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02.01.08

Would Microsoft ‘Pull a Hula’ on Zimbra?

Posted in Deals, Mail, Microsoft, Novell, Virtualisation, Xen at 10:44 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Several days ago, the following article appeared in Bruce Perens’ Technocrat Web site. It announced the incarnation of Novell’s Hula, called Bongo.

In 2005, we thought that we had a solution when Novell released Hula, an open source version of Netmail. Unfortunatly, things didn’t went too far but it ultimately led to a fork called Bongo.

“What happened to Hula,” you ask? As we said at the time, it was competing against Microsoft’s Exchange, so it’s likely that it was dropped by Novell for Microsoft’s convenience (competitive reasons) [1, 2].

Now, with a bid for Yahoo looming, people have begun asking themselves many questions. There are endless hypothetical scenarios to consider, of which here is one:

Yahoo acquired the open source software vendor for $350m in September last year to expand its hosted mail and collaboration capabilities. It probably goes without saying that Microsoft isn’t going to want to maintain an open source alternative to Exchange, so would Microsoft set it free or take the opportunity to crush it like a bug?

The same type of concern we have had about Xen, which we repeatedly argue got snatched by proxy [1, 2, 3, 4]. Microsoft-Citrix acquisition rumours and speculations are nothing so new. Commission? Regulators? Where art thou? Some of the most recent strategic acquisitions seem to amount to nothing but harming one's rivals rather than about personal gain.

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7 Comments

  1. Alex H. said,

    February 1, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Gravatar

    It’s nice that you mentioned Bongo, thank you very much for that. I’m not particularly going to defend Novell, but I feel I should correct you: we don’t compete with Exchange, and neither did Hula. And Novell didn’t kill off Hula – indeed, it’s more alive now in some senses than ever.

    If you’d like to drop by Bongo’s IRC sometime I can tell you a bit more about what happened with Hula, but I can tell you it wasn’t sold because it competed with Exchange: if Novell wanted to give Exchange an easy ride, they would have dropped Groupwise instead, which is competitive. Netmail (which is where Hula came from) was aimed at a very different market (mainly ISPs and other scenarios with large numbers of users but low functional needs).

    Cheers.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    February 1, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    Gravatar

    Thanks, Alex. I’ve meanwhile found out about some possible complications for Zimbra (mentioned in the previous post about Zimbra). From Groklaw:

    http://www.zimbra.com/forums/zimbra-success-stories/14964-ms-offering-buy-yahoo.html

    [PJ: You'll find it interesting how the Zimbra forum is anguishing over a proprosed Microsoft hostile takeover of Yahoo! since it's obvious it won't wish to help Zimbra, a competitor to a Microsoft product, Exchange. Note how one forum member writes that the only way to protect it is if it is GPLd. I agree, actually, that it is the best license for protection against proprietary ruination. Sadly, they didn't think ahead and chose a Mozilla-like license, specifically to appeal to proprietary business partners. They could have chosen LGPL and achieved their goal, I think, as JBOSS did. GPL code is also available on some of the code, but there have been issues trying to get source. Now we see what mixed licensing results in. Trying to be FOSS and proprietary is tricky. Thousands of community members have written code for Zimbra for free. Happily, those who were sensible enough to protect the code with the GPL will be able to take it and fork. Those who chose other licenses will find that Microsoft is also a proprietary business, one that knows how to squeeze a license for all the rights it wishes to hold, and the full impact of that may fall on Zimbra. Live and learn.]

  3. Alex H. said,

    February 2, 2008 at 4:30 am

    Gravatar

    Cheers Roy.

    I’m actually giving a talk on this subject at Manchester Free Software UK group in March – see http://manchester.fsuk.org/blog/2008-meetings/#alex .

    I’ll be talking about the direct experience of forking a project like this, and to be honest the license is only a small part of it – being able to fork is key, but it’s only the first step on a journey of miles.

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    February 2, 2008 at 7:17 am

    Gravatar

    I did not realise that you are from Manchester as well.

    Speaking of forks, Mike Little, who lives nearby in Stockport, co-founded WordPress with Matt Mullenweg. That was just several years back. I met Mike back in 2005 just after he had stopped committing changes and contributing patches (Ryan took over as Patchmaster).

    As you probably know, WordPress was a fork of b2, which was pretty much abandoned (I’ll post a link about this later). WordPress (or Automattic rather) received $29 million in funding at the beginning of this year, so you never know where you might end up as a 19-year-old college student from Houston or even an adult. Horde, which is another excellent project, is deployed here at Manchester University as well.

    I’m still lobbying for WordPress to adopt GPLv3. This will probably happen at the end. It’s seems like a question of /when/ because the development mailing list still has some GPL antagonists who use Tivoization as an excuse for resistance.

  5. ig said,

    February 5, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Gravatar

    It’s pretty clear that Microsoft would shut down Zimbra, just like they shut down Hula. This is the danger of using software that just barely qualifies as open source. The full version is proprietary and the free version is both crippled and badgeware.

    Over at the Citadel project [http://www.citadel.org] we are experiencing a big surge of interest this week as Zimbra devotees seem to be exploring their alternatives. As a true end-to-end GPLv3 open source project, we don’t have the danger of being bought out and shut down by Microsoft (or anyone else for that matter).

  6. Victor Soliz said,

    February 5, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Gravatar

    Point taken, ig. It seems as if these open source products with proprietary versions are the most likely to get bought by a big corp and be put on risk, QT, mySQL and now zimbra come to mind.

  7. Roy Schestowitz said,

    February 5, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Gravatar

    MySQL will be okay because Sun Microsystems has a strategy that it more FOSS-oriented.

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