The OpenMail Showdown: Is Bruce Perens Just a Pretty Face?

by Don Marti

Jeremy Allison, a lead Samba developer and the strangely cool-headed man in the middle between free software and proprietary protocols, is concerned. "Once Microsoft Exchange is within an organization, Microsoft domain controller services are not far behind," he wrote in an open letter to free software developers and journalists today. "I've seen Microsoft Exchange in action as a wedge to drive Microsoft products too often to lie down and let OpenMail die."

Since HP won't support OpenMail as a proprietary product any more, the responsible thing to do for their customers would be to release it under a free license, to allow someone else to support those customers if HP won't. And this is the only sane course for HP too. Can you imagine an HP sales person trying to sell another software package, right after HP stranded the OpenMail customers? "Honestly, we won't cancel this one right after you invest lots of time in implementation and training. You've got to believe us!" Right, sure. No sale.

And OpenMail could help the so-far slow advance of Linux on the desktop, Jeremy says.

If integrated with the Ximian/Gnome Evolution client, or the KDE Mail program, it could provide a completely cross platform backend calendaring and scheduling solution to both GNU/Linux and other Gnome or KDE desktops, and also to Microsoft Outlook using desktops.

Jeremy has appealed to HP's Open Source czar, former Debian project leader Bruce Perens, to free OpenMail. In e-mail, Bruce responded, "It's being considered. I can say nothing definite. It would take time."

Unfortunately for Jeremy and the rest of us, the no-brainer decision to release OpenMail isn't going to be as easy for HP as you might think. Every large computer company has an in-house Microsoft faction, people who sell out their employer's interests on Microsoft's behalf. Like a corrupt defense contractor hiring retired generals, Microsoft gives these people lucrative jobs when they depart. The Vidkun Quisling of Silicon Valley, of course, was former SGI CEO Richard Belluzzo, who steered the once-innovative UNIX desktop vendor onto a disastrous Wintel course, wiped them out as a high-end graphics and engineering platform, and collected a lucrative vice-president job at Microsoft as his reward.

Today, having obliterated any significant workstation competitors, Microsoft is looking to expand its market share in servers. And there's no reason for them to drop the Belluzzo tactic, as long as it's working. Memo to Carly Fiorina: watch the HP executive who does the most to kill the open-source release of OpenMail. After a decent interval, he or she will jump to Microsoft, or I'll eat his or her cell phone.

Does Bruce have the ear of the big cheeses, or is he just making token Open Source happytalk while saboteurs wreck HP's credibility from within? Watch your favorite free software mirror site--the code will talk.

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