Open-Xchange puts on Red Hat, reveals ambitions

Open-source collaboration software vendor Open-Xchange Inc. has clarified its relationship with Novell Inc. and kicked off a new relationship with Red Hat Inc., the company announced Thursday.

The deals mean the vendor can now bundle and resell either of the leading Linux operating systems with its Open-Xchange Server, according to the company’s chief executive officer (CEO). He also revealed Open-Xchange’s ambition to become one of the top three players in the groupware market within the next few years.

“We now have the two big players in Linux,” Frank Hoberg, Open-Xchange’s CEO, said. “It’s very important customers have choice and we can expand our sales opportunities.”

Open-Xchange begun life as Java and open-source developer Netline Internet Service, based in Olpe, Germany, in 1996. After creating its own Java-based application server in 1999, Netline worked with Compaq on developing the comFire groupware in 2000. German Linux distribution company Suse used comFire as the core technology for its Suse Linux Openexchange Server (SLOX) and Netline became a development house for Suse, later Novell when that company purchased Suse in 2003.

In 2004, Netline released an open-source version of the collaboration software, Open-Xchange 0.8 (OX 0.8), and then last month launched its first stand-alone commercial product, Open-Xchange 5. The company also changed its name to Open-Xchange Inc. and moved its headquarters to Tarrytown, New York.

Under the agreement with Novell, Open-Xchange becomes a Novell Technology Partner and will receive sales, marketing and development support from Novell, and is free to offer support for Linux distributions other than Suse. Open-Xchange will continue to support and upgrade Novell’s Suse Linux Openexchange server while also offering those customers migration tools to Open-Xchange 5.0, Hoberg said. He expects that 80 percent to 90 percent of the Suse Linux Openexchange users will move to Open-Xchange 5.0.

“We needed two things to go into the U.S. market,” Hoberg said. “To have a company in the U.S. and to build a strong relationship with Red Hat.” Under Open-Xchange’s reseller agreement with Red Hat, the company is certified for both Red Hat’s Enterprise and Application Servers. Open-Xchange will offer bundled software for new users and for those looking to migrate from Suse Openexchange Server to the Red Hat version. “Red Hat has no conflict product in their portfolio,” Hoberg pointed out. “Users can decide which Linux they want.”

Open-Xchange will announce support for Debian Linux later this year and is also working on a port to Apple Computer Inc.’s Macintosh operating system, according to Hoberg. By August, Open-Xchange staffers will number more than 30 across its U.S. and German locations, with new management team members coming on board at that time, he said.

The company is in talks with strategic partners to establish more of a presence in both Eastern Europe and Asia and Hoberg expects to make partner announcements with systems integrators within the next two to three months, he said. To date, Open-Xchange has about 120 companies signed up to its Open-Xchange partner program and more than 350 requests from new partners from all over the world to join, Hoberg added. He estimated that Open-Xchange has a “few thousand customers” for its software.

Hoberg likes to position Open-Xchange as a latter-day, more flexible Lotus Notes for the open-source community, acting as “an integration and development platform for any company working on next-generation collaboration,” he said.

“There’s a chance for us to become number three [in the groupware market] in the next two to three years” behind IBM Corp.’s Notes and Domino and Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange, Hoberg said. “The chance for us is there.” “It’s an awful high mountain to climb to be in the same category as a Microsoft or an IBM,” Dana Gardner, principal analyst at InterArbor Solutions, said. However, he thinks Open-Xchange does have the opportunity to become a de facto standard in the open-source groupware arena.

“There’s a need for companies to re-examine their messaging strategies,” Gardner said. He pointed out that both the Notes and Exchange products have reached something of a plateau and aren’t being developed at the same rate as in the past.

Additionally, Microsoft is in the process of substantially revamped Exchange, while IBM appears to be concentrating more of its efforts on its Workplace collaboration software rather than on Notes and Domino. “The time’s right” for new entrants into the groupware arena, Gardner concluded.

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