Novell produce another crucial open source app

Not content with vying with Canonical for hiring some of the best and coolest open source hackers out there, Novell has offered yet another gift to the open source community by anouncing the Hula Project.

Hula is a web based calendaring and email server somewhat akin to Microsoft Exchange Server, a system that has been lacking in the open source world for years. Although many projects have claimed to offer similar features to Exchange, none have yet to offer a clean implementation or crucially, the shared calendar functionality. They have their eyes on some really cool features like viewing via rss feed and interacting with it via your mobile phone. It is worth noting that Hula is still in the planning stage and has as yet made no releases.

A lot of people were worried when Novell bought Ximian and SuSE, including myself, thinking that they would just get swallowed up in corporate bullshit and slowly die a quiet death. It appears not to be the case.

I’ll try to refain from saying stuff here that I have been intending to use in an article entitled “Why Linux is Good News for Everybody” (feel free to hire me to write this for your publication, email to drinky76 at yahoo dot com ;)), but a large part of this revolves around why Linux is so important to people like Novell, IBM, Sun, HP, Intel and Oracle. They all have products in a shrinking market with one main competitor.

Novell realised they were dying and pretty soon they wouldn’t exist. Novell network and directory services ran on Novell Netware and Windows, but nobody used them on Windows any more and people weren’t buying Novell Netware. People were buying Windows and a few people were buying Unix, but Unix vendors were painting themselves into a corner. But a hell of a lot of people were looking at Linux as the new cool Unix, a possible investment and oen to watch as a future competitor to Windows if not the future of the operating system market. What to do?

Make Novell stuff run on Linux. How to do that? Hire the right people, buy a Linux distributor with the right profile and buy another Linux company that look like they are pushing Linux in the right way. Red Hat are too big to be bought, you can’t buy Debian, what about SuSE? SuSE are about the right size, have a sizeable market and have the right kind of corporate profile. What about hiring the right people? Well, Ximian are doing some really cool things and have some of the best most focused hackers out there – Miguel de Icaza, Nat Friedman and so on.

And they did. But they also realised something important that a lot of the big guns miss. You can’t win with Linux by just doing your own Linux and go at it will all corporate marketing and PR guns blazing. The community won’t give a fuck about you and you won’t get anywhere without them. You have to do it right and you have to get the community on side. How to do that? Well, if you have read anything about the open source community, it is characterised in part by the concept that if we all give something to a project (code, patches, money etc), we all get something greater and more valuable back as a whole system. Novell spotted this and decided that the only way to win with Linux was to give the community what it wanted. Open source several high profile and highly desired applications (Ximian Connector, YaST), pay people to work on what love (Mono, beagle and so on) and pay people to work on what was sorely needed (an Exhange replacement among other things). All these things add up to more and more pieces of the jig-saw dropping into place for an open source equivalent to every app in every bedroom/office/server room.

To win in the corprate field, they also realised that they needed to offer Linux services that very few have might to provide. Software support and training support. These are big things in the professional world. The thing that scares people most about deploying Linux is that they need somebody to call when things go wrong and someone to take responsibility for it. For Linux to take off, there also needs to be a groundswell of Linux expertise. Linux has always been a bedroom hacker’s system, but how can you prove that a bedroom hacker is skillful enough to run your IT infrastructure? Training and qualifications. Novell offer all of this. Wow.

There are big things happening in the open source world at the moment and the future is exciting, damn, I can’t wait to see what we have in the next 12 months. Gnome looks like the future of the desktop to me and I’ve only been using it for 3 weeks. Stuff like Beagle, Xgl and iFolder look like great apps and show clear, ahead of the game, thinking outside of the box. Windows users won’t see this kind of stuff for maybe 2 years. I wonder how many more of them will be using Linux by then. Novell and Canonical (via Ubuntu) are really pushing Linux where it needs to be heading and Novell are paying for a lot of the core pieces of software to be developed.

Bravo Novell, although I still think Ubuntu is the one true way forward, I might try the Novell Linux Desktop at some point.