My work takes me in and out of busy offices all day long. I see Macs, I see PCs, I see servers and printers. I see PCs running Windows which is no surprise, but what I never see are PCs running Linux. “Why is this?” I always ask myself. I mean, the benefits of open source far outweigh the risks and from an administrative viewpoint, the OS is a lot easier to manage. So what is it that is holding Linux back? It’s not spreadsheets and documents –word files and excel files can be easily handled in LibreOffice– nor is it Access/database related as you can get KEXI running in no time. No, I will tell you what is holding Linux back and the answer is simple. Outlook.
The Evil Empire
The power-users and developers who occupy a sizeable chunk of real estate in the Linux world love, and I mean love to hate Microsoft Outlook and Exchange among the vast sea of proprietary software which Microsoft hawks to the public. And why not? It’s massive, slow, unreliable and almost impossible to secure –but then again what system isn’t?– So why do so many choose that as their in-office email solution of choice when there are other options available? I’ll tell you why; a unified interface and options galore. Not to mention Outlook/Exchange is one of only three email server/clients that is currently supported by RIM’s Blackberry Enterprise Server. The other two being GroupWise and Lotus Domino. With this comes wireless PIMsync which means that your desktop and blackberry stay current. This is also the reason that RIM has not filed for bankruptcy in the U.S.
What Makes Outlook So Special?
While I generally dislike all things Microsoft –for all of the application’s problems and faults– Outlook remains a very easy-to-use and powerful piece of software for its end-users. So make no mistake, it is its native features that are packed in which are the primary factor for the applications continued success. Outlook’s glory lies in it’s simplicity. You have access to the 4 major functions that everyone needs outside of sending and receiving email.
- Contact management
- Calendar management
While all of these are important, it’s the last two where Outlook always seems to shine. Almost everyone I know uses the memo and calendar features in my work environment and I myself couldn’t imagine life without all of my work memos syncing with my Blackberry almost instantly. The same goes for your calendar and tasks. The fact that I can do all of this in one application is truly amazing considering that no-one else seems to be doing this at Microsoft‘s level in regards to syncing and its integration into the application –which itself is a frightening statement. Still, I can schedule appointments, invite attendees to said appointment, setup tasks and flag emails. In addition to that are a host of other useful features which I will not get into here. But know that for what it does and what it’s designed to do, it does it very well. I myself do all of this through a virtual machine running Windows 7 (which I am not a fan of), but hey, I gotta do what I gotta do. I am just glad no one is trying to force me into using Windows as my host OS.
But I Don’t Wanna Run a VM
Linux has about 20 email clients that I can think of but we will only be talking about the two that function the best with the most features and least amount of reported bugs. Those two are Thunderbird and Evolution. While both of these are awesome mail clients, respectively, they are sorely lacking when it comes to features. Most importantly, up-to-date server integration for Exchange. I run both Evolution and Thunderbird at work with exchange on the backend and it is anything but a pleasant.
For instance, if I have either of those clients open and mail is coming into them they will show up as being read on my BlackBerry and Outlook while still showing as unread in Thunderbird and Evolution. One could see how this would be a problem if I were to step away from my desk and forget to close those applications, I wouldn’t be getting notified of new messages on my Blackberry. That would be very bad. Another thing that is missing from these clients are an effective means to keep memos and schedule calendar events. Sure, Evolution can schedule events with its calendar, however you can only have one organizer of said event. Meaning only one person can schedule things at a time, which may not be a good thing if your corporation is multi-national or has many locations nationally. Evolution also does not support native encryption –among other nuances.
Thunderbird is not much better when it comes to any of this stuff. Actually, Thunderbird is worse. It is an awesome mail client for the web, as both are but when it comes to the enterprise and Exchange, they just don’t stack up feature wise. This has to change if Linux wants to become a player in the desktop arena as it is today. Then, once everyone converts we can start to push a more native, Unix-based mail system to replace Exchange once the time comes to upgrade and replace those servers as they age.
For Linux To Win The Desktop
A viable enterprise email client will be needed that can do all of the things and possibly more than can be done with Outlook. Without this, you will likely never see Linux rise to its full potential and gain market share in the enterprise, even if someone decided to develop a client that could do these things and charge a slight fee for it. The potential gains would be substantial, but that would require Microsoft’s partial cooperation when it comes down to getting everything to sync properly with Exchange –but we all know how that will go. Look to Outlook for Mac and Entourage to get a good idea of how they will strip features from anyone not running Windows. If you’re thinking like me –which you must be by now– you know the way is a feature rich Outlook clone frontend running on a sendmail or another open project for the backend. Once you can push something like that and tell people it’s free to install after showing them a demo they will rush to save money while at the same time maintaining the same level of functionality.