Being students, however, meant that we could not pony up the cash one needs to get the appropriate licenses and required hardware to actually run those tools, so we set out to find the best solution that would work for us, with the hardware (Linux servers) we have and, obviously: the lowest cost to us, in both the short and long run.
Looking back over the last two years and three months, I think it is a fair assessment to say that we have seen it all:
In the beginning, there was Zoho’s Virtual Office, which performed so sadly that it regularly crashed on our server with only one user actually using it and doing nothing but syncing a few calendar items.
We spent long evenings on doing our best to get it up and running and even managed to get a license for free, by translating the Virtual Office suite into Dutch but we still could not get the hardware to run.
Zoho realized that the Virtual Office platform would not work in its current form, so they rolled it up and created a new product from it: Zoho Mail, promising that there would be an on-premises version of Zoho within a couple of months.
It never happened, but we did not feel too sad about it, for we had discovered Mintersoft’s Truedesk, which, like Zoho Virtual Office, utilized a Java backend and managed to crash our server a number of times.
Once again, while testing it on different hardware, it turned out that the software was flawed and Mintersoft folded pretty quickly, too - another bit the dust.
Then came Scalix and PostPath, both of which we were not even able to install for whatever reason(s) I do not remember, so we had to skip those in their entirety.
@Mail, on the other hand, looked promising, but too expensive since there was no real entry-level license (and who can blame them?), but there was light at the end of the tunnel:
At one point, Jeroen discovered Zarafa, built by a Dutch company and, in our eyes, the most interesting contender of all, for Zarafa licensed the actual looks of Outlook Web Access and was able to re-create the original style.
Moreover, Zarafa offered something all the other tools did not: a PHP version. Both their Webaccess component and the Windows Mobile device syncing gateway utilize PHP and can be modified to your heart’s content.
At first, Zarafa, like the others, did not play well with our set-up: a CentOS 4.x server with Plesk 8.x running on it but we kept at it, mostly because we got a good price on a three user license for Zarafa and we did not want to waste our own money.
Try as we might, it would not work and at one point, we just gave up. Up until a year ago, when we moved to the CentOS 5.x branch and gave it another try, again, to no avail.
For one reason or another, we were always able to get one of the three main components working: we either had syncing with Outlook or syncing with Mobiles or access to our data via a browser, but never, had we access to all three of them.
Ever so often, mostly days after new Zarafa updates were released, we would give it another try. We knew that it worked, we had seen and experienced it first hand, we just never figured out the magical combination that would allow us to make all three components work at the same time.
We went from 5.x to the 6.x branch of Zarafa, we tried 32-bit and 64-bit solutions, but all of them, somehow, did not work the way we wanted them to work, so eventually, we stopped trying again and waited for the next release cycle.
A couple of days ago, I decided to give the whole thing another try. I had managed to get Zarafa working on my personal fileserver at home, which also runs on a 32-bit version of CentOS and I was able to sync contacts and Outlook with it, so I knew that there was a way.
Lo’ and behold: I have finally succeeded and created a working solution that encompasses Zarafa 6.04, Plesk 8.3, CentOS 5.2 (32-bit), mySQL 5.0.58 , PHP 5.2.6, Outlook 2007 and Windows Mobile 6 - all secured via SSL and not killing your CPU.
If you are interested in setting up a low-cost, high-yield Microsoft Exchange-compatible gateway, that utilizes your current (CentOS) Linux hardware, click here to read my tutorial on it.