In my last two posts [ 1 ] [ 2 ] I have been talking about using DavMail to access my MS Exchange 2007 inbox from Linux. Over the holidays I had a chance to test this out in real life, remote action. Almost as good as a new Phaser! Almost. I got one of those too though. I clearly was good last year. No lumps of coal or anything.
Since DavMail interfaces via the web interface, it can not do anything that the web client can not. More or less, DavMail just allows you to use the mail client of your choice *instead* of the web interface. In the case of Exchange 2007, the web interface is better than it was in previous releases, but I am still not a big fan. Maybe Exchange 2010 will be better. Maybe it will learn from gmail. Maybe. I can dream. Being able to use Thunderbird, Evolution or mail.app on OS.X is a huge improvement in the meantime.
Along the course of the holiday I had two systems with me as I traveled about: My Dell D620 laptop running Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha 1, and my Macbook running 10.6.2 of OS.X. I installed DavMail on each.
Note here that the OS.X instructions on the DavMail site are for the last release of OS.X: it took some interpreting to get them to work for 10.6. A few things, such as the directory utility have been relocated (from Applications / Utilities to System Preferences / Accounts / Login Options/ Join/ Open Directory Utility: Why it is buried here I have no idea) . But it all works: directory, calendar, and email.
Out and About
The holidays for me are a sort of progressive dinner, traveling and seeing family for several weeks, and across 700 miles. It is not called the "holiday season" for nothing.
Internet access was everywhere but varied from broadband running at seven megabits to satellite running .5 Megabits.
In every case, I was able to read, update, and reply to email, calendar, and find people in the address book of MS Exchange. On the slower connections it was obvious how chatty DavMail is. Here is an example of that: I loaded up DavMail on OS.X when I was working with the satellite connection (A worse case scenario short of dial up, to be sure), with low bandwidth, and long latency since each packet was running up to geosynchronous orbit. My inbox was getting rather large, as this was towards the end of the trip, and there were over 700 items in it. Since I had not installed and sync'ed the mail.app via DavMail before, it had to load up everything. Ditto iCal. Over 400 Megabytes of conversation occurred.
The Dell D620, having been previously sync'ed, only needed the new items, and worked fairly quickly. OS.X plodded along for nearly 2 hours getting everything for the first time. When I got the Mac inside of a 3 Mb connection, it ran well (and in fact finished up the initial sync, as I got tired of waiting and put it in standby even though it was nearly done).
All of this is about the same as running Outlook remotely. It is very chatty as well. It is odd to see things running slowly when one is used to more efficient protocols like end-to end IMAP, but DavMail is taking your IMAP connection and mapping it to the web interfaces way of doing things, and it is slow as Outlook natively. I imagine that if Evolution ever delivers a workable, high fidelity MAPI that it will be torpid when on slow lines too.
To send email from mail.app or Evolution (I did not try Thunderbird this trip) you set up an SMTP connection to your DavMail proxy. For some reason, no matter how fast the connection, delivery is very slow. It is like the SMTP send has to be polled for, and that the polling interval is set at something very long, like two or three minutes. This is true on 1 Gb LAN connections at the office too. Things do get sent, it just takes a while. Once it gets polled for, it transfers quickly, but it waits for something unknown first. It was not uncommon for me to have 3 or 4 emails queued up for delivery in the outbox, and then see them all go at once. I looked around the DavMail settings, and this does not seem to be a set-able behavior. Clicking on send/receive does not seem to speed things up appreciably either.
In either iCal on the Mac or Evolution on Linux, the one set-able DavMail behavior (right click on the DavMail toolbar icon, choose 'settings') that seemed important was the one called "calendar past events". It defaults to 90 days, and that means you will only see events *created* in the last 90 days, not ones that *occur* in that time frame. I assume that MS Exchange stores meetings once, and uses the reoccurrence info to display the meetings, rather than have a discrete entry on each day the event occurs on. To make this work on my office Linux (Ununtu 9.10, Evolution 2.28.1), I set the DavMail past events time to 720 days! That may be overkill, but when you have been working at one place for a long time, cruft tends to accumulate... maybe I should just miss those old meetings?
Something that has worked very well so far is accepting or creating meetings from DavMail. They appear almost instantly over on my MS Windows 7 / Outlook 2007 calendar. The one problem I had here was when I used an email from someone and tried to create a meeting from it in Evolution (right click, 'Create a Meeting'). It kept trying to make the person that sent me the email the chairperson of the meeting, and that generated a write error. This is probably not a DavMail thing, but an Evolution thing: it should have made me the chairperson of the meeting. At least Evolution has the option of creating tasks and meetings from email: Outlook still can't do this. An odd oversight, given all the 50 bajillion things Outlook does do. Best I can do from Outlook is send a task to OneNote. Nice, as far as it goes, but I really prefer a shared if simple task list to a locked down application that I can only use from the one system.
Unless something weird happens, or there is a major new feature to report, this is my last post about DavMail for now. It is my working, active, in-use replacement for Evolutions Exchange Connector, and does what Evolutions Exchange-MAPI plugin should be doing, but won't yet. It has some speed issues, but it works, and keeps me on my Linux desktop (or Mac) most of the time, which is what I wanted. It allows me to travel and stay in touch with the internal email system without needing to do anything further to set it up: In that regard it is a lot like the MS Outlook 2007 clients new remote access feature.
All in all, with full time Linux desktop-ness restored after all this time struggling with MAPI, DavMail was a real holiday gift.