Open source developers often adopt unusual names and relative newcomer Zarafa is no exception (Zarafa is Arabic for giraffe). However, that’s no hindrance, Dutch company Zarafa having had a deal of success with its open source Exchange alternative which takes a slightly different approach to Outlook compatibility, implementing a MAPI provider on the server rather than the client.
Like rivals Scalix and Zimbra there’s a free community implementation of Zarafa complete with all the MAPI functionality. This, though, is limited to just 3 Outlook clients and for large scale deployment, a commercial license is required, priced by the number of users involved.
In terms of platform support the developers reckon their code can be run on any Linux OS, but when pinned down cite Red Hat and Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise as preferred platforms, along with Debian and Ubuntu. There’s also a fully functional, VMware appliance, complete with Ubuntu OS which can be used for evaluation.
The core mail server looks after all the messaging and collaboration features and includes Zarafa’s own MAPI emulator (Mapi4Linux). A number of standard open source applications are then used to support this, including MySQL for the data store and common message transfer agents including Postfix and Sendmail.
There’s no pretty management GUI for Zarafa, just an LDAP user manager for Red Hat and CentOS, plus LDAP/ADS directory integration. Zarafa can also share groupware information with other applications (Z-Merge) and synchronise to wireless mobile devices using Z-Push, an open source implementation of ActiveSync. Support for the BlackBerry Enterprise Server is another, recently announced, option.
Apache is employed to support the browser based Webaccess client which, like the others, uses AJAX technology to emulate the usual Outlook look and feel. However, it’s the server-side MAPI emulator that makes Zarafa stand out from rivals, making it much more of a plug-and-play clone. That said, Outlook users still need to install a small MAPI provider, in the form of a proprietary plug-in. On the plus side, though, the plug-in will work with any version from Outlook 2000 onwards and supports off-line access and synchronisation based on Exchange Server ICS (Incremental Change Synchronisation) technology.
With the connector installed, Zarafa delivers Outlook users a rich, Exchange-like, experience with a single folder hierarchy and push notification of new events, plus a global address book, folder sharing and so on. Group calendars and event scheduling options are, similarly, replicated with the usual facilities to identify free/busy time and manage invitations. Groupware features are also available via the AJAX Web client, plus there’s iCal compatibility for calendaring tools that support it.