Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Get your Android Phone and Thunderbird in Ubuntu to work with MS Exchange

I recently got full time employment in an organization that depends on Microsoft Exchange for all of its email and scheduling needs. So, something that I investigated as soon as I could was how I could get my Rogers HTC Dream (a.k.a. the T-Mobile G1) and my Ubuntu Linux Laptop to connect to my new employer's MS Exchange server to receive and send emails, and to do my scheduling.

I was delightfully impressed with how incredibly easy it was to set up my new MS Exchange-based email account on my HTC dream. I just navigated to the Data Synchronization submenu in my phone's settings menu, clicked on "Microsoft Exchange", entered in my new email address and my password, waited while it communicated with the server, and then voila it finished!

Unfortunately it was not that easy on Ubuntu! It took me a week before I found any answers on the internet, but I finally got my MS Exchange email and calendar account set-up in Thunderbird. I first tried to use Ubuntu's pre-installed Evolution Mail to connect to MS Exchange, but alas it didn't work.

The solution came in the form of a Gateway program called DavMail. The principle of this program is that it mediates a (POP3/IMAP/Caldav) connection between your email client and the MS Exchange server in a way that makes both parties happy. Although I haven't tried this with a program other than Thunderbird, it should in theory work alright.

Once you've downloaded and installed DavMail using the link above, make sure that you have Sun Java version 6 installed. To do so, type in sudo apt-get install sun-java6-bin. After you're finished, start up DavMail by navigating through the following Gnome menu items: Applications > Internet > Davmail. A yellow circular icon will appear in the Gnome system tray indicating that DavMail has started up. Right-click on that icon, then click on settings, and then input your organizations Outlook Web Access (OWA) address. It may be something like Take note of the local ports that it's opening up for various services (e.g. POP3/IMAP/Caldav) to see what ports your programs will need to use to access those services.

The next step for me was enabling IMAP access to my MS Exchange email. You can choose POP3 if you like, but IMAP will ensure that you have access to all the email folders that you regularly access at work. The DavMail folks already set up a nice tutorial on how to set-up Thunderbird with IMAP, so go through the steps they've already posted (warning, their screenshots are in French. This shouldn't be a problem though, as their instructions are in English!). Once you've completed those steps, go into your Thunderbird Account Settings for your new account and make sure that the port number it uses for accessing your email through IMAP is the same as the DavMail setting (the default is 1143).

Next item of business is to set up your MS Exchange calendar through Thunderbird's Lightning extension. Again, the DavMail folks have covered the steps to do these so do read what they've posted. Now you should have access to your email and calendar from Thunderbird at home!

The caveat to all of this is that, as a Gateway program, DavMail has to be running for you to communicate with your employer's MS Exchange server. So, be sure to start up DavMail if you want to check your MS Exchange email/calendar. It would be nice if this functionality was native in Thunderbird, but oh well. At least these steps allow you to use Thunderbird at all!


  1. I am running Evolution 3.10.4 with the EWS add-on module also installed under Linux Mint 17.2 installed per stock instructions to interface with my work email Exchange 2010 server. In general, it works quite well, and I am very pleased with it. It synchronizes email, calendar, address books, notes and tasks. The one thing I do not like is that I cannot open email view and calendar view at the same time, as in MS Outlook or Thunderbird.

    I am also running Thunderbird with Davmail for the same Exchange server, and I am also very pleased with its performance. However, using Davmail, the address book does not synchronize as cleanly, and only shows addresses after a search (at least in my install). The notes and tasks are not synchronized, and perhaps can be synchronized with additional add-ons. The calendar is synchronized using the Lightning Calendar App, and also works well.

    It appears that both Evolution in its current form and Thunderbird can be made to work with an Exchange mail server.

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