Ubuntu @ Work: Outlook replacement


This will be the biggest one.  We use Outlook for everything at work, and it is integrated with our Exchange 2007 R2 Servers.  We have groups and resources setup, and use sharepoint integration. So, I’m sure that some of this just won’t be able to be done, however, I’m gonna try! Okay.  Out of the box Ubuntu has Thunderbird.  I initially dismissed this, because the only protocols that it uses are IMAP, POP and SMTP for communications, and we have blocked IMAP and POP to the outside world at the office because of the higher risk of attack, and probably more so because we just don’t want to have to deal with helping people setup IMAP. 🙂 The next test was with Evolution.  There seemed to have been a number of people online that used it, and were happy.  Seems that there are (2) types of plugins for Evolution to help it communicate with Exchange.  One works with your OWA server for Exchange 2003 only, and the other one uses MAPI to communicate with 2007 and above Exchange.  So, this isn’t ideal again, as MAPI won’t be available outside of my office either, and we have Exchange 2007 R2, so the OWA plugin is out as well.  SO. I set it up with MAPI.  It started downloading all of my messages, and looked to be okay.  I used it for a day, after configuring the view settings to be more palatable.  The next day when opening, it started giving me odd MAPI errors, and then for some odd reason (and this has happened before when testing Evolution), it decided to wipe out all of the locally stored email (but didn’t really tell me that it was, so it looked like it was just dumping my Inbox).  After a few minute of panic, I opened OWA, and saw all my emails were still there, and decided that Evolution is still not where it needs to be, and started looking again. In the mean time, I have been using OWA through Google Chrome, which is actually not too bad, despite the issues with only viewing parts of the subject lines, and having to refresh to get new mail. I had some free time on my hands, so I started up Thunderbird and configured it to use IMAP and SMTP.  There are a couple configuration issues that took some time to work out, but since then, I have been using it, and it is working VERY well  I can configure the view to show messages threaded, and group them by date which I like to do.  It also integrates very well with Unity, and tells me when I have new messages.  The icon in the launcher even reports the number of unread messages.  AND!! FOR ALL OF YOU WHO DON’T RUN THUNDERBIRD: The Search functionality is the best I have ever seen or used.  It is QUICK, and takes your search results, and finds common threads (users who sent them, folders that they are in), and offers you a side-bar where you can further refine your search. So, needless to say, I am running Thunderbird now, and it has worked well for over a week.  The only real big problem is not being able to access email when I’m not on the local network or VPN.  But I can always use OWA for that.  So, here are my list of Pros and Cons for Thunderbird: Pros:

  • Search is excellent!  Far better than Outlook or OWA, or anything.
  • Interface is nice and clean
  • There are a number of places that things are integrated very nicely, a lot of thought has been put into this interface.
  • Tabbed view for Calendars, Tasks, Searches.
  • MANY configuration view settings.
Cons:
  • Sometimes it seems that synchronization breaks, would be nice to have a ‘validate’ feature to make sure your stuff in in sync, instead of reloading.
  • Cannot include ‘resources’ in your meeting requests using lightning.
  • No support for OWA connectivity, limited to IMAP protocols.
Setup Details:
  • When configuring the IMAP settings:
    • The username format is <DOMAIN>\<USERNAME>\<ALAIS, or USERNAME>
    • By default, the settings tell Thunderbird to copy all your sent items, deleted items, etc, into Thunderbird folders, which means, they won’t go back to Exchange for you.  You need to change them to the following:
    • On the IMAP server settings: Change ‘When I delete a message’ to go to the “Deleted Items” folder.
    • On the IMAP folders settings: Change ‘Save a copy of sent items’ to save into the “Sent Items” folder.
    • And Misc.
  • Get the Lightning plugin if you use Exchange, It allows you to setup your calendar in Thunderbird, otherwise you won’t be able to do calendar stuff.
    • The Lightning plugin, also requires the Exchange Addon 🙂
    • When adding a calendar, this is the format: https://<DOMAIN>\<username>@<OWA Address>/EWS/Exchange.asmx
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About mglaske

Systems Engineer for Limelight Networks
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