When Hewlett-Packard ported its OpenMail mail/messaging software to Linux in October 1999, OpenMail evangelist Richi Jennings was hoping for big things.
After all, Linux users practically begged HP to provide a Linux version when Jennings and crew, wondering whether OpenMail in Linux would sell, pitched the idea at Linux World 18 months ago.
"We had people waving credit cards at us, literally," says Jennings, based in Pinewood, U.K. "We went away from that show saying, 'We think our questions were answered.' "
Even after that response, Jennings says he's surprised at how quickly Linux users have embraced OpenMail. The cross-platform business-messaging program, which in some form has been around for a decade, has about 15 million users, but in just 10 months, it has picked up more than 1 million Linux users.
"I wasn't sure what expectations to have," Jennings says. "We're pleased with all the feedback we've had from the Linux community. It's been a wild ride."
OpenMail offers a downloadable Linux version free only for evaluation, but, despite its name, the software is not free in the Free Software or Open Source sense. According to the download Web site, OpenMail for Linux is an evaluation version, so it could stop being no-cost at any time.
The company charges clients for a version that includes 24-by-365 tech support and guaranteed updates.
The software has run on a variety of servers, such as Solaris, Windows NT, and Unix. A primary selling point among large corporate users is that it offers a variety of desktops, including the popular Microsoft Outlook. OpenMail also offers Web-based email, so users can check their email anywhere with an Internet connection, wireless functionality, and privacy features.
With one mail server able handle 20,000 email-happy business users, OpenMail is represented in 60 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies, according to HP. OpenMail's scalability cuts down on the hidden personnel costs in other messaging solutions of babysitting many servers, Jennings says.
"People are the biggest hidden cost," he says. "You need people for the care and feeding of the boxes."
The beauty of OpenMail on Linux, says consultant Chris Harvey, is that the little guys can run it on a $1,000 desktop machine, instead of a $15,000 server.
"I can get a very cheap machine, run Linux on it, and essentially run OpenMail for free," says Harvey, operator of the email consulting firm HPC Consulting of Arlington, Va. "As a consultant, it gives me a platform I can run at my house, and it runs just as well on Linux as on anything else."
Harvey also uses OpenMail because of the cross-OS compatibility it offers his customers, and because he can duck into a Web kiosk and check email while he's on the road.
OpenMail originally decided to explore the Linux market after some R&D lab workers championed Linux to their co-workers, Jennings says. After some internal give-and-take about Linux's potential, a team decided to go ahead and build it.
"Essentially, we did a garage job," Jennings says. "They created this prototype, put it up on a machine, and show some people in the organization."
Harvey, who says he was "big-time" excited when he heard OpenMail would be available for Linux, says it makes perfect business sense for HP, which had been marketing OpenMail to large corporations. "They've opened themselves up to the low-end market," he says.