Business lives and dies by email and calendars. Without those tools, most businesses would suffer inefficiencies and lose work and income.

Microsoft Exchange is the leading business collaboration/groupware tool, though for various reasons (including cost and reliability), a number of smaller businesses are looking for an alternative solution. Some small businesses have turned to Google Apps. If your business prefers to continue with the “in-house” mentality, one open source and Debian-based alternative to consider is Collabsuite.

Collabsuite’s features include:

  • Email, instant messaging, and calendaring
  • Rich AJAX webclient
  • Mail and IM archival
  • Shared rosters and multi-user conference chat
  • Active Directory integration / Single Sign-On (SSO)

Even if you aren’t especially knowledgeable about Linux or open source, you can get Collabsuite up and running rather quickly. Let’s go through the installation process from platform installation to setting up the collaboration server.

Platform installation

Collabsuite isn’t an application you can install on top of an already running server; the best approach is to download the ISO file from SourceForge, burn it to a disk, and boot the disk on the server you want to use for the system. When you boot up the ISO, you will see a Live version or the text-based installation. Go for the text-based installation.

If you’ve never walked through a text-based Linux installation, here’s your initiation. It’s quite simple — each time you’re presented with a screen, you enter the information (Figure A is an example). To get to the Go Back or Continue “buttons,” hit the Tab key and then Enter will “press” the button. You will have to set up items, such as:

  • Admin user password
  • Domain
  • How to partition disk (use the default if in doubt)
  • Package manager setup (use defaults if in doubt)
  • Keyboard layout
  • Language

Figure A

You must fill in the server’s domain name. (Click the image to enlarge.)

The installation is fairly straightforward. Once it’s complete, you will be asked to reboot the machine. As the machine begins the reboot process, you will be asked to eject the disk and hit Enter. After you hit Enter, the machine will complete the reboot process.

Set up the collaboration suite

It’s time to set up the collaboration suite. You can point your browser to the server’s IP address, and you will be presented with a login screen; however, that login (not the system) has been set up. So instead, you can either log in to the Collabsuite server (with the username-password created during installation), or you can open a web browser on a machine that is on the same network as the server. Either way, point the browser to https://ADDRESS_OF_SERVER:10000/setup, and you will be presented with a new setup screen (Figure B).
Figure B

Without going through this configuration, the Collabsuite server cannot be accessed. (Click the image to enlarge.)

You need to walk through all of the tabs in the setup window. Your setup will dictate how you configure your server. After you enter information for each section, hit the Verify button to find out if your configurations work. In the AdminConsole tab, be sure to create the administrator password (the username is “admin”). The following information is what you will need.

Basic information

  • Primary domain – (this is the mail domain)
  • Realm – EXAMPLE.LOCAL (this is the Active Directory domain)
  • Use Windows AD Server – Checked
  • Nodes – primary server information

Realm domains – (or

  • Fully Qualified Domain –
  • Privileged Password – enter password for root

Nodes – Active Directory

  • Fully Qualified Domain – ads.example.local
  • Privileged Password – enter administrator user’s password

Admin Console

  • Administrator Password – Enter password that you would like to be set for “admin” user

After you complete the configurations, the installation will begin. This process can take a while, so if you’re feeling impatient, step away from the server and come back later (no input is required during this portion). When this setup completes, point your browser to http://ADDRESS_OF_SERVER:10000, and you are ready to begin the process of administrating your Collabsuite server (Figure C).
Figure C

Here’s where the magic happens in Collabsuite. (Click the image to enlarge.)

In a future post, we’ll tackle how to configure Collabsuite. Until then, look around your new collaboration server — you’ll find that much of the setup is quite user friendly.

Collabsuite doesn’t offer a feature-for-feature replacement for Exchange, but I feel confident it will serve your small business collaboration server needs well.