Free equivalents to MS Exchange/ MS Sharepoint

by oneafrikan on August 4, 2005

There is a bit of interesting conversation about free and open source groupware apps going on at, about Hula and Kolab. I started this little rabbit hole at a post on, which made me think a little.

This (Hula, Kolab etc) is in all really cool because it both illustrates the increase in options for free and open source groupware applications, and a sense of user interface design which I feel will win more people over in the long term.

Having Novell behind Hula lends some credibility to the project, as does having some (what I can only imagine to be) demanding users. Kolab looks pretty interesting on the surface, but I think has a way to go before attracting a mainstream audience.

Would anyone disagree with that?

BUT, I’m not sure that this, in the bigger picture, is going to be enough, as I don’t see a competitor to MS Sharepoint on offer.

I may be woefully misinformed, and if I am I apologise, but there just isn’t. And this is why I think MSFT has an ace up it’s sleeve which is too compelling for the average business not to take up.

Knowing a little about what MS Sharepoint is capable of and also a little about MSFT’s plans for it in the coming 18 months to two years, combined with how the new MS Office will integrate with Sharepoint, office applications and Outlook/Exchange, I feel that FOSS catchup will be the order of the day.

Sharepoint right now still has a long way to go to be a mature product that users will love to use, because there are interface, integration, navigation, focus and paradigm issues that need to be worked on to get there, but it’s still the best option out there for what it does. Better still, you get Sharepoint Services on a Windows 2003 server box by default, so it’s a no brainer to use it within your business if you have a Windows network running. It looks like Sharepoint in 18 months will integrate better with Office and Outlook / Exchange than it does now, and will fix some of the issues mentioned above, so it’s certainly not going to get worse. At the same time, MSFT is really turning up the heat in the marketing of Sharepoint, so that also works in it’s favour.

I’m personally a believer in choice, competition and the best tool for the job, before anything, so I applaud the open source groupware apps talked about above. In the same breath, I’m worried because I think that Sharepoint will catapault MSFT to the next level in the average business environment, and it will be a while before there are any integrated, beautiful, useful, functional FOSS groupware apps that can compete in the marketplace as viable alternatives.

Remember that if a business wants to switch, there is a lot of pain involved upfront, so if MSFT gains a nice marketshare early there has to be an uber-compelling alternative to make businesses and IT managers make the switch. This could come in many forms, but I think cost will be the most motivating of all, and if you’ve already made the investment then why make the switch?

There is hope though.

Ubuntu is a desktop alternative that seems to be forging ahead in the right direction, with Gnome and KDE creating user interfaces and environments that are “good enough” for the average “non-hacker” desktop user;
there seems to be a tipping point developing around the paradigm of FOSS as a viable and trustworthy alernative to Windows / OS X, with Firefox leading the way as an example of what is possible;
apps like Open Office, Evolution, Kolab and Hula seem to be making compelling arguments for the Office / Outlook / Exchange combination;
with companies like IBM and Novell making public their support of FOSS;
Dell offering Linux as an OS on it’s machines;
and countries like Brasil and Germany choosing FOSS alternatives over Windows/MSFT alternatives for various reasons.

What do you think?

This is something that I’ve been dwelling on a lot lately, so I’m going to try and flesh this out some more over the coming months, adding links where I can. If you have any thoughts, I’d really like to hear them.

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DotNetNuke ( and RainbowPortal are two possible open source alternatives to Sharepoint.

by Eden on August 4, 2005 at 8:54 am. Reply #

I’ve not yet implemented a DotNetNuke portal yet, but have known about it and followed it for a while now – and it looks like a really good portal solution, but more of a content based portal solution.

Within minutes downloading DotNetNuke, it is conceivable that a person with no programming skill could be piecing together a completely original, dynamic web portal. They could be creating new pages of content, using pre-built content types (modules) like announcements, discussions, events, FAQs, feedback forms, and images. They could be creating membership roles, sending bulk emails, and defining secure sections for registered site users only. They could even be setting up banner advertising, customizing the site’s appearance, and submitting the site to search engines.

