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Sizing up the Linux e-mail market

Messaging expert Michael Osterman explains what Linux e-mail vendors are doing to help companies migrate off Exchange.

A growing number of companies today are exploring the potential cost benefits of Linux-based e-mail platforms as compared to the gold standard that is Microsoft Exchange. But who are the major players in the Linux e-mail market? And what are they doing to help companies migrate off Exchange? talked with messaging expert Michael Osterman, principal analyst and founder of Black Diamond Wash.-based Osterman Research, to find out.

How are Linux-based e-mail servers fairing in the market today?

Windows still dominates and probably will continue to dominate [the e-mail market] moving forward. With that said, there are a lot of companies interested in Linux-based solutions for a couple of reasons: There are organizations want to move away from Windows - maybe to open source or some other non-Windows platform - because of licensing issues. And the second reason is that a lot of organizations, as part of a corporate-wide migration to Linux, are looking for a messaging solution that will also fit into that framework. So, I think the world is still going to be dominated by Windows-based servers including messaging servers moving forward, but Linux servers are certainly making a dent in that.

Can you rattle off some of the major players in the Linux e-mail market?

Certainly, IBM's Lotus Notes is one of the big platforms that runs on Linux. Then there's Scalix Corp. Kerio has one. There is another company called AtMail. There is company called Real Time Enterprises. And there are lots of smaller players that provide Linux e-mail servers.

What do these companies need to do to get potential customers to migrate off Exchange?

If somebody is running Microsoft Exchange and you want to get them to switch to a Linux-based system, it's almost imperative that you allow users to continue using Outlook on the desktop with e-mail, with calendar, and with all the rest.

How does one go about connecting Outlook to Linux on the back end?

Basically, what happens is you have a piece of software that sits on the server that will get Outlook to talk to the Linux-based server. That really is key and a lot of vendors [offer that type of software.] They're saying, 'You can swap out Exchange and still keep Outlook on the desktop.' Usually, you don't want to swap out a desktop because then you've got all the training issues and the help desk issues and everything else in getting people to switch.


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What else can Linux e-mail vendors do to get folks to migrate away from Exchange?

I think the real key is maintaining that desktop functionality. That is far and away number one. Also, I think you need to demonstrate a real advantage of moving away from Windows. You have to have much lower cost of ownership, either by being able to consolidate servers, or by being able to have lower management requirements and things of that nature. There is really no other advantage other than the cost advantage.

What are the biggest problems that folk run into when migrating off Exchange to a Linux server?

Just getting all the boxes up and running and migrating the calendar information and all of that stuff [can be daunting]. It's not a trivial task. I think all the major Linux e-mail vendors have migration tools that will help you move all that stuff out of the Exchange message store and into the Linux message store.

Any advice for firms planning to migrate?

You want to do it right, obviously, because the potential for disruption is pretty significant. What some companies will do is just block some users and things like that on weekends. But usually you can migrate pretty much everyone at once, depending upon the size of the organization. But it's something you really want to get done right, so a lot of pre-planning is necessary.

Do you see a day when companies will be more willing to swap out Outlook clients for Linux-based alternatives?

I think that what you'll see is a migration toward Web-based functionality. You'll see more use of thin clients, or browser-based clients that look like Outlook, but that provide everything within the context of the browser. It's much easier for IT to support because there is nothing on the desktop that you have to upgrade and manage. Everything is handled through a standard browser.

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