Evolution Offers Outlook Experience

Ximian Inc.'s efforts to carve a space for Linux and Unix on the corporate desktop are anchored by Evolution, the company's open-source mail and personal information management application.

Ximian Inc.s efforts to carve a space for Linux and Unix on the corporate desktop are anchored by Evolution, the companys open-source mail and personal information management application.

eWeek Labs tested Evolution 1.2, and we were impressed with the interface and stability improvements in Evolution since we reviewed the program in its initial release last year.

When teamed with Version 1.2 of Ximians Connector for Microsoft Corp.s Exchange, Evolution does a good job of standing in for Outlook as an Exchange client on machines that are running Linux or Solaris.

Evolution runs on Debian GNU/Linux 2.2; MandrakeSoft S.A.s Linux Mandrake 8.2 and 9.0 for x86; Red Hat Inc.s Red Hat Linux 6.2, 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 for x86; Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris 8 for UltraSPARC; SuSE Linux 7.3 and 8.0 for x86; or Yellow Dog Linux 2.2.

Evolution 1.2 might not be a feature-complete Outlook clone, but if youre a desktop Linux or Unix user at a site running Exchange, Evolution plus the Exchange connector is the only game in town: Outlook wont run on the platforms that Evolution supports, and Evolution doesnt run on Windows or Mac OS, either.

Without the connector, Evolution works with Post Office Protocol and IMAP e-mail and with Unix Mbox and Maildir formats. Evolution also supports LDAP and the iCalendar and vCard appointment and contact exchange standards.

Exchange Connector enables Evolution to access Exchange 2000 servers through the same WebDAV interface on which Exchanges Outlook Web access depends. Unlike the rest of Evolution, the connector is proprietary Ximian software and is priced starting at $69 per seat, with discounts in packs of 10 or 25 seats.

In our tests of Evolution and Exchange Connector on machines running Red Hat Linux 8.0 and SuSE Linux 8.1, we experienced generally good stability when accessing Exchange data, but our connection seemed to lock up occasionally. At those times, we had to type "killev" at a command line to cleanly shut down all Evolutions processes before restarting the application.

Even infrequent hang-ups of this sort can distress users, so wed like to see Evolution evolve to kill and restart itself in the event of similar lockups—or better yet, eliminate these freezes altogether.

Users accustomed to Outlook shouldnt have much trouble adjusting to Evolution, but they might notice a few feature omissions. Evolution doesnt tackle Outlooks Journal or Notes features, and although Evolution allows users to access a GAL (Global Address List) from Exchange, it wont auto-complete addresses from the GAL.

However, Evolution also offers capabilities that Outlook doesnt have. With Evolution, we could create virtual folders (called vFolders) for organizing mail messages and other data. Whats more, we found that searches conducted with Evolution ran faster than searches done with Outlook.

Evolution 1.2 does a good job with filters as well—we used Evolutions filters to organize mail messages based on a generous palette of attributes. To strain out spam, we created a filter with which we could identify unwanted messages by piping them through SpamAssassin and directing the chaff to a given folder.

One of the great things about the vFolders and filters in Evolution is that theyre defined in XML-formatted files in the users home directory. We could edit and add to our filters using a text editor and transfer filter and vFolder definitions from one machine to another by copying the files from one to the other.

At times, we were more comfortable editing filters by going right to the XML files, in part because the filter- and vFolder-creation dialogs became more difficult to use as the number of filter criteria and sorting actions increased.

There are many small areas where Evolution could use interface refinements. We expect the next version of Evolution to have a slicker look because it will be based on Gtk (Gimp Toolkit) 2.0.

The move to Gtk 2.0 should help simplify some of Evolutions trickier configuration issues. Although Evolution 1.2 has its settings screens organized better than those in Version 1.0, theres still room for improvement.

To select which Web browser will open Web page links or which word processor will open .doc files from within Evolution, users must open GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) Control Center. This can be confusing both for K Desktop Environment users and for users of the Gtk 2.0-based GNOME 2.0.

Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.