But does it offer stuff like document management / sharing and integration with Outlook / Exchange?

by Gareth Knight on August 4, 2005 at 9:55 am. Reply #

This gives some more info on the modules that are available:

by Gareth Knight on August 4, 2005 at 9:57 am. Reply #

i definitely agree with you on this, MS is definitely ahead of the curve with 2 [?] versions under their belt. for what it does, it’s pretty impressive & a HUGE time-saver when you are managing web content contributors. on the “does your intranet suck?” criterial, it eliminates a few bullets…the big one being “do your contributors need a tool like FrontPage, Contribute, etc. to add content ?”. with SP all they need is Office 2003 & IE [firefox is a big marginal].

SharePoint will probably do a new release that will include more themes, Active Directory [i am working on a custom control now that will allow users to search thru AD to find people], Exchange, RSS, apps & workflow. if they get the workflow going with approval, e-mail, signature flows down…then the other guys will be way behind. then this stuff will EXPLODE on Intranets the world over. maybe extranet once they get the security up to a decent level. even so, i still see guys running big sites on extranets like WSS FAQ:

with all that said, i can see other open-source Portal apps eventually taking off given that they use Novell’s eDirectory or some other auth / directory service that works well with the open-source Portal. or maybe some end-user stuff that MS can’t touch like elaborate themes, pulling in RSS, feeds, music & other screen scraping like crazy.

i can also see MS failing if they try to go into content managment with this too much, like Documentum.

by Geoff on August 5, 2005 at 6:50 am. Reply #

[…] Bill Gates gets involved with Sharepoint I talked yesterday about Sharepoint and the lack of credible Open Source competit […]

by » Blog Archive » Bill Gates gets involved with Sharepoint on August 5, 2005 at 7:51 am. Reply #

For an interesting new Open Source alternative to Exchange/Outlook, take a look at — the demos look good, though I havne’t had time to download and play yet. Certainly on my list of Products to check out though.

by Avi Miller on September 13, 2005 at 10:54 pm. Reply #

Thanks Avi – have heard about it recently, but defo on my list of stuff to check out now as well ;-) Would like to see how it compares to Sharepoint…

by Gareth Knight on September 14, 2005 at 12:08 am. Reply #

There is a good intro / discussion about Zimbra on Sitepoint, here:

by Gareth Knight on September 14, 2005 at 3:09 pm. Reply #

I just had a demo of the SharePoint-solution and it looks promising! As a open standards advocate, i’m worried that this might be a very succesfull product for Microsoft, leveraging current knowledge of users, integrating stuff and locking in users even more to the Microsoft-world. I really hope someone within the open source community will stand up and target this, but it might be very difficult. I just read about Alfresco ( and ), but find it hard to see whether that really would be an alternative…

by Raoul Teeuwen on October 28, 2005 at 9:50 am. Reply #

Yea, sharepoint is pretty good, and I’ve also been looking for an OS alternative for a while now…

And wow! Alfresco looks awesome ;-) Will be looking at it in more detail…

by Gareth Knight on October 28, 2005 at 10:01 am. Reply #

Now that I’m knee-deep in a MOSS rollout, I’m beginning to see why there isn’t, and likely never will be, an open source competitor to MOSS: There simply shouldn’t be any.

MOSS, as far as I can tell, has only one purpose and that is to further lock the enterprise into a MS Office/MS dependency.

MOSS is a (poor) attempt and being the one application that can do everything. Of course, that means it really does nothing well and takes a whole hell of a lot of customization to make it usable.

As such, I don’t want to see the OS world try to compete with it. Any IT manager contemplating MOSS simply isn’t ever going to put OS options on his/her radar anyways, so don’t waste effort trying to convert those that deep into the MS cult.

by D on September 4, 2007 at 4:28 pm. Reply #

DotNetNuke, Alfresco and a multitude of PHP cms and Java EE frameworkds. I wish they could team up and create the ultimate open source even bigger than Share Point like the Open Mobile Alliance did. I hope this message would reach the open source developers. Good day!

by sunabozu on November 21, 2008 at 4:20 pm. Reply #

Info Mason is offering their Axi List for free right now. It’s a simple but very flexible management and collaboration solution that lets you build customized lists, document libraries, wiki libraries, etc. Pretty cool.

by jon on May 2, 2009 at 1:36 am. Reply #

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