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By Michael Caton  |  Posted 2006-09-11
 
 
 

Scalix Makes Enterprise Strides


In just three years, Scalix has made considerable progress in turning its namesake e-mail and calendaring platform into a compelling enterprise-class option.



Click here to read the full review of Scalix 11 Community Edition.

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In just three years, Scalix has made considerable progress in turning its namesake e-mail and calendaring platform into a compelling enterprise-class option.

But the market is changing, and its no longer enough to provide good e-mail and calendar support in Microsofts Outlook and the Web browser. Delivery to wireless devices, better integration with enterprise applications and the need for better visibility into (and control over) e-mail communications have become increasingly important capabilities.

Click here to read about this applications predecessor, Scalix 10.

eWEEK Labs tests of the first public beta of Scalix 11 Community Edition Preview, released in August, show that Scalix is doing a good job of addressing some of these issues while attempting to deliver a feature set comparable to its prime competitor, Microsofts Exchange Server.

Scalix has recently made a significant strategic move, as well: While the company has discussed open source a great deal in its marketing material in the past, it didnt have an open-source license until July. At that time, the company announced that it had established a licensing agreement with Hewlett-Packard to grant access to the source code of Scalix, including the portions that come from the now-defunct HP OpenMail.

Source code will be available through the Scalix Community Edition, which includes just about every feature available in commercial versions of the platform.

The main difference between the Community Edition and commercial editions (Enterprise and Small Business) of Scalix is that the Community Edition has a limit of 25 Premium users (users with access to advanced features, such as native Outlook MAPI, or Messaging API, support) and supports only single-server deployments.

The Enterprise edition supports an unlimited number of Premium users as well as multiserver deployment. The Small Business edition of Scalix supports 50 Premium users and single-server deployment. The commercial versions of Scalix also support Microsoft Active Directory integration.

Scalix officials said they intend to maintain a dual-license strategy, with a commercial license and an open-source license based on the Mozilla Public License.

The Scalix 11 platform is expected to be released in November, just ahead of the release of Exchange Server 2007.

Application integration

To compete with stalwarts such as Microsofts Exchange Server in the enterprise market, a messaging platform has to integrate well with enterprise applications such as CRM (customer relationship management).

By going to an open-source license, and with the addition of the Scalix Messaging Services API for Web services integration, Scalix is poised for that kind of integration. However, whether a third party integrates with your platform often depends more on the scope of your installed base than the quality of your tools.

Scalix is still working to beef up its third-party base, which will include stealing back some of the mind share that Zimbra has garnered this past year, and Scalixs Messaging Services API is likely the best way to do it. This Web services API is a server-based REST (representational state transfer) system that allows access to message and calendar data from within a browser interface.

Zimbra was one of the first applications to make use of this kind of integration by scanning message text for relative date information and linking that text in a free/busy lookup to the recipients calendar.

More broadly, the Scalix Messaging Services API could allow a CRM application to access message and calendar data on the Scalix server beyond the simple SMTP listening and capturing of e-mail traffic typically found in messaging and CRM integration.

Next Page: Web mail client experience; going mobile.

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On the user side, Scalix has made a number of improvements that were immediately apparent during eWeek Labs tests. The biggest improvements can be found in the Web mail interface, where the use of AJAX (Asynchronous Java Script and XML) brings additional information on meetings, contacts and e-mails to the foreground when the cursor is positioned over an object such as the calendar date. The net gain is being able to see more information and to act on it without having to open an object.

In general, we found that Scalix provides a very good Web mail client experience. The Web mail interface renders in a new browser window when the user logs in, so pop-up blocking must be turned off in the browser. (Scalix Community Edition supports Microsofts Internet Explorer and the Mozilla Foundations Firefox.) The interface is generally clean and well-balanced, providing a minimal tool set and presenting the most important information (namely, e-mail and upcoming calendar events).

Click here to read a review of Scalix Server 9.2.1.

Users have access to server-side rules, as well as the out-of-office assistant and signature files. The calendar options and interface for scheduling meetings are well-designed. We particularly liked that we could pick from the address book and designate contacts attendance at meetings as either optional or mandatory.

Outlook integration has also improved in this release through the addition of SmartCache, a technology that essentially delivers the same kind of caching benefits available to Exchange Server 2003 and Outlook 2003 users. For example, with SmartCache enabled, the server maintains a local copy of the users mailbox on the client so the user can continue to work even in the event of a network interruption.

We liked this feature because it doesnt require Outlook 2003. (It also works with Windows 2000 and Windows XP.) Administrators have to enable the feature for users through the administrator console. SmartCache also requires a premium license for the product.

While the Web mail client is very good and will allow users to do basic tasks, the Outlook client is mandatory for users who want advanced features. For example, we had to use the Outlook client to delegate access to e-mail, calendars, and public and private folders.

Scalix also offers a connector for the Linux-based Evolution client, which supports client- and server-side rules, access to public folders, and free/busy lookup for group calendars and scheduling.

The search capabilities, which are based on the open-source Lucene, have been improved in this release. While we found it difficult to gauge search speed in the beta, Scalix did seem better able to find data across the mailbox.

Going mobile

For the truly mobile user, Scalix provides a very lightweight Web-based client rather than the push-based solutions available from Research In Motions BlackBerry or Microsofts Exchange Server 2003 Service Pack 2.

On the one hand, this makes it possible to check mail from a wide variety of devices, including set-top boxes and any mobile devices with a Web browser. Users can basically view, forward and respond to messages as the device permits.

The downside is that the mobile Web client doesnt offer the sophisticated and tight integration with e-mail clients found on wireless smart phones, such as the BlackBerry or Windows Mobile-based devices. Users of the Scalix Web client also will need a more consistent connection than with push-based solutions.

From an administrative standpoint, managing Scalix is a straightforward affair. The management console is Web- based and also requires disabling pop-up blocking. The interface is relatively Spartan, providing tools to manage users, groups and resources, such as conference rooms. The interface also provides a view to Scalixs queues and services.

While Scalix does support Active Directory integration in the Business and Enterprise editions via an MMC (Microsoft Management Console) plug-in, administrators also can set password policies through rules in the administrative console. We liked that we also could control user actions through rules. For example, we could control the frequency with which users could send out-of-office messages.

Administrators also have good control over user mailbox quotas, with the ability to warn users that they are about to—or have—exceeded their allotted space. The quota system supports both universal quotas and individual exception quotas.

Scalix officials said they are working to extend the server management interface through a new API based on SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol).

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

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Evaluation Shortlist

Microsofts Exchange Server 2003 Defines groupware in the Outlook world; allows forms-based applications in Outlook (www.microsoft.com)

IBMs IBM Lotus Domino Enterprise groupware with database-driven applications (www.ibm.com)

Sun Microsystems Java Enterprise System Collaboration Suite Offers good integration of instant messaging with e-mail and calendar tools (www.sun.com)

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.

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