The open source community has been a great new source of innovative and high quality products and these are now starting to achieve success above the operating system level. According to the Mozilla Foundation, thei Firefox browser has been downloaded 25 million times since its release a few months ago.
Firefox works fast and well, but some of its success must be due to the weakened position of its main opposition, Internet Explorer. Microsoft's browser is badly overdue for an upgrade - an upgrade that was derailed by Microsoft's commitments to improving the security of its software and developing Longhorn.
Open source products seem to have the best success when they tackle applications that are well defined and universally used. A prime candidate under this definition is email. In April, Netline AG will launch a commercial version of its open source email product called Open-Xchange. Netline claims that Open-Xchange has 90-95 per cent of the functionality of Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint - providing most of its groupware functions including calendar, contacts, to dos, shared projects and documents, shared knowledge, forums, bookmarks, and web mail.
Netline's Open-Xchange Server is the engine behind Novell's SUSE LINUX Openexchange Server and this commercial version is currently sold through Netline's OEM partner Novell / SUSE LINUX AG.
Just as in the case of Firefox, there is an opportunity for Netline as both IBM and Microsoft are asking their customers to make big changes to their email platforms. As IBM and Microsoft contend with the task of transferring their customers onto new architectures, perhaps they've taken their eyes off the ball in keeping pace with collaboration innovations. Open-Xchange, for example, promises to integrate new functionality such as VOIP, IM, mobility support via SyncML, Blogs, Wikis and so on into their email application.
As an open source product, Open-Xchange embraces key standards. An enhanced WebDAV/XML interface allows third party products to connect to the Open-Xchange functions of contact management, calendar, to dos, and documents. Open-Xchange is modular and flexible so customers can configure only the functions they need, and Netline plans to evolve Open-Xchange into an object-to-object integrated collaboration environment.
At present, Open-Xchange is agnostic about the mail client it will work with. Netline will deliver its own email client in 2006 based on Java and Eclipse. Of course if you want to vote the whole open source ticket now, there are email alternatives to Outlook and Notes such as Mozilla's Thunderbird.
Open-Xchange is priced to cost 50 per cent less than Microsoft Exchange and is targeted at two main markets: small to medium businesses (SMBs) with 5-250 employees, which want to save costs yet still work with MS Outlook; and larger organizations of up to 5000 employees who have decided to move to Linux.
Most mature markets settle down to three contenders and with the email market evenly divided between IBM and Microsoft, there's a good case for additional competition. In this market the third contender is likely to be open source and could well be Open-Xchange.
The challenge Netline face is that email servers are a lot harder to dislodge than web browsers. The mail service is one of the most important services provided by the IT department and they tamper with it at their peril. But, if an organisation is going to make a change, now is a good time to have a serious look at a credible open source alternative to IBM Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange.