Software

Evolution: The Right Tool for the Job?

If you are looking for a single application to replace Outlook you need look no further than Evolution. It is as feature rich, easy to use, and far more reliable than Outlook.

The Job

Within the open source -- and especially the Linux -- community, there are basically two options for replacing Microsoft Outlook: Kontact and Evolution. As you know, Outlook is an all-in-one e-mail, calendar, task, and contact application that also publishes information. In a corporate environment (especially a large corporate environment), most companies use an Exchange server to handle mail. If you are an employee in such an environment, and you want to adopt a Linux desktop you will be very limited in what you can do with an Exchange server. Will either Kontact or Evolution fit into your environment? Let's find out.

The Tool

Evolution

Evolution was started by the manic-brainiac known as Miguel di Icaza. His goal was to finally have an all-in-one that would make businesses give Linux on the desktop a serious look. He achieved his goal. Evolution comes packed with all the features you would expect in such a tool: Email, Calendar, Contact management, Tasks and Todo lists, Exchange support. Evolutions' standards support includes: IMAP, POP, SMTP and Authenticated SMTP, as well as Microsoft Exchange 2000 and 2003. And now that Exchange is "owned" by Novell it is enjoying GroupWise support (currently in beta.) Evolution also enjoys S/MIME support as well as Palm device support.

The Right Tool for the Job?

Evolution, the relief of administrators everywhere, acts and behaves very similarly to Outlook. So users will not suffer from much (if any) learning curve. The UI is intuitive and user-friendly. To the average user they probably wouldn't even notice if you exchanged their Outlook with Evolution. To the power user, well, that might be another story. One of my biggest beefs with Evolution, for some time now, has been the problem with PDA support. The gpilotd daemon has been nothing but flaky for the last several years. But that small price to pay does not detract from the power of Evolution. If you are looking for a single application to replace Outlook you need look no further than Evolution. It is as feature rich, easy to use, and (in my experience) far more reliable than Outlook.

Of course using Evolution to replace Outlook does come with this warning: Use with Exchange is not seamless. You may sometimes find that events aren't shared or invitations aren't received. This is to be expected with any software attempting to communicate with anything created by Microsoft. Expect a little flakiness now and again and you will not be upset.

View my screenshot gallery of Evolution.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

99 comments
awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

The myriad of comments I see here give further credence to the notion that there is more than one right tool for the job. Each user, whether a company or a single person, has specific needs and desires. For some, Outlook is the right tool for a variety of reasons. For others, Outlook is definitely the wrong tool, but Evolution is better suited. No matter what client the user decides is the right tool, there is unfortunately no perfect tool. And so the conversations will continue, each offering their reasons why their choice is better than the others. The same goes for people's opinions of OS's. Windows vs. Linux vs. OS-X, etc. They all have their faults - a natural by-product of being created by faulted people. And since different users have different needs, the different operating systems are better suited for some, while being an unbearable nuisance to others. For my own personal needs, the irritation of converting from what I am using to something else far outweighs any advantages of any such conversion, at least until someone develops the ultimate, the abolutely perfect product. Which of course, to be perfect, will have to provide complete and seamless compatibilty and convertibility with any and all other products, and will include all of the features of all the other products, so as to make everyone happy. And with everyone being so opinionated, I don't see that product on the horizon any time soon.

albert.jeremie
albert.jeremie

NOT RECOMMENDED!! I mean, c'mon man, get real, Evolution as an exchange for Outlook? The only thing Evolution support for Exchange is thru OWA. And in the real world, much of them didn't implement OWA. Or if they do, they block OWA access in the internal network, and just for some users. So, what's the point using Evolution? Unless you are just a small company, struggling with budget.

Alganon
Alganon

Importing Outlook data in Evolution Hi Jack, I know you touched on import in the screenshots, but importing data from Outlook is not a trivial exercise. It can be successful, however, if the right path is chosen. The short answer is Outlook> import using (Win)Thunderbird>(linux)Evolution. T'bird imports from Outlook, Contacts and Email. Lightning imports Calendars. This takes the Windows proprietary formats and converts them to open formats like iCal and LDIF. Then Evolution can import those formats. Unless one is running multiple calendars, a calendar file is ONE file containing many events. So this part is taken care of in "Import a single File". If you have an organised individual who has lots of Local Mail Folders with nesting, then importing the Outlook mail to Evo via Thunderbird will be a chore, but worth it. Make a list of every mail folder, parent and child and replicate the structure in Evolution, (for a clever sys admin there may be a way to do that with a script), otherwise it can be a time consuming task making one folder at a time. Then copy the Windows Thunderbird files to the Linux desktop and import a single file (Mailbox folder) one T'birds file at a time into the equivalent Evolution folder. That's it. Tasks and todos each move as a single file, save them in Outlook as Windows.csv files then import to Evolution.

