<I’m back! Had to go move an R&D data center from one place to another. Took a while...>
Read through any of my recent posts about Linux and MAPI and a picture should develop of hope that in the very near future, even in a shop that runs Microsoft infrastructure like MS Exchange that there will soon be new choices.
This does not even address the idea that one can feasibly use Google Mail and Calendar for everything that MS Exchange does now: I have a friend who in setting up a new shop went that way rather than choosing to build their own email infrastructure or go with a more traditional outsourced email solution like hosted Lotus Notes or MS Exchange.
It is also not really my way to criticize companies or products here. I do not think using a forum like this is appropriate for that. That and I think constructive comments are more useful. I have stated over the years my reasons for preferring Linux, and if you go far enough back in my posts I wrote a series that is the true core of it: Heterogeneity. In summary, a computer ecosystem, like desktop computers, is more vulnerable to attack when it is homogenous, and I saw that demonstrated during the Code Red and Nimda virus outbreaks when only MS Windows computers were affected, but everything else was working fine... and in fact I was using Linux to build software disks full of stuff for cleaning off the virus’s on the MS Windows computers.
This is not to say that Linux or OS.X can not get a computer worm or virus. Anything created by people can be hacked by people. Cross-platform attacks are an order of magnitude harder to create though. Shoot: These days most malware targets particular releases of MS Windows, such that Windows XP might be affected, but that same thing attacking Windows 2000 or NT fails.
The big barrier to entry for using either OS.X or Linux as an Enterprise desktop has always been MS Exchange and its closed / undocumented protocols. As I have written here, the EU has changed that by forcing Microsoft (among other things) to document how MS Exchange “talks” to Outlook via MAPI and something like 85 other Remote Procedure Calls (RPC’s). When I say MAPI hereafter, I am including all the requisite interactions between server and client, even though it is not technically accurate to just call it MAPI.
This is of course different than using POP or IMAP protocols. MS Exchange supports them, but these protocols are for email only. Contacts, Tasks, and Calendars are “safely” locked away on the MS Exchange server where only those that speak MAPI and the related RPC’s can have full access.
Rather than having to slowly read wire traces and figure out how it all works (The way Samba was created: It can be done) there is documentation about how to interact with MS Exchange for the first time. I have written here about work under way in Linux to be able to take advantage of those protocols. Now it has been revealed at the World Wide Apple Developer Conference that OS.X 10.6, shipping in September of 2009 will also have MS Exchange compatibility. Around that same time, Windows 7 will go GA.
Windows Vista Service Pack 3
I have tested Windows 7 quite a bit: In my role as a senior technologist, I can not really have a favorite platform: One of the secret sauces of BMC is that we support a wide range of platforms. Opps... I probably should not have let that slip.
As a technologist, I also have and use Vista and XP and so forth. I have to say that I do not understand the positive buzz for Windows 7 relative to Vista. I also do not understand why Vista was treated so poorly. All of it seems to lose sight of history. Windows XP was a suboptimal place to be until Service Pack 2 came out. Ditto Windows 2000 and Windows NT and Windows 98. Vista was no better and no worse out of the gate than those. It had problems, but my Vista Service Pack 2 install is now pretty stable, and does not have the speed problems that Vista and Vista SP1 had. Throw another three years of development on top of Vista, and you arrive at Vista Service Pack Three, A.K.A. Windows 7. We have been here before. Windows 98 Second Edition anyone?
Here is another thing I do not understand: I read recently one pundit say that Windows 7 and OS.X were now just two flavors of the same user interface. Huh? I use OS.X all the time. I’m writing this post with my Macbook. I do not see the resemblance. By that logic all dogs and cats and horses and cows are just various looks on the exact same animal.
Just because OS.X and Win7 both have compositing video interfaces, they are hardly the same, any more than Compiz on Linux makes it the same thing as Windows or OS.X. Sure, you can theme up Linux or Windows to make them look a lot like OS.X, but they are not the same. OS.X and Linux are more the same, given OS.X’s BSD roots, but there are still enough differences that no theme will cover up.
Nor is it hard to jump back and forth between Linux, OS.X, and MS Windows. When you are looking at a composited GUI, and using a keyboard and mouse to interact, there are bound to be similarities in the usage paradigm. There is always some adapting: I have to get used to my older Macbook Pro not having all the trackpad gestures that my Macbook has for example.
Therein lies the point of confusion I believe. The way we humans interact with computers follows a fairly simple usage paradigm. Till we have voice control or mind / computer interfaces, all computer desktops follow from the current technology. Keyboards, pointing devices, and displays. Regardless of platform, people want to write code in languages they know and love: Perl, Java, C+, Python, and so forth. All of this leads by necessity to there be some similarity in how one interacts with a computer platform, no matter which one it is.
Windows 7 is not a bad place to spend time. It runs OpenOffice, Firefox and Chrome well. The new super-command-prompt A.K.A Windows Power Shell is more in line with what xterm/konsole/gnome terminal have been for years. Would have been nice to just have bash....
