-by Steve Carl, Senior Technologist, R&D Support
I last wrote about this topic on February 1st, 2009. Not much has changed in the last two months. Ubuntu 9.04 has raced towards GA (it ships tomorrow as I write this), and therein lay not just my hope, but the hope of many many others.
Ubuntu 9.04 looks pretty solid in most ways. I have it running on a desktop, a laptop, and a netbook. I have been testing it daily since its Alpha 3 release. It is fast. It is stable. On my Acer Aspire One netbook, it runs very well in both classic and Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) modes. The UNR USB boot image is terrific for testing what will work on any netbook without installing first.
For all its goodness, if you are a Microsoft Exchange 2007 shop, this is probably not your production desktop. Yet.
The issue is not Ubuntu. The issue is MAPI. OpenSUSE 11.1 and Fedora 10/11 both have more or less the same version of the Evolution MAPI support that Ubuntu will make available GA tomorrow. The problem is not in the distro: it is in the Evolution-MAPI plugin and the underlying OpenChange MAPI access code. Not that projects fault either really: This is brand new code that just is not fully baked yet.
In fact, when you think about it another way, it is amazing that MAPI is coming to Linux at all, even if it is not here yet in any useful sense. This one protocol, and its related RPC's have been hugely difficult for anyone to implement before now, for a raft of reasons. HP was getting close with OpenMail years ago, but allowed that work to be derailed.
For the office system the motivation to get Ubuntu up and tested was to get to Gnome 2.26 and Evolution 2.26, because that is where MAPI support in Evolution is supposed to debut. Ubuntu does not ship the MAPI plugin on the install disk, but you can install "evolution-mapi" from the "Universe" repository. That bad news is that MAPI is not ready for prime time. See https://bugs.launchpad.net/bugs/338982 for details. As a measure of the interest in this feature in the Ubuntu community, here are the dups of that bug at this writing:
Bug #202287 , Bug #333855 , Bug #337785 , Bug #340399 , Bug #340500 , Bug #341184 , Bug #342251 , Bug #342363 , Bug #344864 , Bug #345228 , Bug #345753 , Bug #346046 , Bug #346326 , Bug #347037 , Bug #348309 , Bug #348458 , Bug #348621 , Bug #349148 , Bug #351991 , Bug #352230 , Bug #352327 , Bug #352450 , Bug #353029 , Bug #353044 , Bug #353063 , Bug #353204 , Bug #353538 , Bug #354101 , Bug #356260 , Bug #356681 , Bug #357874 , Bug #357962 , Bug #358040 , Bug #358221 , Bug #360509 , Bug #361521 , Bug #361751
Lots of people want Linux MAPI working it would appear. Evolution MAPI won't be ready when Ubuntu 9.04 GA's. Ubuntu is not going to hold up a release for a feature that is not in their base code. Expect post 9.04 patch stream for Evolution and OpenChange to be fairly busy. When this bug gets fixed, there is still much missing functionality.
Right now, if you enter your Exchange 2007 servers IP address, rather than its name (or its Cluster IP alias) you can get to the place where you can see your Exchange inbox from Evolution via MAPI. Again: That is no mean feat. In one sense it is a marvel to think about the fact that you are seeing your MS Exchange 2007 inbox via MAPI! However cool this is conceptually and historically, it is not compelling if you are looking to use Linux all day long as your main workstation. If nothing else, you can already see your inbox with IMAP (if it is enabled, and apparently some shops disable it by default for some odd reason). Worse, since MAPI has not yet implemented the Global Address List (GAL) the email addresses in the "from:" and "cc:" fields are often useless. Not an issue when you use IMAP.
Then there is the speed, which is not yet blazingly fast. Sure, MAPI and its related RPC's are chatty on the wire, but as it stands now, Evolution is slower than MS Outlook when running MAPI, and that, long term, will not fly.
The real point of running Evolution to access MS Exchange is calendar access: it is so one can replace MS Outlook with something else. As it stands today, with IP address work-around, all one has is Inbox and tasks. Click on an email with a calendar invite, and Evolution freezes. All of it. Even if you have a second account defined to a different server, you are locked out. Evo is now only standing up because it has been nailed there.
For now, if you are MS Exchange 2007, its IMAP or Web for the Linux desktop. If your shop is MS Exchange 2003 or 2000, you can still use the Exchange-Connector to access the WebDAV protocol, and have full functionality from Evolution. Inbox, Calendar, tasks, Out-of-Office settings, etc.
The good news is that, while we are waiting for OpenChange and Evolution to get MAPI fully dialed in (I am guessing another 6-12 months), the new Outlook Web Access "Light" client is not too bad. I like it better than Exchange 2000 and 2003's. Much better in fact.
Exchange 2010 is also coming, and it looks like it will be a foot race to see if it arrives sooner than a working MAPI stack on Linux. The Web interface on 2010 is going to be high function enough that if MAPI never arrives on Linux, I may not care. Like so many other things I use, the Web clients are getting good enough that I do not need a local app anymore. See Gmail for details.
The postings in this blog are my own and don't necessarily represent BMC's opinion or position.