gpfear
gpfear

Either use Outlook with Exchange or go to Linux with Lotus Notes. Either would be extremely stable and there is plenty of support behind either. Wouldn't mind seeing an article on Suse clients in Active Directory. Let's see if the Novell/Microsoft deal works.

kerry.millen
kerry.millen

I agree; I like alternatives. Unfortunately your blog was less than objective. First of all, the designer's motivation was to copy a powerful, widely used application; copying is easy (even Microsoft knows this). Innovation and creativity are difficult. Second, it is unlikely that Evolution's ability to be "seamless" with Exchange is because Exchange was developed by Microsoft. What's more likely is that Evolution's designer couldn't match Outlook's feature and function set and Evolution's "flakiness" is Evolution's issue. Lastly, you???re "far more reliable than Outlook" claim would have more than zero credibility if you had made any attempt to qualify it. There are plenty of high quality open source applications I prefer over Microsoft applications simply because they're more intuitive and just plain function better. Making an unqualified, flippant claim isn't helping anyone choose the right tool for the job. This blog had the potential of being helpful and informative. I'm sorry your bias prevented it.

g0dFather
g0dFather

I know this is a far cry but it'd be great if Blackberry supported other email apps besides Outlook. I don't expect Microsoft Sync to do it in this lifetime for obvious reasons, but I could see Blackberry covering more than just Outlook if the demand existed.

dan.stalker
dan.stalker

Our biggest problem was the lack of single-sign-on support. Perhaps just our configuration was wrong. But users are to spoiled to (after logging into their workstation) have to log in again to get mail, and again to look at their calendar, and again to access their contacts. Many users would have a real problem with that. Also, how can you archive mail (like you can move mail to pst files in Outlook)? Without those two features it would be unworkable for us.

jozhall
jozhall

I have been wanting to get rid of Outlook for awhile. this is a great forum to discuss Evolution. However, what are everyone's thoughts on Thunderbird? Just so I can make a well rounded decision.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

ok, my experience with Evolution comes from my 4-year experiment of trying to use Linux/OSS exclusively for all of my computing needs. First, it crashed, a lot. Second, the Palm device integration was abysmal. If you could even get it to work, you had to reboot the computer before each sync as the USB port would disappear and not reappear when the device was attached. In addition, installing it was a nightmare on Fedora Core, Red Hat( before Fedora existed, I used this ), and Mandrake. Red Carpet was not user friendly, and my last attempt to install Evolution left me in a missing dependency lurch that software management tools such as Yum could not get me out of. Anyway, as you may have guessed, my 4 year experiment ended with my switching back to Windows, and everything does pretty much just work. I found Thunderbird much more usable than Evolution, though it lacks the PIM functionality that is supposedly Evolution's appeal. To be honest, I miss some of the features of Thunderbird, but using Outlook on Windows saves me so much time ( thanks for my life back, Microsoft! ) that it is a net gain to go that way. Btw, I tried manually compiling and installing the dependencies, tried RPM's, and tried other software management systems ( but I forget their names ), nothing could get Evolution to work on my last attempt to install it.

ppzelek
ppzelek

Can I use Evolution with Outlook Express? Will the address book move over?

Spiritusindomit
Spiritusindomit

It's replacing the [expletive] exchange server. It's costly as hell to run them and maintain licensing. This article is completely pointless as thunderbird is superior to outlook.

riverdusty
riverdusty

you're kidding right. "Within the open source ??? and especially the Linux ??? community, there are basically two options for replacing Microsoft Outlook: Kontact and Evolution." So never heard of Thunderbird or Seamonkey? I believe more people use Thunderbird than any other email application. Who wrote this article? a failed MCSE? or perhaps i should be optamistic and hope it was a failed RHCE

tony
tony

Typical - it can't make calender functionality stable, so it blames Microsoft for writing 'flakey' software. Funny, I've never had a problem with Outlook / Exchange - Could it be that this free hobbyist bodge isn't written correctly?!?!

