Zimbra and Exchange: Bridges Over Troubled Water

Microsoft and Zimbra LogosNow that I’m a dual-platform guy, my search for Windows-Mac synergy will be constant and earnest.

Of course, one of the first and most important issues is to figure out how to maintain synchronicity between my calendars and contacts, which is no small task.

I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks testing out a few solutions in my spare time and I’ve narrowed it down to two, both of which are surprisingly effective and dependable: Microsoft Exchange Server and the open source Zimbra Collaboration Suite.

I’m currently finding Zimbra to be more easily managed and configured on both platforms.

I’m slightly bastardizing the designed purposes of both of these environments as groupware platforms. In essence, Zimbra and Exchange are all about sharing information amongst a team or company, and I’m simply leveraging them to make my OS platforms become friends. But, as we all know, with technology you do what you gotta do to get the job done.

For Microsoft Exchange I’m trying out a hosted solution from mail2web.com, using an Outlook 2007 client on my PC and Microsoft Entourage 2004 on my Mac . It works very well for the most part. (Mail2web.com provided software and licenses for both products in the subscription cost.)

Surprisingly, however, I found account configuration on the PC very complex and error-prone, despite (or perhaps, due to?) a configuration script mail2web.com provides. Furthermore, mail2web.com’s instructions for configuring Entourage are for an older version of the client and require much interpretation and testing.

I also have some complaints about how Entourage can only display desktop and Exchange calendars separately – there’s no way to overlay these two environments in a common interface. This problem lead to some embarrassing double-bookings recently. Furthermore, every time I send an email using Entourage I receive an LDAP error message; this is apparently a recognized bug in the way Entourage communicates with the Exchange contacts database.

I’ve long been interested in Zimbra as an alternative groupware solution to Exchange, and decided to give it a try as well. I signed up for a hosted account with OnDeckTech. Zimbra offers self-configuring sync clients for both Outlook and Apple’s OS-based Synch technology, which provides it direct access into Address Book and iCal. (Personally, I slightly prefer Apple’s native iCal, Address Book, and Mail applications over Entourage.)

What blew me away was the flawless installation and configuration of the Zimbra sync client on both platforms. This was particularly satisfying in the Windows environment, where the Exchange account configuration was borderline painful and prone to breaking often.

The maintenance of sync between the three environments (Windows-Zimbra-Mac) is likewise stunning. As quickly as I make changes to a contact or calendar item in one environment, the Zimbra conduit updates it in the two others (assuming internet access, of course). In a week of testing, I haven’t had a problem.

Zimbra lacks in some areas, such as in the synching of tasks, but Microsoft Entourage doesn’t synch tasks with Exchange Server anyway, so the criticism in this case is slightly unfair.

Both environments are very effective, but I’m finding Zimbra to be a slightly better and more dependable solution to inter-platform my needs.

6 thoughts on “Zimbra and Exchange: Bridges Over Troubled Water

  1. We use Zimbra at school. I just hope we continue using it next year, I don’t want to have to get used to yet another new computer idea.

  2. Two totally different products. Comparing Zimbra to Zoho is like comparing Outlook to Office, it’s apples and oranges.Zimbra doesn’t do documents. It has a very pithy “Notes” capability that’s by and large useless from my perspective. I’ll never know why they would have implemented that over a more traditional “tasks” feature.

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