Win7 with Aero is nice to look at. Some of the compositing eye candy now does useful things in addition to just being chrome. Its hardware requirements are in reach of most current gear, although like Vista before it forget running it on something more than about three or four years old. Not gonna work well. It is possible Win7 is getting good press in part because the hardware of three additional years finally caught up to Aero and Vista. That and the UAC prompt has been tamed a bit.
Win7 without Aero (in the case of something like a low end video card or a virtual machine) is pretty much like XP but with all the menus jumbled about in some way that might make sense to someone someplace but I just use the search bar to find things anymore. The hardware activation stuff is a major pain: Change the video RAM: reactivate the Win7 guest.
Key for me after Nimda and Code Red is that after years of work (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2002/01/17/BU102125.DTL), Win 7 is less vulnerable to black hat attack than any of the predecessor versions of MS Windows.
The choice of what makes a new release versus what makes a new point release is often very arbitrary. OS.X 10.6 and Windows 7 have a great deal in common on that point. The new OS.X, according to everything we have read, is going to be mostly focused on internal differences. Full 64 bit exploitation. New dispatcher called “Grand Central” that will allow OS.X to work better on multi-core systems (and one would think, something that the server version will need more than the desktop edition). Big focus on security loopholes. Not much new in the user interface.
Like Win7 could be thought of as Vista SP3, OS.X 10.6 could be considered more of a point release of 10.5. One OS.X pundit thought that was in fact the entire point of the new releases code name: Snow Leopard follows Leopard. The way that the 10.6 release is priced also seems to echo that: 29 USD rather than 129 USD.
Except for the part about MS Exchange. The new 10.6 version will run as a native client of MS Exchange. Email, calendaring, etc from OS.X with no third party software. If that works, then that is huge. That means my main office desktop is going to be OS.X or Linux. No more Windows virtual machines to get to my Calendar. No more webmail calendar interface that is intentionally low function to try an get people to use IE. OS.X as a native MS Exchange client is enough for me to call it a new release. It is enough that I will buy it day one. The fact that it will make my existing hardware feel like it is running faster will be a bonus.
As I write about here in “Adventures” quite a bit, MS Exchange client function is also coming to Linux. Very very slowly. What I never expected to see was OS.X pass Linux standing still in something like this: Linux has always been the OS platform that has worked the hardest to get along with everyone else. On Linux I can load up HFS drivers so I can read and write to non-journalized Mac disks. I can load up Macutils so I can format and repair Mac disks. I can load up Samba and NTFS and get along with MS Windows disks and Active Directory. Linux is always the kid trying hard to please everyone. Yet, as I write this, the MAPI functionality I have in Linux right now is more or less the same as what I had 6 months ago. It is there, but it is not usable. I am trying to load up Fedora 11 to see if that will change anything: Ubuntu 9.04, Mint 7, and OpenSUSE 11.1 all work at more or less the same level as far as MS Exchange access is concerned. I can read email. I can send email as long as I type in the email address. I can not reply to email because all the email addresses in the RFC822 headers are munged. No server-side group calendaring. No server side contacts. Yet.
I use the word “try” about Fedora there because unlike OpenSUSE or Ubuntu on the exact same system, Fedora is not wanting to install at all. It does not like the disk format. ‘/boot’ has to be ext3 but ‘/’ has to be ext4. It really really wants to install everything in logical volumes, not hard partitions. I will get it installed, sooner or later, but it sure feels like a step back in time. Fedora prides itself as being the most bleeding edge Distro going, and that is why I hope the MAPI functionality is better than what I have seen before in Ubuntu or OpenSUSE, but it’s installer is not up to the other distros standards. A freind of mine described it as “fragile”, and now I see what he means. OpenSUSE 11.1, looking at the same system, picks a disk layout exactly like I would have done manually.
Like Fedora going in eventually, MS Exchange MAPI support will be in Linux eventually. When it works, you’ll know it here! My guess is that OS.X will beat it by at least 6 months. I could be wrong. Knowing OS.X is getting ready to pass them might set a few coding fires.
One last thing on this point: I have said it before in other posts, but it bears repeating here. This is all about MAPI. If you have Exchange 2000 or 2003, you are good to go on Linux. You still have the WebDAV access mode that MS eliminated in Exchange 2007, so the “Evolution Connector” plug-in still works, and you still have everything. Email, calendars, contacts, task lists, out of office settings... the works.
MS Exchange 2010
As if to acknowledge that choice of desktop client has entered the workplace (or perhaps that eliminating WebDAV came off as a bit surly in the marketplace), one of the new features of MS Exchange 2010 is going to be fully enabling the web client so that, like Google Mail, full feature functionality is available to everyone, regardless of platform. One will not have to run IE to see advanced/more fully featured webmail functions.
MS’s Outlook Webmail will finally be Web 2.0-ish. Reportedly. I have not had a chance to try it yet...
If it does work as advertised: If I can use Firefox or Safari or Opera to access a fully featured Webmail, then that will probably go further to cementing MS Exchange’s market share in the data center than any of the exclusionary things that have proceeded it.
At the same time, the ability to have diversity on the desktop will go a long way to containing future computer worms and viruses