Microsoft still has a stranglehold on the desktop and servers for small business. While wheels are in motion for the former, the answer to the latter may already be here.
When it comes to the Internet, Linux is a big win.
Mail and web servers, databases, computational clusters and supercomputers all belong to the domain of free software. When it comes to embedded devices, Linux is also king of the roost.
There are two main areas where Linux has still not broken through, however - the desktop and servers for small business. Many small to medium enterprises are already “Microsoft shops” because the desktops run Windows. To break in, Linux needs to slot into these environments without causing a fuss.
Certainly the cloud is offering one solution to this problem, but not all companies are willing to put their sensitive data on-line and in the hands of another. So, a market for local servers to perform these functions is still alive and well.
Part of the reason that Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) is attractive is that it includes many core features required by a company, out of the box. Important services like central authentication, email, file and print sharing and web. Perhaps most important of all is calendaring. It’s something which businesses simply cannot survive without and has been a thorn in the side of Linux based alternatives for a long time.
Here’s a quick glance at some of the main features included with SBS:
- Centralized Authentication (LDAP)
- Primary Domain Controller (Samba)
- File and Print Services (Samba and CUPS)
- Mail (SMTP, POP, IMAP, Webmail)
- Calendaring (Kolab groupware)
- Webserver (Apache)
- Firewall plus intrusion protection (iptables, Snort)
- Antimalware (Clam Antivirus, Antiphishing, Antispyware)
- Antispam (Spamassassin)
- Database (MySQL)
- Virtual Private Network (IPSec, OpenVPN, PPTP)
- Web Proxy (Squid)
The complexity of these individual components is hidden behind the web based management interface, where users can simply turn on and off these modules as required.
While users are encouraged to administer the system via the provided management interface, it is also designed to be extensible. The back end is not hidden away, but offered up in plain sight for admins to get right in and change things if they want to. Various how-tos provide details on how to perform extra functions, such as enabling shell access for users.
ClearOS supports external modules, that is extra services outside of those included by default. This is part of the design goal of the operating system which will hopefully foster collaboration and increase its range of useful features. It is possible to replace the default groupware server with a more sophisticated one or even create new custom modules, such is the flexibility.
The included Kolab groupware server is reasonable, however it appears that a connector for Outlook must be purchased separately, such as that from Toltec or KONSEC. A feature rich, but rather unattractive, web client is also included via Horde. Linux users can have native support through KDE’s Kontact application, or Mozilla’s Thunderbird and the Sync Kolab addon.
The installer is straight forward and supports both hardware and software RAID. During installation the user is able to select a number of services to include, however these can also be configured at a later stage via the web management interface.
The web-based management interface is very intuitive and easy to follow. Server features are broken up into sections, such as Directory, Network, System and Gateway, where admins can configure various components thereof. Everything, from adding a user to configuring an IPSec VPN is a matter of a few simple steps. Within 5 minutes an administrator can have a fully functional Windows domain server, with all the bells and whistles. Pretty neat, eh?
Also built into the interface are various reports, such as the state of system resources, traffic usage and analysis, mail and web server statistics, as well as good old system logs.
ClearOS Web Management Interface
It would be good to see some improvements in the interface, to provide greater feedback. While installing packages for example, the interface appears to be doing nothing, while it is in fact downloading or installing. Reading the install log makes sense, but only if you know what you’re looking for. It would be great to see a simple feedback method in addition to the log. A rotating orange swirl while performing the task would suffice, turning green upon completion. It’s also a shame that there is no 64 bit version, however this might come at a later date if warranted.
Despite this, ClearOS is truly a decent replacement for Windows SBS. It has all the features yet is simple to manage and has the full power of Linux and free software right behind it.
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