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InsightConnector - A Viable Exchange Alternative? 42

Fading Captain asks: "I'm sys-admin for a mid-size organization and have returned yet again to that fateful question: is Exchange the only viable groupware server in its class? Unfortunately, browser-based solutions won't cut it in my case; management wants all the bells and whistles offered by Exchange. However, I haven't seen any mention of the InsightConnector product made by a company called Bynari (with whom I have no affiliation). Bynari claims the product will fool MS Outlook clients (full, not Express) into thinking any ACL-enabled IMAP server is an exchange server. In other words, my users can potentially utilize the groupware features of Outlook (which said users are beating down my door to do) while I run an inexpensive Linux mail server behind the scenes. Sounds too good to be true. Anyone subjected this configuration to real life testing?"
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InsightConnector - A Viable Exchange Alternative?

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  • IBM's Lotus Notes (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 27, 2002 @11:25AM (#3420921)
    There's a company named "IBM", maybe you've heard of them. They sell this product "Lotus Notes" which does everything Exchange does, plus a lot more, like integration with WebSphere, DB2, Sametime, Mindspan....

    If you check the market shares, you'll see Lotus Notes and Exchange hold equal amounts (around 40% each, last I checked). It's so secure, it's the email system that the U.S. Department of Defense, and the CIA, both use.

    AND, Lotus Notes (the server part, "Domino") runs on AIX, Linux, Solaris, Windows 2000, HP-UX, AS/400, S/390....

    Clients available for Microsoft and Mac platforms. Web access is great. And, Notes runs pretty well under WINE.
    • Re:IBM's Lotus Notes (Score:3, Informative)

      by mjpaci ( 33725 )
      While I will agree that Lotus Notes is better feature for feature than Exchange, Notes is harder to setup properly. A poorly implemented Notes/Domino environment is MUCH WORSE than a poorly implememnted Exchange environment.

      Exchange is better in environments where users hop from machine to machine (as long as all of the clients are Windows).


      • Re:IBM's Lotus Notes (Score:3, Informative)

        by loony ( 37622 )
        Well, we here are Verizon are forced to use Lotus notes... Its the worst possible solution I've ever seen... There are several systems that were originally implemented as lotus notes databases that we are currently rewriting as web apps because Notes does not scale enough. The user interface is horrible, even if you just want to read your email the client sucks up 100MB ram and in my team one person is working pretty much on nothing else but solving email issues for our group (250 users).

        In summary, stay away from Lotus Notes if you can - I've yet to meet a happy Notes user that has also used other products. Not even the guys inside IBM like it much. In addition to my own first hand experience I've a friend who works for IBM selling notes and he once told me about a nice little list containing all the reasons why you should not enable POP on a lotus notes servers... He then added "And thats all bullshit. The real reason why we dont want customers to use POP is because the client is so bad that everyone who has a chance switches to a pop client - and then its hard to explain the management why they spent mega dollar for a solution that noone wants to use."
    • Re:IBM's Lotus Notes (Score:2, Informative)

      by kjz ( 26521 )
      I simply must second this suggestion. For complex groupware, nothing on the market today can beat Lotus Notes and Domino. If you've ever used significant applications in Notes, you'll understand why.

      If all you're looking for is an email server and shared calendars, don't bother with Notes. You'll be wasting your time. As an email client, Notes R5 was a huge improvement over prior generations, but still doesn't hold a candle to products like Eudora, Evolution, KMail, or even arguably Mutt! But then, I don't think tossing email around can really be considered groupware.

      I've worked as a software engineer at Lotus--though not on the Notes team. I've used Notes for a huge number of applications, from basic administrative stuff to project management and bug tracking. I've also developed applications with Notes. When you have complex collaboration problems to solve, nothing can beat Notes for building a solution. Nothing.

      Notes provides you with an infrastructure that lends itself to sharing information quickly and easily. I'm not talking about tossing Word documents at other people. I mean real collaboration, both free-form and with formal processes. With Notes, it's easy to set up a central repository for all documents related to a project. They can easily be linked, indexed, and cross-referenced and searched without the need for extra software. Documents can be signed and authenticated easily thanks to the public key infrastructure built into the system. Workflows can be easily built, including electronic signatures for approvals. To top it all off, most of these applications can be easily exposed to a web browser to enable collaboration with people outside your organization.

