October 1, 2001

kmMail celebrates anniversary of being Open-Sourced with new release

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

kmMail, a Web-based PHP mail package with roots in a proprietary company, celebrates its six-month anniversary as an Open Source program with its 1.0 release today.

Primary developer Ryan Finnie says kmMail is already used by dozens of ISPs and companies, including iBiblio, and he says users of the 1.0pre versions of kmMail will see major user interface improvements in the 1.0 release. A list of improvements is available on the announcement page at kmMail's SourceForge site, and the 1.0 release is available at kmMail's SourceForge download site.

Finnie, who shepherded kmMail to a GPLed program from its proprietary roots as Keftamail believes he's got a Web mail program that's worth more attention than the few hundred people who've downloaded it at SourceForge.

"It hasn't been as popular as I imagined, but the people who do use it are very fond of it," he says. "A lot of them use it when they're not at home or at work and have to access their email."

Finnie touts kmMail as a stripped-down, small-sized Web-based email program, similar to services as as Yahoo! or Hotmail Web-based email. Right now, it's even more stripped-down that some other Open Source Web email services such as SquirrelMail because it doesn't include an address book or mail filters, Finnie says.

"kmMail is also designed to have as few requirements as possible; it requires no database functionality or any extra PHP requirements besides IMAP," he says. "It is especially suited for webmail functionality for ISPs or large organizations."

One of kmMail's strength, besides its small size, is its handling of MIME, forwarded messages and embedded HTML. "It really displays it in the way the sender intended on displaying it," Finnie says. "kmMail really tries to make messages be displayed as as accurately and as professionally as possible."

kmMail's road to an Open Source program started as an experiment at Kefta, a marketing software company. Kefta's developers created Keftamail to demonstrate how referral-based advertising works. The idea was that users got free email that included advertising at the bottom, but unlike Hotmail or Yahoo!, the sender could choose what advertising appeared in the email. If the receiver clicked on the ad and reacted to it, the sender would receive points to redeem for gifts.

kmMail doesn't include those ads, but as developers at Kefta polished KeftaMail, they thought they were onto something. "We realized we really liked the way the core mail functionality was handled," Finnie says. "The largest mail-related feature was a very smart message parser and displayer, capable of handling even the most complex MIME messages, attachments, HTML-embedded email, etc."

Adds Fazal Majid, Kefta's CTO: "We did have a service, Keftamail, that we developed as a demonstrator of our technology (our potential customers were people like Hotmail, Yahoo and the like), that was of general interest. We had no intention of competing
with our customers and developing it into a very feature-ful product, but wanted
to use it to gain a better understanding of webmail users, and to do this,
our webmail had to have a reasonable level of functionality. As we were
working with HTML email, we also had to build in a fairly decent level
of MIME and MHTML compatibility with Outlook and the like, certainly
better than most webmail solutions that we had seen out there."

After Keftamail was launched, Finnie went to Majid and asked if he could release the core email code as an Open Source project, independent of KeftaMail's marketing focus. Since April 1, kmMail has been Finnie's own personal Open Source contribution, with continuing encouragement from Kefta and contributions from a couple dozen developers around the world.

Majid says the decision to Open-Source the program was an easy one, especially since Kefta uses a variety of Open Source products, including Apache, PHP, MySQL, Python and AOLserver.

"We use many Open-Source products, because frankly the quality of
most commercial closed-source Internet server products is often
lacking, and what's worse, technical support is often sub-par and hence there is a
real risk of having a mission-critical system failing without an adequate
response," Majid says.

Although Kefta's not a company focused on releasing Open Source products, the Open-Sourcing of the KeftaMail code made sense to Majid as the company changed its business model to focus on Fortune 500 customers instead of portals.

"It was Ryan's idea to take the core webmail engine behind Keftamail and package it as a standalone product," Majid says. "In this case, as this is not a core asset or something that gives us competitive advantage (i.e., we are not giving away the farm), there
was no problem in giving permission. For more critical functionality, my
response might have been different since I have an obligation to protect our
shareholders' interests.

"In our opinion, it is simply an opportunity to give back to the
community when the cost to us is very low (i.e., we are not losing any revenue
from giving the source away). I wouldn't consider this particularly
visionary or generous. There are a lot of companies that have developed in-house
software to address a need that could benefit others without conceding
competitive advantage, and that are also making the relatively painless decision to
release it, and this trend will probably increase with time."

Finnie hopes that the kmMail project will continue to grow, and he's looking for a couple of committed developers to add to his one-person development team. On the features side, he plans to create add-on modules such as an address book, so users can have the option of adding those tools or keeping the stripped-down original package.

"kmMail has come a long way since version 1.0pre1," he says. "I believe I have a
great program here ... I'm looking for more development, more features, and just to get the word out."

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