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Linux making its mark in messaging

By , Network World
April 04, 2005 12:03 AM ET

Network World - In the past decade, the biggest winner on the e-mail server landscape has not been IBM/Lotus Domino or Microsoft Exchange, but Windows, the operating system that supports the majority of messaging and collaboration platforms in use today.

But just as Linux is being presented as a viable alternative to Windows for network-plumbing tasks such as file and print and Web serving, it is starting to rise as an application-layer option, especially with clustering, IP and virtualization improvements in the latest Linux kernel.

The proof is in a messaging landscape flush with Linux versions of e-mail and collaboration servers from IBM/Lotus, Novell and Oracle. Novell also launched in February an open-source project called Hula to develop a standards-based server with a browser interface that focuses on e-mail, calendars and contacts.

Smaller vendors such as @Mail, Gordano, Kerio, Netline, Scalix and Stalker, also offer messaging servers on Linux.

While the converts remain mostly small and midsize companies, they are raising awareness at a time when millions of users of Microsoft Exchange 5.5 are seeing support end for their software.

"Linux is all business, there is no fluff. It does its job," says John Giantelli, the senior IT director at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). "After two years, we are up, we are running and we are happy."

Giantelli converted to Linux in 2003, which he picked over Windows 2000 to run his Notes/Domino installation and to replace his aging and unstable Windows NT infrastructure.

"Downtime is unacceptable to us," says Giantelli. "The Microsoft OS runs some of my products here very well, but for mail it was just not cutting it."

Giantelli says his messaging costs have dropped 30%, mostly coming from the reliability and the cheaper hardware that his mail server is running on. He extended Linux throughout his messaging infrastructure via management tools based on Webmin, and anti-spam and anti-virus software from McAfee. He also is in the process of moving Lotus Quickplace, which is software for creating ad hoc online workgroups, from Windows 2000 to Linux.

Michael Osterman, president of Osterman Research, says there's no mass migration underway, but calls Linux "a viable alternative."

A Linux-based messaging platform makes sense for those adopting more Linux who want to streamline management chores. It also makes sense for those who are averse to licensing changes around software maintenance on the Microsoft platform that put users on perpetual upgrade paths, he says.

Julie Farris, founder and chief strategy officer for Linux-based messaging vendor Scalix, says e-mail is a strong candidate as a killer application for Linux.

"E-mail is so closely coupled to the operating environment, and it has historically been used to drive platform adoption," she says. "That dates back to IBM and DEC, which used PROFS and All-in-1 [respectively] to drive adoption of the mainframes and minicomputers." Farris says LAN mail pioneer cc:Mail, where she once worked, created a disruptive platform shift that eventually sunk PROFS and All-in-1 during the LAN revolution.

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