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.
Why should Novell help
Its fair to ask why Novell should help Microsoft by making it easier for customers running Linux to choose Exchange over Novells competing GroupWise product. Exchange is much more popular than GroupWise. This isnt going to change overnight, if ever, but plenty of opportunity remains here for Novell.
With Linux, Novell has a shot at winning some share of the client market, and theres considerable benefit to controlling the client—just ask Microsoft. By making Evolution a better overall client application, regardless of the back end, Novell would be getting its foot in the door, opening itself to the chance to sell Evolution users on migrations from Exchange to GroupWise or another Novell product without requiring any changes on the client side.
Recently, the GNOME project launched an open-source desktop “bounty hunt,” with cash rewards up to $2,500 for the developer who comes up with code to solve collaboration and desktop integration problems for particular open-source applications (www.gnome.org/bounties). Evolution, which is free software, is the target of most of these bounty offers. None of the bounties relates to the closed-source Connector, nor could they.
The biggest benefit of open source for vendors and users is community participation. Novells next moves will demonstrate whether the companys leaders recognize the true value of the position into which theyve put themselves.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at email@example.com.
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