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  • December 20, 2000
  • By Joshua Drake
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As a Linux consultant, I am often asked questions about various Linux compatibility issues. A typical question might be, "Can I use Microsoft Word with Linux?" We Linux people can always respond, "No, but you can run 'X for compatibility," where "X" is StarOffice, Corel WordPerfect, or your favorite Unix word processor.

One question that is not so easy to answer, though, is "What about Outlook, or ACT!?" To date, Linux does not have any groupware client-side applications. There are some that are Web-based, but none that are native to the two popular Linux desktops, KDE and Gnome.

That situation is about to change. Three very interesting projects are currently being developed within the various Linux communities that will allow the professional e-mail user to get the most out of Linux. The professional e-mail user is the person who requires a robust, efficient e-mail client to manage all of their information. A typical profile for such a user would be a salesperson or manager.

The first of the projects is the Evolution 0.6 (preview release) personal information manager client from Helix Code Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. Helix Code is the company that is driving the rewrite of Gnome into what is called Helix Gnome. Helix Code also maintains the very popular Linux spreadsheet, Gnumeric. The Helix Code Web site states:

"Evolution, the Helix Code groupware suite, marks the next step forward in GNOME applications. The email, contact management, and calendar tools act as a seamless personal information-management tool. Evolution is also highly extensible and it will be possible to use it to solve a wide variety of information-sharing problems."

The above is marketing lingo for, "Hey, we're creating Outlook for Linux." A lot of people will take offense to that statement. For that I am sorry, but it is what Helix Code and the other projects (which we'll talk about later) are trying to achieve. There is one little exception to Evolution's mimicry of Outlook, however: Evolution is self-contained.

In order to take advantage of Outlook's or Lotus Notes' legendary collaborative abilities, you must be running Exchange or Notes Server. In other words, you have to shell out more money: at least $4,000 to $5,000 dollars for a minimal Exchange installation.

Evolution utilizes the iCalendar specification. The iCalendar (now renamed vCalendar) specification is set forth by the IETF as RFC 2445, 2446, and 2447. It defines an open platform capability for collaboration. Helix Code's decision to implement a working standard will go a long way in the future adoption process.

In other words, you will be able to interact with any other iCalendar-compatible e-mail client. There will be no need for you to use Evolution if you wish to use Magellan or Kmail. They will all work together.

Evolution is currently in beta and not really practical for a casual user. It requires a large number of external development libraries to run. The libraries, if you already have Helix Gnome, include GAL 0.2.1, Bonobo 0.23, gtkhtml 0.7, gnome-vfs 0.3.1, libunicode 0.4.gnome, OAF 0.6, and ORBit 0.5.3. If you do not have Helix Gnome, you will also need gnome-print 0.24, gnome-xml 1.8.7, and gdk-pixbuf 0.8.0. Unless you know where to look (helixcode.com, or rpmfind.net), you have to compile all of the packages from scratch. That is a hefty price to pay, but I think you will find it is well worth the effort.

Evolution provides native Gnome support. Therefore, it supports drag and drop, file associations, MIME types, and themes. Evolution can also work with alternative desktops such as KDE 2.0 (my favorite) and IceWM. If you use an alternative desktop, you will not be able to use the drag-and-drop features.

Evolution supports a couple of items that I have been waiting for in a Linux IMAP-capable mailer for a long time: multiple identities and accounts. The multiple identities option allows you to select "who" you are sending from. For example, if you have two e-mail addresses, you may want to send e-mail to your mom from niceperson@yourhost.com, but send e-mail to your friends from crazydriver@yourhost.com.

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