scalix would incur a higher cost than Exchange over the long term. While Scalix costs less during the early years of deployment, an increasing number of premium users ($60 one-time, perpetual license fee for each premium user for the Scalix Xandros Edition), yearly OS subscription cost (Red Hat, for instance, runs $1,000), yearly patch and update subscription ($12 per client), and support costs ($300 per email incident) can easily make Scalix cost more than Microsoft Exchange in years to come.

Unless Scalix changes its pricing plan, I recommend reserving Scalix for small businesses with few users who wanted to try email and groupware solutions for Exchange capabilities. Those who already have systems based on open source distributions supported by Scalix can also benefit since no migration is necessary and the cost of OS subscription will be factored out of the equation. Anyone having an existing Exchange infrastructure probably should stick with what they have unless there are some changes with pricing and additions of notable features. However, it doesn't hurt to try the Community Edition or Enterprise Trial Edition of Scalix for free.

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on New Scalix open source groupware is competition for Microsoft Exchange

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New Scalix open source groupware is competition for Microsoft Exchange

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.199.182.169] on August 19, 2008 05:43 PM
Isn't a little disingenuous to use the Red Hat Enterprising pricing in the costs to say it would be more expensive than Exchange? I mean, CentOS 5 is free, and offers the same functionality as Red Hat. I wonder if the costs would be lower than Exchange if you used it as the base OS in your price calculations.

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Re: New Scalix open source groupware is competition for Microsoft Exchange

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.40.155.43] on August 21, 2008 03:01 PM
There is a pretty big difference between "buying" RHEL and 1buying Exchange. With Exchange you're buying the software, with RHEL you're buying support. Now go call up Microsoft, ask how much basic support costs for Windows Server and Exchange and add that into the price.

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Re: New Scalix open source groupware is competition for Microsoft Exchange

Posted by: Fletch on August 22, 2008 11:35 AM
I don't believe this to be disingenuous, because the author is making a reference to the corporate or enterprise background in which you would want to have support for the operating system. While this may be possible for CentOS and others, most larger companies usually put the operating system that has larger market share, training, and certification (so as to ensure there is a way to ensure employees/consultants can prove he or she understands their environment).

Having said that, when contrasting to Microsoft Exchange, this is generally an appeal to larger companies as typically these will have some form of group ware for mail and calendering. As the company gets smaller, the chances are that this is not always the case.

Haz

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And what do you run Microsoft Exchange on?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 41.243.101.252] on August 19, 2008 06:05 PM
What do you run exchange on? I suppose that free operating system... And then there are the forced upgrades. Yea, sure start adding spurious ammounts to the one side. (Why do I feed the troll-reporter)

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Why does it require PostgreSQL?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.250.149] on August 19, 2008 09:17 PM
It should be configurable to work with other databases, especially MySQL, not just PostgreSQL.

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Re: Why does it require PostgreSQL?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 150.50.10.61] on August 20, 2008 09:34 AM
It only uses postgresql for the mobile client interface (which wasn't shown in this review), The users mailboxes are stored in the linux filesystem. Unlike it says in the review you don't have to learn postgresql - the installer does all the configuration of the database for you. And for that matter you don't really have to learn Tomcat.

The point about backups in the review is well made. It would be much better to have a backup and restore console built in to the SAC - at the moment you have to backup from scripts (Preferably using a LVM snapshot). Which does require a little bit of linux knowledge, although that's not a bad thing in my opinion.


We've been using Scalix now for almost two years now and it really is very good - and gets better with every release - including licensing ActiveSync from Microsoft and which is currently in beta. The best thing I can say about it is that you forget it's there. It just works.

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Scalix is not true open source

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.150.131.207] on August 20, 2008 03:14 PM
The problem with Scalix (along with brand 'Z') is that it isn't true open source; it's a cut-down free version. If you want the full functionality you have to buy the commercial version.

Many sites are now finding that end-to-end free software solutions such as Citadel (which is 100% GPL), Kolab, or even Horde are a better option -- there are no separate free and commercial versions, the entire package is available to everyone on the same terms.

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Re: Scalix is not true open source

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 150.50.10.61] on August 20, 2008 04:02 PM
Scalix is not a cut down version of anything.

The things you don't get in the Free version compared to the other versions are these:

Multiple Tenants, Multiple Instances, Multi-server, High Availability, Scalix Migration Tool, Archiver Service, Active Directory Extensions Exchange Co-existence, Recovery Folder, Scalix AntiSpam, Scalix ZeroHour AntiVirus, Scalix ActiveSync, NotifyLink Wireless Email / PIM

Plus you are only allowed 10 premium users which are basically Outlook users.

What sort of company would need these things and not be prepared to pay for a Groupware solution? If you don't need them then the free version is all you need.

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Re(1): Scalix is not true open source

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.150.131.207] on August 21, 2008 12:18 AM
Unacceptable. Any company that offers both free and non-free version is basically saying "We do not believe in free software. We believe in proprietary software. We are giving away this feature-limited version because we know that if we didn't, no one would buy it; they would instead choose [superior free software equivalent] or [Microsoft equivalent]."

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Re(2): Scalix is not true open source

Posted by: Fletch on August 22, 2008 11:43 AM
I disagree. If they have source code for the product, this is saying they believe in open source (providing it can be used to provide the product that isn't overly stripped down and it does indeed work). However, the commercial version allows the authors to offer a version that if you are willing to pay and help support them gives you more features. It seems the trend now, however, is to give the software out and sell support, but if the company isn't large enough to have a lot of support resources, perhaps this is the only way they can possibly be re-reimbursed? Then again, if they can't provide support, I would think large companies wouldn't want this in their company anyway. I guess the thing I'm concerned with is people wanting a free hand out as opposed to taking what people are actually offering, and based on the way this is worded, it doesn't appear that this statement is looking at it from the aspect of where the true benefits of open source exist...it seems that someone wants a person's work for free.

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Re(2): Scalix is not true open source

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 150.50.10.61] on August 22, 2008 01:27 PM
Unacceptable to you, you mean.

Firstly it needs to be pointed out that Scalix will never be totally Open Source, because the underlying technology is licensed from HP. Everything Scalix are allowed to open source has been and is available to download.

Secondly the free (No Cost) version has everything you need to run a mail server - which will scale very highly, which has a great Web Client and which works with all IMAP POP3 and CalDAV Clients. If you do need Outlook for more than 10 people you can spend some money on premium users but you still don't need to upgrade the server to Enterprise edition. If you want you can also plug in ClamAV and Spam Assassin for filtering. It's suitable for almost all SMBs

It's only the largest companies that need the high end features in the Enterprise edition - so why shouldn't Scalix ask those organisations to pay for those features? That pays for the developers and keeps the Community edition free for the rest of us.

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Re(2): Scalix is not true open source

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.220.242.68] on August 22, 2008 09:22 PM
This is oh so true. They have no problem using others software and then want to charge you to get more than 10 premium mail boxes. The best Exchange alternative out there is Zimbra. But even they charge for certain features. But if you want the least fettered free Exchange alternative, look at Zimbra.

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New Scalix open source groupware is competition for Microsoft Exchange

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 217.36.208.136] on August 22, 2008 08:44 AM
I was really surprised to see you didn't provide any coverage of the Gordano Messaging Suite or any of the other Exchange alternatives in your review. GMS has been around a lot longer than Scalix and provides a rich, scalable alternative to Exchange. Its new AJAX based WebMail interface, is not based on OWA but rather on Outlook itself removing the need for any end user retraining altogether.

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New Scalix open source groupware is competition for Microsoft Exchange

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.248.89.66] on August 22, 2008 03:25 PM
I don't care what the people from Scalix posting in this forum say, if I'm going to be running exchange, I'd rather be running the real thing that is documented, until there is a complete open source solution that is 100% free.

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New Scalix open source groupware is competition for Microsoft Exchange

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.220.242.68] on August 22, 2008 09:16 PM
Scalix limits its community version considerably. Only allowing 10 premium mailboxes makes it a stretch to use the term Open Source. They have no problem using someone else's work to build the software and then have the nerve to limit it severely.

If you are looking for a true community version of an Exchange competitor go to Zimbra. They have a true community version that is not limited.

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New Scalix open source groupware is competition for Microsoft Exchange

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.210.118.139] on August 23, 2008 02:11 AM
I do agree that Zimbra is a nice solution, I have deployed zimbra community for 300 users webmail and it works as good as OWA.

I heard that Zarafa (www.zarafa.com) will make its version opensource: as this is the only 100% mapi implementation this comes more in the area of a real MS Exchange alternative that is also acceptable for Outlook/Exchange users.

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Zarafa is a good exchange alternative

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 78.110.195.213] on August 23, 2008 08:50 AM
We've been running it at customers sites for 3 years now. It scales, integrates with any mta or ldap, it puts all its data in a mysql and runs 100% mapi.
The ony catch : it is not fully open source (just like zimbra and scalix)

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