      I've been often frustrated in my current job because of Exchange and Outlook limitations. Maybe I'm spoiled, but Exchange simply doesn't facilitate the kind of pervasive sharing of information I'm accustomed to with Notes. Then there's those damned email viruses. We laughed within Lotus when the VBScript based viruses first started appearing. We didn't get touched. Notes is, by default, secure enough to disallow execution of unknown scripts. You have to go out of your way to allow such a virus to damage your system. Even then, it won't necessarily harm anyone else in your organization.

      I may sound like a saleman here, but I assure you I'm not. Notes isn't perfect, not by a long shot. Nor is it appropriate for all organizations. It has some serious technical problems (IMHO, of course) resulting from its long legacy, not the least of which is its heft. These problems are slowly being remedied, though. R5 made a huge leap in notes database reliabilty and speed. Connectivity to external systems (especially via standard Internet protocols) is improving as well. I expect future updates will continue this trend. However, I believe that IBM/Lotus will continue to emphasize collaborative applications with Notes over simple email and calendar sharing. I think this is the right decision, even though it will disappoint many (such as others posting in this thead.)

      In short, if your users just want email and calendar software, go with Exchange or some similar solution. If, however, they need an infrastructure to support serious collaboration, complex workflows, and pervasive information sharing, Notes and Domino are the solution.
    • Wrong... The DoD using Lotus Notes and Exchange. Both are approved for use in the official Defense Message System []. The Army has chosen Lotus Notes, while the Air Force uses Exchange. Not sure about the Navy.
    • So secure? AFAIK it uses 64 bit crypto.

      And if you are not careful and use the Export/Intl version, 24 bits are encrypted to the US Gov key. So the US Gov only needs to crack 40 bits.
  • But it wouldn't surprise me if in the future Microsoft modifies Exchange and Outlook to stay one step ahead of everyone. Surely they are aware of this type of product, and based on past experience they will do whatever is necessary to keep their hold on the Exchange market.

    You're right, though, this does sound like a fantastic product if it really works as claimed.

    • The result could be reminiscent of the :Cue Cat: thing -- a company that gives away a free client in exchange for control of the server someone's paying for.

      "Oh, shit. We gave 'em Outlook so we could sell Exchange, but someone's using it with someone else's server"
  • This was touched on in the comments after the Nat Friedman talks of Ximian, Gnome, and Red Carpet article: ol d=0&commentsort=3&tid=170&mode=thread&cid=3395232
  • Looks good (Score:4, Informative)

    by pong ( 18266 ) on Saturday April 27, 2002 @11:41AM (#3420978) Homepage
    I tried TradeServer - an earlier product from Bynari, which was intended as an Exchange server replacement. It was composed of openldap, cygnus imapd and a webserver for publishing free/busy information. It was less than smooth to set up, and the user experience not on par with Exchange.

    InsightConnector looks like a much better product though. From what I just read it appears to use IMAP as a substitute for MAPI, which is what Outlook otherwise uses in corporate mode.

    Another alternative you might consider is HP OpenMail. It includes a MAPI service provider and should thus integrate tightly with Outlook, which is what most end-users (unfortunately) want.
    • by Galahad ( 24997 )
      From what I just read it appears to use IMAP as a substitute for MAPI, which is what Outlook otherwise uses in corporate mode.

      Well, that's not hard to do, is it? It's just a shift-right-and-rotate, isn't it?

    • HP Openmail has been dropped by HP. They are only going to support it for another few years which means no new versions, features, etc.

      However, Samsung has bought the rights to use the OpenMail product. I'm in the process of testing out the new Samsung Contact right now and so far it looks pretty good.

      From speaking with their sales guy they're working to be compatible with a lot of other companies software such as Steltor.

      My only complaint is that you get no tech support to help you install and figure out problems (except for a useless message board) until you purchase the product.

      Openmail has been around for a long time and used by a lot of Fortune 500 companies. Much more stable/reliable then Exchange and it costs about 1/2 the price of Exchange or Notes. They're also offering a 90% discount on the server licenses until the end of June for companies currently using Exchange or Notes.

      BTW: No I do not have any connection to Samsung.
      • I wanted to add that I had tested the Bynari product in the past but was not impressed for some of the same reasons mentioned by others here.

