Netline Refreshes Linux Groupware

The German company prepares to release its third version of Open-Xchange Server, which it open-sourced under the GPL in August. A supported product will be available at a price.

Netline Internet Service GmbH, of Olpe, Germany, will release the third version of its Open-Xchange Server later this week, which includes code, fixes, expertise and opinions contributed by the open-source community.

Open-Xchange Server—the engine behind Novells SuSE Linux Openexchange Server—is a modular, standards-based communications tool that provides businesses with groupware functions including e-mail, calendar, contacts, tasks and real-time document storage.

Netline announced in early August that it planned to open-source the Open-Xchange Server engine, the core technology behind its Linux-based groupware, collaboration and messaging application, under the GNU General Public License.

CEO Frank Hoberg said in an interview from Germany at that time that Netlines customers have been calling for an alternative to Microsoft Corp.s Exchange since 2000, when development on Open-Xchange began.

"It was then launched in 2002 with SuSE Linux. Making the source code available under the GPL was clearly the most logical next step in its evolution," Hoberg said. "We own all the intellectual property for the server and have until now had a traditional, per-seat licensing and revenue model."

But some in the open-source community were indifferent to the move. Matthew Rice, a partner at Starnix Inc., of Thornhill, Ontario, said the open-sourcing of Open-Xchange Server "makes little difference."

"I will probably have to look at it someday, but it looks like they want to copy the Skyrix [Software AG] play [Skyrix open-sourced its Groupware Server and formed the project], which seems to have worked out very well for them. I guess that theyre hoping that lightning will strike twice in Germany," Rice said.

Netline released the Open-Xchange code at the end of August, and Hoberg said the Web site has received more than three million visits since then, with 22,000 downloads of the code.

The open-source version of Open-Xchange is available for free download here and features most of the attributes of the commercial product. It runs on the most widely used Linux operating systems—Novells SuSE Linux, Red Hat, Red Flag and Debian—but does not include support and maintenance, third-party applications or any connectors.

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Netline intends to drive revenue by offering customers a maintained and supported product with an upgrade path and the critical, certified patches they need for their infrastructure.

"This is very attractive to customers as it brings support and stability, and we will be able to help them with the commercial add-ons when they want to use Outlook or a Palm connector or import-export tools," Hoberg said.

"We think the only way to be successful nowadays against products like Exchange and Lotus Notes is to have a pure open-source strategy," he said. "Linux and open source is the only vehicle to use to get critical mass as fast as possible, which is our primary goal. We think an open-source strategy will be more attractive to partners, customers and the community," he said.

Now that the company has open-sourced the Open-Xchange engine, it is turning its attention to developing connectors to Outlook, Palm and other platforms. Netline will begin testing Palm and Outlook connectors for the GPL Open-Xchange Server in November, but while these connectors will be free for private use and testing, they will not be available for resale except through Netline.

Hoberg says that for those customers who need seamless integration with a Windows client, commercially available connectors will be released later in 2004.

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