November 4, 2014

KDE Developer Aaron Seigo Joins Kolab Systems

Munich skyline

Aaron Seigo is a seasoned open source developer who leads the Plasma team at KDE. He also tried to bring a Linux-based tablet to the market through his Vivaldi project. He recently joined Kolab Systems, and we talked to him as well as Kolab CEO Georg Greve to understand what Kolab does and how Aaron, a KDE developer, will help the company. (See the full Q&A with Aaron Seigo.)

Easy email

Today, the IT infrastructure of most organizations is dominated by open source products. It's no longer rocket science to get started with a Linux server or a desktop client. Need a website for your company? Open Source CMS solutions like Drupal, Joomla or WordPress have your back covered. Need a database? MariaDB, Postges SQL, MongoDB, etc are at your service. Do you want to run a private cloud? OwnCloud is only a click away. LibreOffice handles all documents. Firefox and Chromium are the windows to the world wide web. All of these solutions are extremely easy to deploy and maintain.

There was only one missing link - easy to deploy email or a Groupware solution. Getting started with your own email server is so challenging that companies like Linode warn users to reconsider setting up their own email server.Contrary to popular assumptions, email remains the number one means of communication for enterprises and individuals. 

McKinsey says e-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined (exhibit). That's because 91 percent of all U.S. consumers still use e-mail daily, and the rate at which e-mails prompt purchases is not only estimated to be at least three times that of social media, but the average order value is also 17 percent higher.

That's where Kolab comes into the picture. It solves one of the most critical challenges enterprise customers face by offering a groupware/email solution which is secure, easy to deploy, can be run on premises (instead of someone else's servers), is vendor neutral, and is open source so that one can see the source code and ensure there are no-back doors.

Greve says that Kolab is the missing link in the three critical business applications central to any installation: Office, Browser, and Groupware. If any of these three cannot be addressed there is a fatal flaw. And despite what is being heralded for some time now, the desktop is not disappearing. All signs say there will be a hybrid future, with the desktop playing a major role in professional environments, especially in those that set the tone.

He believes that in a larger picture for Open Source, Kolab has the same strategic value that Firefox had in breaking the Internet Explorer dominance, or OpenOffice for the beginning decline of Microsoft Office and the rise of ODF.

What is Kolab?

Seigo explains, "Kolab is a complete end-to-end groupware system. It includes a server which provides email, contacts, calendaring, file storage, task lists, notes, resource allocation, LDAP authentication and management, and much more. Essentially, everything you expect from enterprise groupware.

"All of these features are shareable, so people in a company (or at home as we do!) can share calendars, notes, etc.," he said. "There is also the web client (Roundcube; the most used web mail software in the world), the desktop client for Windows, MacOS and Linux (Kontact) and synchronization options for every mobile platform in wide use today."

Kolab offers two kinds of products: Kolab groupware suite which one can download and install on their own servers; and MyKolab hosting service. I find it similar to what WordPress offers.

MyKolab runs on Linux & Open Source

MyKolab runs on Linux, obviously. Greve elaborates on their open source usage, "We run MyKolab on top of RHEL, with minor tweaks, such as our own OpenSSL packages in order to enable the strongest possible levels of transport encryption. All the packages we run there are part of our Enterprise 13 repository, so no different from what other customers run."

Kolab doesn't trust proprietary software at all, he said. "There is no proprietary component in the software stack we are running there, both because we do not trust proprietary, and because we do not believe in the proprietary model."

This usage makes them heavy consumers of open source code, but they are good citizens and contribute as much as they can.

"Kolab Systems is the primary sponsor of the Roundcube webmail system," Seigo says. "Despite that, Roundcube works perfectly fine with other mail systems, which I think is a testament to how much Kolab Systems "gets" free software. We also work with projects ranging from cyrus-imap to KDE to the 389 Directory server. We work closely with Linux distributors as well, including Red Hat and Univention. So we are quite integrated with the free software world in both the technical and the business realm. All of the technology we produce is (and always will be) free software and, when sensible, done upstream."

What will Seigo do at Kolab?

Seigo is a strong proponent of open source and his role at Kolab is not going to be much different from what he already does - promote open source. Upon joining Kolab he will immediately be helping to execute the much talked about Munich project, which is bringing free software for groupware on desktop, web and mobile devices to some 40,000 employees in that German municipality.

"In the bigger picture, I will be working with the technical team as well as the business development group to help bring the technology to a bigger world stage and increase adoption," Seigo said. "This is a task that requires a dedicated, skilled team and I'm happy to come on board and extend that team through my efforts."

When asked about the value Seigo brings to Kolab, Greve told me, "As a senior technologist, Aaron has a deep understanding of technology." Aaron also understands the Free Software community and how to work the business aspects in ways that most people do not. "This will help develop Kolab Systems further as a deeply committed Free Software company," he said.

Seigo is also a noted communicator who runs a popular blog and videocast. This skill-set will help Kolab in taking their story to the world. Georg admits that the "Kolab story has not yet been widely understood. So we'll be working together to make sure that changes."

Will a KDE developer influence the Kolab code-base?

Kolab already uses some KDE/Qt components so Seigo's KDE background will be beneficial for both Kolab and Aaron. "Aaron is currently working with our development team on ensuring the Kolab Client will be up to enterprise standards by the end of the year on Windows and Linux.

"As you may know, the Kolab Client is a stabilized version of KDE PIM / Kontact with a focus on running against a Kolab Enterprise 14 server. Seigo's KDE background, and his work on KDE PIM for Plasma Active are invaluable experience that he can bring to bear," said Greve.

Seigo is however not planning on writing much code in the future as he does now. He will also be spending more time next year helping to promote and realize market opportunities for Kolab Enterprise and MyKolab, the hosted Kolab service provided by Kolab Systems. 

What will happen to those KDE projects that Aaron was leading or maintaining? Aaron said he has "transitioned the responsibilities I had in Plasma to other qualified members of the KDE community. This didn't happen overnight; the steady pace of Plasma 5 releases demonstrates that continuity has been maintained. I still am holding on to a few smaller projects, such as KSnapshot."

Work life balance of an open source developer

I always wondered; how does an open source developer work for a company? What is the work-life balance for an open source developer?

"There is no standard answer for that, but many open source developers work in a regular office, Seigo said. "I happen to work at home, though I meet with other Kolab Systems team members throughout the week. (When we do meet, I don't drive, though: I take transit .. welcome to Switzerland!"

One unique aspect of working as a free software developer for a company is that you end up working constantly with people from other companies as well as the community. While in proprietary software shops it is very insular, free software companies are extroverts and you get to work with people around the world in an ever-changing constellation. This is an amazing opportunity to learn new things, meet new people and network across the industry.

Talking about the work-life balance he said, "As for the work-life balance, that' a personal thing. I've never been good at it. Obviously, my family comes first and I have a couple of hobbies which ensure sanity (cooking and playing guitar), but I am answering these questions at nearly 8:00 pm which says a lot. I often write software that is relevant to work topics in my own time. It's a passion. I love doing it, so I do it when I can. This is like any other passion out there that also happens to be a paying job; the greats in their field are always doing it because they love it, on the clock or not. The entire Kolab Systems team is, I'm finding, like this, which certainly contributes to the results."

Click Here!