MS Outlook vs Linux Alternatives: the Best Choice?

The Linux alternatives to Microsoft's popular Outlook each have their strengths and weaknesses.
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For many of us working in an enterprise space, the need for a solid personal information manager (PIM) is a must. Unfortunately, unless you're running your own company, chances are you can't simply use just any PIM. Usually, there are certain levels of functionality or specifications, that need to be considered.

In most instances, it's locked in, with Microsoft Exchange doing the data handling for desktops and mobile users alike. Thankfully, however, some companies are looking at alternatives, including Google Apps and other self-hosted solutions, running on Linux servers.

In this article, I'll explore alternatives to Microsoft Outlook, while comparing features and compatibility along the way.

Evolution – Generally considered to be Gnome's answer to Microsoft Outlook, Evolution is a PIM application I've had mixed results with over the years. While the basic calendar/email functionality has never been a problem for me, updates have often been known to hose Evolution's MS Exchange connector.

Sometimes the errors had come about due to a new release of MS Exchange...which is something out of Evolution's control. Other times, I found bugs within various versions of MS Exchange connector, which is usually within the developer's scope of control. If you are absolutely in need of connecting to MS Exchange and the connector is working, then Evolution is an option.

For users of the Google Apps-based solution or other groupware solutions, hosted in-house, Evolution also has a lot to offer. Evolution offers its users junk mail controls, smart filtering, web calendar support, and multiple accounts management. The downside is the spotty support for other platforms. While efforts have been made for Windows and OS X support, overall Evolution is best suited for Linux distributions.

Kontact – Widely considered the goto PIM option for those running KDE desktops, Kontact incorporates a multitude of powerful KDE applications into one single PIM suite. Unlike Evolution, which is primarily designed to mirror functionality found with Microsoft Outlook, Kontact attempts to take things a step further. In addition to expected PIM functionality, Kontact also incorporates RSS aggregation, blog composition, an alarm clock, time tracking, plus other off-the-wall software.

Sadly, I've found Kontact to be fairly problematic if you need to connect to a MS Exchange server. Email is available only through POP/IMAP for Exchange users. Without splitting hairs, suffice it to say that Exchange support with Kontact is pretty poor. And if opting for IMAP email isn't possible, there is limited OWA support for connecting with Exchange via Davmail.

Compared to Evolution, Kontact is vastly more attractive to look at and use. And if you prefer to have an abundance of options for your PIM, Kontact exceeds all reasonable expectations on that front. For most of us, however, the only reason I can see using Kontact over Evolution is due to the desktop preference. KDE users will feel right at home with Kontact.

Thunderbird – Unlike the other options shared above, the most stable and cross platform friendly option is Thunderbird. And despite all the gloom and doom you may have heard about Thunderbird, I promise you that the companies who rely on it won't let it see an early demise just yet.

For Microsoft Exchange users, using Thunderbird really comes down to basic IMAP support. There are various MS Exchange add-ons for Thunderbird, but most if not all, are poorly supported and no longer working. Like most instances, I recommend avoiding Exchange if at all possible, since Microsoft has worked very hard at keeping it restricted to the platforms they approve.

On the flip side, Thunderbird is a great fit for those self-hosted groupware solutions or even Google Apps. Unlike Exchange, Google Calendar and email work smoothly with Thunderbird once you install Lightning and this additional add-on for Google Calendar.


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Tags: Linux, Gnome, KDE, Outlook, evolution, Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Outlook


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