Answerfactory
Answerfactory

Don't worry, the title of the thread says it all, its a discussion of all these different situations and what tool seems best for each one. It's good to have more than one tool in your toolbox, and when your situation changes, you may need to change your tools. That said, I could never get Evolution to accomplish even the most basic of PIM tasks. It was always very buggy, required many fixes that were not simple downloads of released patched, intstead often required days of hunting down the solutions. Sometimes it would work fine but then the installation of a newer version would bring it to its knees. Your every day joe doesn't have time for this. They have work to do, people to meet, places to go, they can't be reverse engineering an application that is supposed to be saving them time in order for it do its job. e.g. the got someone elses program to use b/c they have other things to do than to write the program themselves. If I am a car mechanic going on vacation to say, Hawaii, I shouldn't need to get out of the plane to fixed the engine, check the tires, etc before takeoff. If I wanted to do that, I would be an aircraft mechanic xD. Instead, I should just get on the plane and go.

loss4words
loss4words

agree, if you cant afford outlook you certainly cant afford exchange. may as well use zimbra or scalix.

doug
doug

I believe evolution uses IMAP to hook to Exchange, not the web interface.

ricardoc
ricardoc

I tried to use Evolution and I was on the track to convince my bosses to go with it. I will just love to get rid of MS Office once for all, but all users all so attached to Outlook that it is the one tool that I have to find a good replacement for. So to go back to my point I installed evolution with Ubuntu and there was no way I could receive in Evolution a meeting request sent from Outlook (I don't use Exchange). I need the compatibility for the rest of the world that make business with us and are using Outlook. So if I could get this to work I would definitely push for Evolution. I like the tool overall but this issue is the main obstacle. If someone has any ideas they are very welcome.

doug
doug

I like KDE a lot. How would I run Evolution considering I use KDE for everything else? On 10.2 I tried to run Evolution under kde but it kept crashing.

FXEF
FXEF

Seems we have some Windows users that want to replace Outlook with Evolution. Evolution is a Linux application and runs great in Linux especially under Gnome. It will also run under KDE. Evolution has been ported to Windows but I think is still in Beta. If you run Windows stick with Outlook. I myself run Linux and Evolution and have no problems. This is a good article... just was not written for Windows users.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Palm chose to only support Windows and, too a lesser degree, osX for pairing there devices to a desktop (it was there choice to make and budgets probably had too do with it). With intellisync, it worked great with Outlook (far better than Motorola's phones and sync software pairings I might add) but the result for me is now years of PIM info locked in Outlook until I can get a groupware server running and export the data too it for storage. That's a hardware availability issue though so I'll have centralized PIM data available to any of my machines and platforms soon enough. For my personal needs, Nokia's Maemo has replaced all my PalmOS functions except some of the more "interesting" bluetooth apps I have on the T5. I'm actually a little surprised Blackberry hasn't gotten more love from the developers what with everyone and there dog having one these days. The primary market is the the business crowd so Exchange support should be a given but there must be some nonWindows connecting apps available. Have a look at OpenSync maybe, it's supposed to be the anything too anything connector currently under development. I know it lists PalmOS support along with a bunch of other mobile gadgets so I'd be surprised if they didn't have or plan to have Blackberry support.

sml
sml

I know the content of this article does not point to another "closed source" solution, but we use BB and Lotus Notes and is works wonderfully. Any My BB I sync with my home Outlook, too, so I get both on one device.

GettReal
GettReal

Anyone please suggest a web-based contact mgmt program - I loved the old DOS TeleMagic - have been using ACT6, but would like to move to the web, preferably w/ low costs... THANX!!

dawgit
dawgit

(see what about T-Bird... just a little above) It does have a Calendar BTW, and it syncs with the Sunbird, which syncs with... everything. (I believe it will sync with Outlook as well, but have not had the need to test it.) It is also capable of secure encription with GNU-(Open)PGP. And yes it can be locked into a Secure net as well. (at the same time as it on the bad www. -just use different account settings) Multi-Platform, Multi-Language, (with multi-spool chuckers too) Multi-Account. Like I said, works for me. -d

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Thunderbird is a great email client well worth a look. You won't get the todo, calendar and other Outlook'ish functions outside of email without plugins but if your just after an email program, it's well worth a look (Evolution may be overkill for just email). Under your windows machines, you can install Thunderbird though my preference is to simply keep it on a USB flashdrive (portableapps.com) so it's handy from whatever machine I'm infront of. Under *nix, it get's installed directly since there's not really a portableapps equivalent that's viable for my needs yet. You could go so far as to setup a syncronization of your Thunderbird under a BSD/Linux based OS with your portable Thunderbird even. Then your same email and profile would carry across all platforms. Evolution sounds great and is on my list for another look but you won't have the cross platform mobility and may remind me why I didn't choose it originally.

