With the acquisition of SuSE and Ximian, Novell has made a serious investment in the idea that a software company can make money without exclusively owning the code it sells. Novell now leads a number of important open-source projects, but its approach to licensing the proprietary software it controls will be the true test of the companys commitment to its new path.
Heres a recommendation for getting things off to a good start: Novell should set the Ximian Connector free. Ximian Connector for Microsoft Exchange is a piece of software that enables Evolution, Ximians popular Linux and Unix groupware application, to function as a client for Microsoft Exchange 2000 and 2003. Alone among Ximians product offerings, the Connector is distributed under a proprietary license. The software costs $69 per machine, it may not be modified and its source code is not publicly available.
Its not that the Connector isnt worth $69 a pop. Evolution, teamed with the Ximian Connector, is without question the simplest and best way for Linux users to access Exchange data. Its what I use with my own Exchange account. However, the Connector would be worth much more to Evolution users and to Novell as free software.
The Connector is a good piece of software, but there has always been plenty of room for improvement. We recently reviewed the latest development release of Evolution, Version 1.5, in which offline support for IMAP mail has been improved. Meanwhile, Ive been waiting to see support for offline mail with the Exchange Connector ever since the product first shipped. This is an absolute requirement for mobile users who depend on Exchange access on the road to even consider running Linux and Evolution.
The SuSE deal means that Novell is now in the business of selling desktop Linux to enterprise users. If Novells Linux desktop could link users to their Exchange accounts without additional cost, Novells desktop offering would be significantly more valuable.
Its true that by open sourcing the Connector, Novell would be helping rivals such as Apple, Red Hat and Sun. Each would be able to build convenient Exchange server access into their products. However, Novell would receive development help from these companies in return.
The mail applications from Apple and KDE are already able to access Exchange calendar data through the same Outlook Web Access-based route through which the Connector supports Exchange. With the Connector open sourced, Novell could expect to see development aid from both of these groups and others.