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I've worked as a sysadmin for some years and what I keep coming back to is that users like Microsoft Outlook and want to use its Exchange features. I have tried my fair share of commercial alternatives but usually there is either a fundamental feature missing or there are stability issues.

In short I am looking for a Microsoft Exchange Alternative with the following features:

  • Authentication through SQL or LDAP
  • Has a solid, comfortable web interface for the users when they are off-site
  • Supports replication and load balancing (if one fails, the second one should be already running)
  • Outlook client support (or a really good alternative client)
  • Resource booking (meeting rooms, projectors, company jet, etc)
  • Calendar (shared/private) and Email (if that wasn't obvious)
  • (Optional) A cross-platform client for us *nix users.
  • (Optional) Corporate support contracts available
  • (Optional) An open-source software is a plus

Please keep your answers as detailed as possible to determine that you've successfully deployed the software and it fulfills the needs. If I wanted a list of claimed alternatives , I would simply Google it.

I've personally tried Binary Server, Novell Groupwise, homegrown Postfix/Cyrus stuff and in the end the 'real thing' because those users just love Exchange.

Please help me find a good alternative.

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Excellent question and I'm also interested in the answers. Additionally, I'm on the lookout for a client that is a viable alternative to Outlook. Cross-platform would be ideal but at the very least it must run on Windows. Evolution is the nearest I've found in functionality but that won't run on Windows. –  John Gardeniers Jul 4 '09 at 14:09

12 Answers 12

up vote 45 down vote accepted
+100

Zimbra is an excellent opensource, linux based alternative to Exchange. It combines Apache Tomcat, Postfix, MySQL, OpenLDAP and Lucene in a single, well defined package. It offers:

  • LDAP Authentication
  • Calendaring, resource booking and free/busy info
  • Ability to connect using outlook, and its own Zimbra client
  • Excellent web interface
  • Allows multi server setup and replication

It is available for free, with the option of paying for a supported version. I have used Zimbra for a number of organisations who did not, or could not pay for Exchange, and they have all been very happy with it.

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Does it work with outlook? –  chris Jul 4 '09 at 13:10
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According to the Zimbra web page you get the Outlook connector if you buy the enterprise version. –  Andrioid Jul 4 '09 at 13:21
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I've most often used the network edition, which does have the connector, but yes it does appear that you only get the outlook connector with the network edition, but its still substantially cheaper than Exchange. Alternatively you can use the Zimbra desktop client, or use POP or IMAP to connect with outlook. –  Sam Jul 4 '09 at 13:26
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I use Outlook with Zimbra where I work. It has always worked fine for me. –  Scott Jul 4 '09 at 16:05
    
@scott: do you use it with just imap for email or do you also use it for calendering as well? –  chris Jul 11 '09 at 22:56

At my last job I migrated us off of Intermedia's Exchange service to Kerio Mail Server. It has great webmail (much easier and lighter than OWA), LDAP, ActiveSync and support for NotifyLink/Sync. It looks like Exchange to anyone using Outlook or Entourage. GAL, resource booking, calendars, built-in spam and AV.

Stores everything in flat RFC822 files so no broke Exchange store, has a great management interface and stellar support.

It really does most anything Exchange does, but is more light weight, doesn't require hughe hardware or licensing costs. I loved it while I was on it.

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Another vote for KMS here. We've been running our business on it for over a year now and it's far simpler to administer than any Exchange setup I've worked with in the past. We're using it because we're a purely Mac and Linux shop, but the business types still wanted to have Outlook (or Entourage in our case). –  Kamil Kisiel Jul 5 '09 at 16:51

Another option is Scalix.

Of your list, it supports:

  • Authentication through SQL or LDAP.
  • Has a solid, comfortable web interface for the users when they are off-site
  • Supports replication and load balancing
  • Outlook client support (or a really good alternative client)
  • Resource booking
  • Calendar (shared/private) and Email
  • A cross-platform client for us *nix users - i'd suggest just using the web interface.
  • Corporate support contracts available
  • It's mostly open-source.

Additionally, it supports

  • ActiveDirectory integration and MMC plugins.
  • Mobile clients, via WAP, via ActiveSync (soon, apparently), via NotifyLink (for blackberry, now)
  • Migration tools for moving your Exchange system over

Full comparison chart of all Scalix versions is here

I've deployed it in the past as a decent replacement for Exchange. The Outlook plugin can lag a bit a bit behind the current version of outlook - took 6 months for a plugin for outlook 2007, for example.

Last time I checked the prices were ok, but not fantastically favourable as opposed to Exchange.

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At the time, we contacted Scalix and asked if we could try their Outlook plugin before we bought 50 licenses. 'No' they said. –  Andrioid Jul 5 '09 at 9:16
    
That's interesting, because you can get a 30-day 50-user trial of Scalix Enterprise, which includes the Outlook connector: scalix.com/enterprise/products/trial.php. –  Daniel Lawson Jul 5 '09 at 20:59

Maybe not exactly what you are looking for, but:

Have you considered switching to Google Apps? They now have an Outlook plug in.

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The Google Apps option is a great option to consider, especially for small to mid-size business. I've used it for several small domains, as well as assisted a medium-sized University in transitioning their mail systems, all with positive results. Just be careful with any custom requirements. If you need to archive email, or run concurrent mail systems, the complexity can increase dramatically. Just make sure to perform due diligence for your requirements before making the switch. –  SteveM Jan 3 '10 at 13:56

Open Xchange

Yes, I'm a little late for the party and not a little surprised that OX hasn't been mentioned. I'm pretty sure it meets and/or exceeds the OP's requirements. And for another option, keep your ear to the rails to see what Cisco does with PostPath which was a promising Exchange alternative.

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Have you ever heard about Kolab? It is Free Software (GPL). You can buy support contracts, if you need: Kolab Systems AG.

Kolab combines OpenLDAP, Postfix, Cyrus IMAP, Apache, SASL and OpenSSL plus some glue-code of its own to support all the features you have asked for, including the optional ones.

You can use Outlook as a client, or any standard POP/IMAP mail client, or its own native Kolab Client, called 'Kontact' (available for *nix and for Windows).

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You have OBM from Linagora. It's main objective is to replace Exchange. Most of the web site is in French but you can probably contact them and get info.

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Go directly to the obm site : obm.org/doku.php –  wazoox Jul 4 '09 at 21:24

This article is only a few months old and provides some pretty good ideas about what to look out for in the current options:

http://www.h-online.com/open/Open-source-Exchange-replacements--/features/113133

If pushed we’d have to say that the Z-twins (Zimbra and Zarafa) offer, arguably, the best level of Exchange/Outlook compatibility, with little to choose between them, and Scalix comes a close third. But then buyers are unlikely to base their decisions solely on the Outlook experience, with lots of other features and omissions to consider which could swing the balance in other directions.

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http://www.zarafa.com/ late in answer but you try this also

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I installed the network version of Zimbra for a company last summer. It meets everyone of your needs plus support palm, blackberry and windows mobile over the air sync. It was very slick and the Outlook connector worked very well for not only mail but Calendaring and resource scheduling as well. It has a great web front end and *nix users can use Thunderbird & Firebird to access e-mail, contact list and calendaring or use the Zimbra full client which is basically the web client running on a local light weight web server.

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Since you said open source optional for you, you can look at Domino, with a Notes client.

It has everything you asked for except the open source part

Here is the offical page

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Communigate by Stalker Software.

http://www.communigate.com/

It offers a MAPI provider that allows Outlook to connect almost exactly as it would if you were using Exchange. I can confirm from personal experience that it works well, runs on Linux, and very few of my users know the difference.

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