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Looks like Brutus has some competition

 

On January 18th, 2008, Jacob Johnny posted to the evolution-list@gnome.org the following very interesting note:

 

This is an announce mail for the preview of Evolution MAPI provider. This provider can connect to Exchange 2007 servers and also to Exchange 2003, 2000 and 5.5 (untested). After seeing enormous interest by the users in Exchange 2007 connectivity, we have prepared a preview of the current development code from the branch. The evolution-mapi-provider is a standalone rpm but in future it may be part of the Evolution/EDS rpms. It has a dependency on OpenChange's ( http://openchange.org ) libmapi and Samba4.  I'm maintaining the build service project for the provider and I'm planning to give RPMs for OpenSUSE, SLED, Fedora and Ubuntu. We would be doing incremental releases of this periodically and may have nightly builds for this pretty soon (Don't ask me when ;-) The below url should let you access the Samba4, libmapi and Evolution MAPI Provider rpms. http://download.opensuse.org/repositories/home:/jjohnny:/evolution-exchange-mapi-provider Due to the recent outage of OpenSUSE Build Service, we aren't able to get the rpms ready. So I have built RPMs for opensuse 10.3/i586 alone and is available at: http://gnomebangalore.org/~sragavan/exchange-mapi/i586/ .  The build for the project is already queued. So it is possible that by the time, you read the mail, the rpms might have been published already. So go check out and give your valuable feedback.

 

If you follow the "openchange" link above, there is more very interesting verbiage and links:

 

 

...the Evolution plugin download page has been updated to reflect the current state of development. The plugin which is now maintained by the Novell Evolution team since October 2007 has greatly been improved and now offer support for Calendar, Tasks, Address Book and Emails. All the information needed to try it out is

available here

 

 

These are for Fedora 8 and OpenSUSE only right now. No Debian .debs to be found here, which only makes sense. If Novell is maintaining it, that set of Distro's is RPM based. Kind of interesting that Fedora is all over it already.

 

The Debian Alien import tool could probably be used to pull in the provider, but I am guessing at this early a stage that would be problematic. The download page states that they are trying to get this code complete by the end of March so that it can be included with Gnome 2.24. I am thinking that

 

MAPI and SMAPI and Bears, oh my

 

I find all of this very interesting for a historical reason. Back in the early days, before I was Manager of R&D Support, but after I was a full time VM System Programmer, I spent some time on the Production support team. I whiled away my days doing things like hooking up BMC to the Internet, installing Linux for the first time, and managing our internal email systems. We used something called HP OpenMail back then, which later was sold to Samsung, where it was rev'ved a few times (from 2001 to 2007), then died.

 

OpenMail was a terrific tool, letting clients of all types from all sorts of platforms connect and read email and access their calendars if they were able. One of it's cool tricks was that there was a version of MS Outlook that ran against it. HP had tried over the years to make MAPI work, but ran into some snags. One of the snags was that the standard MS had published for MAPI, called Simple MAPI (or sometimes called SMAPI back then) was not a feature-complete standard. This MS Knowledge base article compares MAPI and SMAPI.

 

The problem for HP was that they found out that not everything that MS Outlook does when talking to the MS Exchange mail server was documented in the standard. There were apparently quite a number of undocumented RPC's that let all the extended functionality of Outlook work. MS's response at the time was to state that MAPI was a complete protocol, in that it let you get at your email, even if it was a “reduced experience” relative to the Outlook/Exchange combo burrito.

 

HP was looking at putting OpenMail on NT as a server platform, and reverse engineering the RPC stuff so that MS Outlook users could have a “full experience”, but entered instead into a deal with MS that effectively killed OpenMail a few years down the road, even though HP was seeing some big successes with the product.

 

Full Circle

 

The history of this ties in to this post in a couple of ways.

 

First: If you are in an MS Exchange shop (A place where you use MS Exchange as your mail servers), then it is historically a very high wall to use any clients other than MS Outlook and its MS sourced brethren with MS Exchange. If you want calendars and to-dos, and server side out-of-office greetings, and you are not using MS Outlook, you have to use the web client. If you are using the web client, and it is not via MS's own IE, you will get a “reduced experience”.

 

Evolution, with the Connector changed all that, since it plugged into the same place on the MS Exchange server as the MS web client. That “plug-in” was the WebDAV protocol. Not 100% standard WebDAV, but close enough that the Ximian-now-Novell folks were able to make it work fairly quickly.

 

Evolution supports IMAP and POP protocols of course, but those standards do not define anything about calendars or in fact anything other than email. useful if you want to email enable a Visual basic program, but not for a full blown email client. I was also told by some folks a while back at a LinuxWorld that it is fairly common that MS Exchange shops turn off the open protocols for some reason. Ostensibly (as related to me) for “security” reasons. But they could not turn off WebDAV without killing the web client at the same time, and that was/is Evolution Connectors way in.

 

Second: MAPI is not WebDAV obviously, and while I have not torn deeply into it, the MAPI-plus-RPC soup one needs to figure out to make Evolution work as a 100% native MS Exchange client is a seemingly complicated bit or work. HP did not go there. Yet the Novell Evolution MAPI Provider project is shooting for March, after starting on it last October!

 

It will be interesting to see when Ubuntu picks up the packages. Hardy Heron is set for April, and its Gnome version will be 2.22 as near as I can tell from internal Gnome package numbers of the alpha 5 release of 8.04. That puts 8.10 as the first possible 2.24 Gnome release for Ubuntu, and that is not till the fall of 2008. I'll want to be testing this well before that! Looks like it will be time to drag out the OpenSUSE system and get to testing.

 

If this works, then unlike Brutus, where there is an MS Windows system acting as a software shim, Linux would be able to natively connect to MS Exchange. That will be of deep interest to any wanting to run Linux Desktops in an MS infrastructure shop. If EvoMAPI can avoid the code fragility I have seen with Connector (such as in my recent Mepis posts [ -2- ]), that will be very very welcome.

Stay tuned....