sml
sml

The problem with "non-outlook" email clients is that the email client today is expected to be a desktop (give access to applications) and dashboard (get data from "BI" systems) and a bit of a customer database (contacts and sales calls, etc.) All of these chores are much more than reading and responding to email. Many Enterprise applications like portals, online meeting tools and ERP systems come with OOB funtionality that works with Outlook. You'd have to write that into t-bird, Evolution, and others. Outlook and MS tools provide the .Net framework to allow third-party vendors to give enterprises a good path to making the user's life simpler. It is real world situations like that that drive companies to use commerical software like Outlook.

pdf6161
pdf6161

Kolab. Very satisfactory. www.kolab.org.

jred
jred

Dead on comment, that was. I'm much more interested in a full-featured Exchange replacement than Outlook.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

Um, how about some facts to back up the "Thunderbird is superior to outlook" statement? Its does have a feature or two that Outlook lacks, but then Outlook has a gang of features that Thunderbird lacks.

craiglarry
craiglarry

Thunderbird is amazingly easier to set up and use. I've had Outlook Express that I could never get to work, in any way. Some of them have worked but with more difficulty. According to the skuttlebut, Mozilla is taking Thunderbird in hand to develop into full-fledged email and scheduling application, which would be nice if all the additional stuff doesn't make is a useless blob like Outlook. I talk to people who say outlook is OK, just like always, meaning it is a royal pain the ass and they are used to that. If you're looking for a simple client email appliance, give Thunderbird a try. Save you a lot on aspirin.

shumisha
shumisha

Email is just a small part of Outlook for business users. In small businesses like mine, it is often used as CRM. I have yet to find an alternative software that allow me to set an event on a calendar (appointment, quotation sent), associate it in one click with a contact (appointment with John Doe), and later on retrieve events associated (when was that quotation sent to John Doe). All one click. Plus sync all of this with PDA or phone in seconds, to use when you're on the road to visit customers. That's what outlook is about. The Exchange part is only for bigger company (though I agree it is also important). Last time I checked Evolution did not allow this kind of CRM operation, for it would not retrieve emails or calendar event associated with a contact. Maybe time for a new check ? Regards to all

dvecchioni
dvecchioni

clearly this reviewer does not work in a corporate environment. If I put software on users desks and told them "This is great. Now remember, it might not do what it is supposed to, and you may miss a critical meeting or deadline, but hey, its free!" I would be posting my resume real quick!

FXEF
FXEF

Oh well, I don't get my mail through Exchange, thank goodness.

loss4words
loss4words

Excuse me? The article says, and I quote, "This is to be expected with any software attempting to communicate with anything created by Microsoft. Expect a little flakiness now and again and you will not be upset." You'll notice it doesn't actually place the blame on Microsoft. It talks about instability with an OSS product communicating with a proprietary product. It doesn't say it's MS's fault, or that it's Evolution's fault. If -you- feel as if your choice of software is being attacked, then it's your insecurity, because the text as written was quite neutral. MS software interfaces well with MS software. Of course it does, it's designed for each other. To replace that with an aftermarket product is never going to be without fault.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

My friend has a small business with hosted exchange for less than $100/month, plus free Outlook clients to boot( comes with the package ). I would say who they use, but that would come across as an advertisement. I used them too to host my own domain, and the free Outlook 2007 client was a nice benny.

FXEF
FXEF

You will have to see if Evolution is in your distro repositories. If not then you will have to compile from source.

kerry.millen
kerry.millen

Finally, a personal, objective evaluation that a future Evolution user might use to make an informed decision emerges. No stabs or unqualified claims, just good old American facts and objectivity. Deliver us from bourgeois commentary.

dawgit
dawgit

System, OS, are you useing? -d

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

Evolution isn't worth checking out, seriously.

gmmoon
gmmoon

I'm pretty neutral, hoping to use Evolution one day permanently, so I read this article with interest. However, I agree that the comment was intended as a pointless jab at Microsoft. The author did not say "due to instability of matching open source software with proprietary software, expect a little flakiness", which you interpret it as. In fact, he said, as you quote d to expect flakiness with ANY software trying to communicate with ANYTHING created by Microsoft. By extension, he was saying no one can write software and expect it to perform well if it has to talk to any form of software from Microsoft. Clearly a blanket statement which smacks highly of bias, and is not helpful to the content of the article.