        It uses the horrible 'Web folders' method of sharing data with Outlook which causes problems with delays in messages, etc.
  • by drowsy ( 4335 ) on Saturday April 27, 2002 @11:45AM (#3420993)
  • I believe Oracle has also made a complete exchange-like server that fools outlook as well, but its probably expenive as sin...
  • by cuvavu ( 111503 ) on Saturday April 27, 2002 @01:14PM (#3421218)
    The Bill workgroup server []) seems to do the mapi groupware type thing, I guess combining this with an imap mail server and an ldap (for contacts etc) server would do you for most everything that exchange does
    • by Anonymous Coward
      But keep in mind, the Outlook connector you need to work with Bill Workgroup Server is not free.
  • Yep! (Score:5, Informative)

    by rkgmd ( 538603 ) on Saturday April 27, 2002 @01:17PM (#3421225)
    Here [] is a link to an article that says how winnebago successfully used bynari on IBM mainframes as an exchange substitute.
  • by josepha48 ( 13953 ) on Saturday April 27, 2002 @01:34PM (#3421267) Journal
    We looked at upgrading to exchange from msmail and we cannot afford it. We need a solution that will provide group calendaring that people can sync their hand helds to and also does the mail thing that outlook / msmail does. Also it needs to do the scheduling. I'm tempted to write my own, but that could take a while.

    It cannont be web based but needs to have remote access (like exchange) so remote users and all can access their calendar and mail from remote locations.

    It needs to be cheap, like near free. Exchange was a 70k solution and that is to much for this tiny struggling company.

    If you have ideas please reply to this post and I'll check them out...

  • I've never used this thing, my only experience with the exchange client is that's the thing that sends e-mails that implement ancient header extensions that are only supported for backwards compatability and the occational need to set up a webserver for the exchange users that can't get attachments. What does it do that IMAP doesn't? Does it compress internal spam e-mails? anything else?
    • Exchange does group calendering, simple task/issue tracking management, group journalling, mailing list management and a few other things. It's not too good at doing any, but it does a lot of things good enough for people to grow dependent on it in some way.
    • I've never used this thing, my only experience with the exchange client is that's the thing that sends e-mails that implement ancient header extensions that are only supported for backwards compatability and the occational need to set up a webserver for the exchange users that can't get attachments. What does it do that IMAP doesn't? Does it compress internal spam e-mails? anything else?

      What does Exchange do that so many people want? In 1 word: calendaring. Exchange calendars (with Outlook clients, natch) are pretty versatile. You can have Public Folder calendars (for meeting rooms, vacations, etc.), as well as personal calendars. Personal calendars can be opened up for other users to view and/or edit. There's ACLs to determine who gets what, so your underlings can view where you're at, but only your secretary can add/edit events. Add to that the ability to send/receive meeting requests and add them to your calendar. It's pretty nice. Oh, and Exchange 2000 piggybacks on top of Windows 2000's Active Directory user database too.

      Of course, I too am always interested in a more cost effective solution. Alot of the SMB market don't want to pay for Exchange, but want most of the features of it. And want to use Outlook as the client.

  • Steltor [] (warning, some flash) creates Corporate Time, a Windows and Linux client and server package which is supposed to give Outlook and Exchange Server a run for their money. They have similar Outlook service DLLs if you want to run Outlook, too.

    I evaluated these guys very briefly last year and it looked VERY promising. They're priced similarly to Exchange but you can use any LDAP and any IMAP/SMTP server, although shared folders won't work unless your IMAP server supports them. If you want an all in one solution, use their server software (which is, IIRC, OpenLDAP and Cyrus, not sure of the SMTP server or shared calendar server though). The tech support was actually clueful and helpful. I will be taking another look at them shortly, as my initial evaluation got cut short due to other projects becoming higher priority.

    I tired Bynari back in '99 -- I didn't like them at all. The install obliterated my existing SMTP/IMAP/LDAP settings without warning and tech support (at the time) was a high school kid who was never there (presumably at school). I may give them another shot too because they really were the first at the plate when it comes to this, but Corporate Time also gets rid of Outlook which is a big pain in the ass, and they seem VERY happy to just sell you the client side stuff and let you use your existing MTA/LDAP setup, which is very important to me. qmail, vpopmail and Courier-IMAP have never failed me, and I'd rather know my OpenLDAP setup inside and out than rely on someone else's configuration.

