I noticed an article on InfoWorld about Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS). This software package brings together important software packages for small business organizations in an easy to configure and install bundle. The primary features of SBS are, according to this article, email and calendaring, file and printer sharing, and file backup. There are additional features that you can plug in, including email clients, a fax server, remote access via the web, and possibly integration with a back end database.
All this software exists for Linux. For email, you have qmail and imap (we aren’t concerned about the client, because they’ll use Outlook, if they have Office). For calendaring, I haven’t found anything quite as slick as Outlook, but Courier promises web based calendaring, and Mozilla Calendar, when paired with a WebDAV enabled web server, like Apache with mod_dav, allows you to share calendars (it does require you to install the Mozilla browser on every client, though). For file and print sharing, there’s Samba and for backups, there’s the super stable Amanda. Remote access can be handled via VNC and fax server solutions can be built, although the author of the InfoWorld article prefers a fax over IP service which should work fine as long as you have MS Office. As for back end databases, you’d probably want PostgreSQL, probably managed via MS Access. Wrap it all up with Webmin for administration. (Full disclosure–I haven’t used all this software, just most of it.)
So, I set out on the web to see if anyone had gathered all these components together, tested them, and made it easy to install and configure. Basically, an SBS competitor that could compete on features, with the added bonus of Linux’s open nature and stability.
First, I checked out what Redhat and SuSe (1, 2) had to offer. While they had standard servers that were cheaper than the $1500 quoted for SBS, the Linux packages didn’t have all the features either. Then, I did a web search, which didn’t turn up much, except for a LUG project: the Windows Replacement Network. I’m not sure how active this project is, but at least it’s a start. I checked on SourceForge, but didn’t see anything that looked similar.
I really think that there’s an enormous opportunity for the open source community to piggy back off of MS. They’ve already done the market research, they’ve already determined the feature set that will sell to small businesses. And almost all the software is written for the Linux version of the SBS–all that really needs to happen is some configuration and documentation to make all these features work together. Cut it to a CD-ROM and start passing them out at LUG meetings. This would provide one more option in a consultant’s toolbox and give consumers one more choice.