With e-mail still providing the backbone of most corporate communications, the lack of Microsoft Corp. Exchange Server clients on Mac OS and Linux platforms was, until recently, a problem for companies that wanted to share folders and calendars with users of those systems. Updates to Microsofts Office 2004 for Mac and Novell Inc.s Evolution and Exchange Connector greatly improved support for shared calendars and folders last year.
Even with broad client and Web server support for the iCal and WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) standards, mixed Windows, Mac OS and Linux-based environments will still find robust clients such as Microsoft Entourage and Novell Evolution to be the best bets for connecting Mac OS and Linux users to Exchange.
Both Entourage and Evolution differ from Outlook in that they dont offer the full MAPI (Messaging API) performance that Windows users see with Outlook XP or Office 2004. Actually, system performance is the biggest downside to Entourage and Evolution because both take considerable time to download and synchronize message header data for users in-boxes.
Configuring each system was a simple procedure in eWEEK Labs tests. When configuring Entourage using its account manager, we needed to input only the name of the Exchange server. The account manager did most of the work, including identifying the Active Directory server that managed user accounts.
Unlike Outlook, which manages connection settings separately from options such as delegation settings, Entourages account manager puts more management settings (including offline and delegation) in a single interface.
Configuring Evolution through Novells Exchange Connector was equally straightforward in tests, although we needed to know the name of the Active Directory server to configure Evolution to use the Global Address Book.
The Exchange Connector is essentially middleware that maps features in the Evolution client to the MAPI features found in Exchange. This isnt an earth-shattering innovation; there are other groupware servers that are alternatives to Exchange (Scalix Corp.s ScalixServer and IBMs Lotus Domino) and have Outlook plug-ins that essentially act as middleware to make an Outlook client think it is connecting to an Exchange server.
In general, the Exchange Connector is a little more cumbersome to configure because the MAPI functions that users might want to manage are located in different components of the setting configuration interface . For example, we assigned delegates to manage a users in-box in a different part of the settings interface from where we managed the server connections.
Both clients do a good job of managing their e-mail and calendar features in the context of a connection to Exchange, considering that both applications are, at their core, IMAP/POP (Post Office Protocol) e-mail clients with integrated contact and calendar management. For example, when we associated an e-mail message with Entourages Project feature, that information was retained and displayed through a message flag in the users in-box.
Delegation isnt as easy to manage in Entourage or Evolution as it is in Outlook, but both the Entourage and Evolution clients allow users to act as delegates, so they can read and act on another persons e-mail and calendar requests.
With Evolution and the Exchange Connector, we configured our client using Red Hat Inc.s Fedora 3.0 system. That version of Linux includes Evolution 2.0 and the Exchange Connector in the distribution. The source code for both applications is available under the GNU GPL (General Public License) at www.gnome.org/projects/evolution.
Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.