The state of open source groupware

Mail Call


The OX example proves that investments can bear fruit: United Internet Ventures invested EUR15 million in Open-Xchange [6]. The company has constantly expanded the range of products around the OX app suite in recent years. A complete web-based office suite with OX Documents, OX Guard, OX Drive, and OX Messenger has developed from the groupware-only suite. However, this investment also shows the strategic interest of United Internet as owners of 1&1 Hosting, which Open-Xchange has been using as the basis of its offering for years.

Anyone who has not previously heard of Open-Xchange and reads about it on the website might not realize it is suitable for operation in a small company. Large hosting providers are the main focus of the website, which is hardly surprising given the investors that have joined the fray in recent years. In addition to 1&1 Mail Business, Open-Xchange also provides the underpinnings for offerings from Host Europe or, which was launched by Berlin-based Heinlein Support GmbH at the beginning of 2014.

The architecture of the SLOX (SUSE Linux Open-Xchange Server) product is excellently suited for providers because existing IMAP servers can usually be expanded to include groupware functions without any major renovation work. The OX App Suite (Figure 6), which was first published in November 2012, is not just a newly designed web front end for the functions already available in the classical web GUI of OX 6, it is also a basis for additional applications that have been published at a rapid pace since the beginning of 2014:

Figure 6: Open-Xchange is distancing itself further from its SLOX roots and is becoming the app center for companies and end users.
  • OX Drive, for file management and synchronization;
  • OX Documents, with word processing and spreadsheets;
  • OX Guard, for encrypting messages;
  • OX Messenger, for chat and (video) telephony as the most recent addition.

Among other things, PGP compatibility for OX guard is on the roadmap for the upcoming update cycle in the second quarter. A presentation module will be added to OX Documents at a date that is not yet fixed. Offerings based on Open-Xchange can therefore be seen as an alternative to Google apps and comparable services. Against this background, Open-Xchange's acquisition of the Dovecot Oy IMAP server and PowerDNS name service vendor are understandable.

The OX App Suite/Server Edition is intended for installation on the corporate network. The OXASE appliance has been discontinued. However, the current installation version offers an equivalent replacement from a functional perspective via the Univention Corporate Server (UCS) app center. Because OXASE is also based on UCS, the manufacturers have created a conversion path for affected customers.

Anyone who is interested in using the OX App Suite in their own company and is looking for technical information should take a look at the knowledge base [7].


OpenMail subsidiary Scalix [8] experienced a checkered history with its investors. Scalix had started in 2002 with slightly less venture capital than Zimbra received; however, after five years, the original investors lost interest and sold out to Xandros. Xandros subsequently achieved some success, including being the software vendor for the Eee PC netbook, which brought Asus an estimated turnover of $1 billion.

The success was not, however, long lasting; later investments, such as those from Linspire, acquired by Xandros in 2008, proved an economic disaster. In 2010, the money ran out and they were looking for new investors for Scalix. The penny stock company Sebring Software paid $12 million for Scalix in 2011. A management buy-out at the end of 2013 coincided with a company restructuring and the release of Scalix 12.0. With a small intermediate step, the current version 12.5 (Figure 7) rolled out at the end of March 2015. A glance at the release notes [9] shows various bug fixes and some attempts to modernize the architecture.

Figure 7: Scalix released the new version 12.5 in the spring of 2015 with many bug fixes and new features.

Scalix might be more mature and easy to scale both horizontally and vertically, but its directory service contains elements of the X.400 basis inherited from HP OpenMail that prevent the source code from being disclosed. The original plans to put the core under an open source license with Scalix 12 were unenforceable because of the former Xandros ownership; the changes are still on the to-do list, however.

In the past two years, the Scalix developers first tried to install support for current versions of Outlook and to fix bugs. Scalix 12.5 comes with some new features. The archiving interface, which you can activate with a commercial license, is now able to export in the Exchange journaling format and can thus address common archiving solutions.

A feature often in demand is the option to use an SMTP address defined as an alias for sending via Outlook or the webmail program. Scalix 12.5 implements this function. In Microsoft Exchange, this option is only possible with third-party add-ons; other products – Kerio, for example – can now do this, too.

Scalix needs to improve the support for newer versions of Exchange ActiveSync. Despite the task management that has finally been integrated, and which is compatible with Outlook and ActiveSync, the webmail program Scalix Web Access appears slightly antiquated in the face of modern HTML5 clients. A makeover is intended for version 13.

The company released a preview of Scalix 12.6 at the same time as the release of 12.5. In the press release for version 12.5, the manufacturer explained its strategy of wanting to support Microsoft Outlook in the long term as an essential component of the "Client of Choice" strategy.

Tine 2.0

Metaways demonstrated last year that groupware does not always require big money. The makers of Tine 2.0 [10] wanted to improve the CalDAV connection and thus launched a comparatively modest crowd funding campaign for EUR2,100. The project reached its goal with a little extra. The 2.0 "Koriander" release appeared in the fall of 2014 with numerous improvements for CalDAV.

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