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Open-Xchange Moves to Open Source License

Aug 02, 2004, 13:00 (13 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

It may be one of the most significant GPL moves made in the software industry this year, but you may not have heard of the product, or the company, that has been shifted to a GPL license today.

The company is Netline Internet Service, a small German development shop. The product is Open-Xchange Server. If that name sounds a bit familiar, or if it looks like a typo, you are on the right track. Open-Xchange Server is the core groupware engine for the SUSE Openexchange Server product, and now it will be fully open sourced, Netline announced today.

The move to shift to the GPL license came after Netline met with Novell, the new owners of their long-time partner, SUSE Linux. Novell, which since its purchase of SUSE has been a vocal advocate of open sourcing more and more of its product line, sees the GPLing of the Openexchange Server as a big move forward towards that goal.

If one gets the impression that Novell, which owns its own groupware product, Groupwise, pushed Netline to open sourcing their Open-Xchange product as a form of protectionism, that impression is quickly dispelled after speaking with Netline's CEO, Frank Hoberg.

Netline, which has been around since 1996, has been seeking a way to open source its groupware engine since as long as 2000, but was never able to serious consider it until 2002 and implement such a strategy.until now.

"If you're focused on Linux, you're always thinking about open source strategy," Hoberg said.

Netline began as a Web site and Web software development company, but was quickly met with customer demand for a groupware platform that would match the capabilities but not the overhead of Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange. A partnership with Compaq led to the release of an applicance-based groupware product in 2000, and it was through Compaq that Netline was introduced to SuSE Linux AG.

At the time, SuSE E-mail Server 3.1 was that company's messaging and collaboration product, but, according to Hoberg, "it had a lot of problems with its groupware stack."

Netline was able to punch through those problems, and in November 2002 the first release of Openexchange Server was made. The success of the partnership was hard to dispute. According to customer data from the SUSE partnership program, 50 percent of incoming SUSE partners joined because of the capabilities of Openexhange.

Today, Hoberg explained, the market is still clamoring for Openexchange, enough that Novell is adopting a two-pronged approach for its groupware products. The open source Openexchange will focus on small- to mid-sized businesses, while Groupwise will be aimed at larger enterprise deployments.

Hoberg feels that the time is very right for open sourcing his company's Open-Xchange product. With only 50 developers, much of his team's time was spent in testing and certification instead of raw coding. By making the code available to the open source comnmunity, Hoberg fully expects to take advantage of the community's ability to test code and provide feedback.

This should, Hoberg believes, allow his team to devote more resources to core development and speed up the development process for Open-Xchange.

Since Open-Xchange is based on Netline's Java Application Server it, too, will be made open source. Netline's product is comparable to the JBoss application server, but it is entirely focused on groupware functionality, Hoberg explained, and thus has a higher performance level than JBoss in the groupware arena.

Hoberg emphasized that with the opening of Open-Xchange's code, his company's products will now join an elite group of open source middleware applications, including JBoss and the open-source database MySQL. "These are the main components of any middleware stack," he said, "and now they're open source."

The open source version of Open-Xchange will be available for free download at www.Open-Xchange.org and www.openexchange.com by the end of August. It will feature most of the features of the commercial Openexchange product, though without support and maintenance, third-party applications, or connectors.

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