  • The key words to remember are; "management wants all the bells and whistles offered by Exchange".

    This limits your choices considerably. The choices are Exchange, Lotus Notes and more recently, Oracle. The latter two will require far more work in the form of setup, configuration and custom programming. Exchange is going to be the easiest, does-it-all out of the box solution. The truth hurts, but there it is.

    For those that question the capabilities of Exchange and what it has over SendMail, here are just a few. Email with extensive routing, filtering, tracking and control. Single message store. Calendaring, calendar sharing and free/busy search capabilities. Public folders and or NNTP. Extensibility allowing any application to be integrated such as voice mail. Virus Scanning and filtering support (Very Important). Automation (both server and client side). Web access client interface. Instant messaging. Active directory integration (allows management of a single directory). And, lest we forget the most important part, total and complete support of Microsoft Outlook clients (Love it or hate it, that's what the users want).

    There are many more features and functions as well.
  • I'm currently using their 14 day evaluation copy. It seems to work as advertised. I am planning on replacing our existing exchange server with our IMAP mail server, unless something goes wrong in the next 7 days. :)

    Insight Connector seems to me to work very well. No complaints so far, and it's certianly reasonably priced.

  • Clearly your management wants exchange. Choose something else and when there are problems management backed by MS marketroids will say "This wouldn't have happened had you chosen exchange!". I not saying there wouldn't be problems with exchange, just that maybe management will not complain as loudly about them as exchange was after all their own favourite. Of course I might be wrong and you have a really nice management who trusts your judjement. But with a statement like "management wants all the bells and whistles offered by Exchange." I seriously doubt it.
    And depending on what you want to do with it, certainly the plethora of open source groupware suites (usually web-based) would fill most needs. phpgroupware and phprojekt seem to be among the more popular ones.
  • by tomreagan ( 24487 ) on Monday April 29, 2002 @12:20PM (#3429418)
    Ok, I feel like I am being a little bit off-topic by not jumping into the look at this/Exchange sucks/OpenMail/Domino/Eudora/mutt debate and instead choosing to RESPOND TO THE QUESTION, but here goes.

    I am evaluating this product, and my reaction so far has been good/bad. First, the program does work as advertised. It's lightweight, pretty easy to use, and integrates well with Outlook. I have used it for a couple months, and it never broke on me. I haven't tested the bandwidth usage, which I might worry about, but overall it has done exactly what Bynari claims.

    However, there are some real problems with it. First, Outlook likes its changes to be instantaneous, but Insight Connector only tracks updates on sync - a combination of time (every 15 secs, configurable) and action (every time you enter a folder, theoretically). When you move email, Outlook expects it to be gone. So when you move email using Insight Connector, it looks like it has moved to the new folder, but if you quickly look at either the old or new folders, sometimes emails show up in the old location or are absent from the new. After about 15-20 seconds and you re-enter the folder, things are ok, but it can be a little confusing / disconcerting at first. Who knows if they will ever address this.

    Second issue - IMAP uses Trash, Outlook Deleted Items + IMAP uses Purge/Delete while Outlook uses Delete. The first issue is that you need to move items from Deleted Items to Trash, which is redundant. Additionally, this makes things very confusing, esp. with Courier's Move to Trash on Purge feature. It is really easy to end up deleting mail from Deleted Items, only to have it show up in Trash, then when you delete it from Trash it shows up in Deleted Items again. So deleting email can be tough to configure, and it doesn't work like you might expect. If the program simply mapped Deleted Items to Trash and Empty Deleted Items Folder to Purge, things would be fine.

    I'm guessing that these features work better with their additional IMAP server product, but I haven't tested that so I can't be sure.

    The last problem is the most difficult to fix. Calendar/Contact/To Do items are stored as MIME emails on the server. This means that accessing the IMAP server via any other method (webmail, imap client, etc.) makes that info inaccessible. So you end up storing your data on the server, but you have no other way to access it. Beats me how to fix this one, unless they also distributed a free web client with it.

    All in all, it is a very good product, but honestly better suited for the more tech savvy. Anyone who has either little computer experience or extensive Outlook experience is likely to be a little confused and annoyed, but should be able to work around it eventually.

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. -- Bill Vaughn