bbbaldie_z
bbbaldie_z

Expect more and more defensive barbs from Microsoft's shrinking core of apologists. My two cent's worth, Tony: the reason for the flakiness is Microsoft's refusal to use open standards. And if you've never had any problems with Outlook and Exchange, may I respectfully suggest that you are either delusional or a bit free with the facts. I do a day of help desk per week, and advising users to reboot after Outlook gets whacked out is a daily chore.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Boo.. I would have thought it would behave better but then it is a heavier application than the GNOME stuff I keep running under my KDE. What distribution and version where you testing under? It'd be worth making note of that for personal knowledge. Guess I'll be sticking with Thunderbird and korganizer for now. Thunderbird does my email regardless of what OS layer is between it and hardware while korganizer talks too my eGroupware as simply as Evolution or other PIM will.

doug
doug

Well, the only Gnome app I really tested under KDE was Evolution, and every once in a while it would just disappear. Now this was in a rather buggy 10.1 install, still it makes me kind of leary of it. I tried Gnome for a while, I really, really preferred KDE. This has turned out to be less of a problem than I figured. I have to run terminal server all the time anyway to support the users, so I just run Outlock there. My notebook is running postfix, so I can still send e-mails from there.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It's a little like saying that there are programs developed for Windows that favour winXP or winServer. That's not a direct comparison but "Linux" is not a single OS, it's a huge marketplace of various commodity parts. Evolution should run just fine under KDE since it will simply include the required libraries (.dll files). It should simply load the GNOME libraries when Evolution is stared under KDE where under GNOME, everything else is using those libraries so they are loaded already. I don't think regular users would notice much of a real difference with the GTK libraries loading under KDE when Evolution is loaded and requests them but I haven't tested specifically. Previous to KDE I used Enlightenment primarily and there had no issues with the "support KDE" checkbox in it's config settings. These days, I always have GNOME System Monitor running under KDE to get my cpu/mem usage, free drive space and a nice list of running processes. I've not noticed any effective slow down by mixing the GNOME based monitoring program with the KDE window manager. (I have the same habit under Windows; task manager is always loaded up on my screen so I can see my workstation's vitals as needed) Have you had specific GNOME favouring or KDE favouring apps that gave you grief when run under the other window manager? It may be worth knowing about too steer clear of or enjoy with a weekend of fiddling about.

doug
doug

I installed Evolution on SuSE 10.2, but it kept crashing under KDE. Even tho it would be useful to connect to exchange on my notebook at work, I hate to screw it up, as I just got SuSE 10.3 running perfectly on it. I can still get to Outlook thru terminal server.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If what I hear from another that recently tested it, Evolution requires too much of the GNOME support libraries to simply run clean under KDE and I'm not willing to install all of GNOME then not use it just so I can have the libraries handy. It still would have been handy with a native Maemo too Evolution sync applet available but I'll be back to watching OpenSync develop.

loss4words
loss4words

Does that include Microsoft software interacting with Microsoft software?

loss4words
loss4words

Hey, if everyone used open standards and conformed to them, it wouldn't matter right? But they have no reason to open their protocols and properly document them. The lack of properly described interaction means that competing tools do end up "flaky" and that's in their best interests to maintain. I'm not suggesting Outlook is perfect, far from it. I'd say mine crashes maybe every 2 - 3 days.

loss4words
loss4words

I used Evolution as my primary mail client for interacting with Exchange (and later, Scalix), years ago and I hope it's gotten better since then because it was RUBBISH! It was okay in some ways and had some cool features that Outlook didn't but in the end I just cracked it, formatted my drive, blew RH9 away and installed Windows. Outlook may not have been 'better' in terms of features but it certainly worked a lot better. I don't know about you, but there's no room in my business methods for 'flakiness' in my primary method of communication with my customers. It's as simple as that.

onthego
onthego

I'm amazed that the opensource community has not come up with something better, despite M$ inability to follow established standards or be a leader to get their notions established as qualified standards. Having to live in a M$ controlled enterprise, where close-minded pinheads can only speak one answer, one platform, you get what you get. There are better integrated mail server solutions available. The client software cannot be any better than the limitations presented by the server-side software. I haven't used Evolution for several years now. How robust is it to search through the address book/GAL? I ditched it when just getting it configured to marginally work with AD wasn't worth the other hassles.