On the Server Side: HP OpenMail and Red Hat Linux, Part 2 – HP OpenMail

Last column, Ryan talked about HP's port of its OpenMail messaging system to Linux. Now, he covers the installation of OpenMail.

Last column, we talked about HP’s port of its OpenMail messaging system to Linux. The column (available at the HP Professional Web site at www.hppro.com) discussed some background on OpenMail and the installation of Red Hat Linux. This time, we’ll discuss the installation of OpenMail.

The software distribution is on the first disk of the server bonus pack included with Red Hat Professional version 6.1. The HP directory on the disk contains software formatted to work with the installation program RPM, the Red Hat Package Manager. RPM is designed to allow users to better manage the software installations on their Linux machines. Using RPM, you can query an RPM install file to discover things, such as version numbers and library dependencies. You can also use RPM to verify the installation of a complete package.

For instance, you accidentally deleted a file that may (or may not) have been important to a particular software package. Using RPM you can check if the file was needed and replace it if necessary. In addition to operating from the command prompt, a graphical version, called GnomeRPM, is included for use from the Gnome desktop.

Using RPM, installation of OpenMail is simple, but requires a couple of steps. There is a "core" package to install, then a language specific package and you must be logged in as root. After inserting the CD, GnomeRPM starts automatically. Selecting Install usually brings up a list of all the packages available for installation. While I didn’t find OpenMail in GnomeRPM, I navigated to the appropriate directory on the CD and right clicked on the OpenMail core package. Selecting the Install option launched the installation routine. After installing the core, I installed the American English language pack, one of 12 language options. I also installed the graphical Linux client for OpenMail. After the packages have been "RPMed," you need to run a routine called omsinstall to decompress files and move them to the appropriate directories. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes on a Pentium II 266mhz machine.

After the installation is complete, a few post-installation tasks must be performed, such as adding the OpenMail directory to your path, setting the default language and defining a character set. If you use OpenMail as an IMAP server, you need to disable any IMAP server installed on Red Hat (this is defined in the /etc/ inetd.conf file). When these are done, you can start the OpenMail server with the command omrc.

Once it’s up and running, administration can be handled in a variety of ways. First, there is a character-based program called omadmin. This can be used to configure mailnodes (OpenMail servers), add and delete users, and perform general maintenance. The interface appears a little dated and could use either a graphical overhaul or a Web-based interface. Other than that, it works as advertised, and it’s very simple to maintain users. Additionally, many functions have command line equivalents. This is a distinct advantage over many other e-mail systems, such as Microsoft Exchange. Using the command line, you can create scripts to add large numbers of users in batches, or schedule maintenance tasks with cron.

A Motif client is provided and works just fine under Gnome. The first time you connect to the OpenMail server, you are prompted for a user and mailnode. After these are entered, you are prompted for a password to actually connect to the server and begin using OpenMail. Everything you would expect from a mail client is here. An In Tray, Out Tray and Wastebasket are standard. You can also create your own folders in the filing cabinet to sort your messages as you like. It’s a simple interface for what really is a pretty simple task.

If you have Microsoft Windows-based clients, you can use MS Outlook to access your messages. There are a few additional steps required in the setup to support Outlook clients, but once done, it works just fine. If your Microsoft-based clients need to access more than one mail server, Outlook is a good choice, since it can access Exchange, POP and IMAP servers very well. OpenMail also supports Lotus cc:Mail clients, although I didn’t test one.

If you don’t like any of the above options, OpenMail also has a Web interface. Via the Web interface, any client with a browse can access their messages. The interface is great for remote users who need access and a boon for installations with security policies that do not allow dial-in access or restrict access through a firewall.

I’ve worked extensively with Exchange and definitely believe the vast majority of tasks can be handled quite well with OpenMail. The low cost of entry with a Linux system should earn it a place in installations where price is an issue, such as small businesses or for departments.

While I wasn’t able to really stress my OpenMail server, I am a little concerned about performance on lower end Linux systems. The release notes speak quite a bit about the number of processes used by OpenMail. Stating that it may use up to 50 processes and that each IMAP client uses at least three processes makes me wonder how much use a lower end Linux could take. While the stated requirements for memory (64 MB minimum, 128 MB recommended) certainly seem reasonable, the amount of processes being created seems excessive.

The release notes talk about increasing the maximum number of supported processes from the usual default of 512 by recompiling the kernel to support up to 4,090. This seems a little excessive, and it’s unlikely that someone without a serious Linux background will want to do this.

With that caveat, I did like OpenMail and if you are considering a move to Linux or looking for ways to get Linux into your organization, OpenMail is worth a look. It’s a solid product with obvious benefits and will be a good fit for many organizations.