- By Joe Barr -
Ximian Inc. today officially releases its long awaited 1.0 version of
Evolution, a sophisticated mail client/address book/calendaring
package. Evolution has been in production for more than two years and consists of more
than 750,000 lines of code. In a second announcement, Ximian announced
an Evolution plug-in called Ximian Connector Exchange 2000. Ximian
Connector allows Evolution users to seamlessly interact with Microsoft Exchange 2000
Code-named "Lucy" after the so called "missing link" between man and ape discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, Ximian Connector will be available early next year. It will be followed by a second version compatible with Exchange 5.5.
While Evolution is much larger piece of work than Ximian Connector in
terms of lines of code and time and effort to develop, it may be that
Connector is the more important of the two to Ximian's future. Unlike
Evolution, which is free software licensed under the terms of the GPL,
Connector is a proprietary add-on. This mix of proprietary and open
source represents a new business model for Ximian. And it's sure to cause
some controversy in the Linux/Open Source communities.
I had a chance to spend a few minutes on the phone with Nat Friedman,
Ximian co-founder and vice president of product development, last Friday to
discuss the announcements. Friedman had the kind of elation in his voice
that comes at the end of a very long, very large development process.
He told me that Evolution 1.0 has been through about 20 preview
releases. About 10,000 people a day are downloading the nightly snapshot, and Friedman estimates that there are already about 100,000 people using
Friedman recounted Ximian's goals when the team first began work on
Evolution. They saw that none of the existing Linux mail clients could really
step up to provide the full functionality and interoperability required
for acceptance on a corporate desktop. They wanted to deliver a
product which would increase the Linux presence on that desktop. In his
words, "We saw a major opportunity for Linux to penetrate the corporate
environment if the appropriate corporate tools were available."
Evolution 1.0 will be available for download today for free,
from the Ximian site. It will also be part of the two boxed versions of
Ximian Desktop, which sells for $29.95 in the Standard Edition and
$49.95 in the Professional Edition. It debuts with support for Red Hat
versions 6.2 to 7.2, Mandrake versions 7.0 to 8.0, SuSE 6.4 to 7.2, Debian
2.2, and TurboLinux 6.0. Also supported are YellowDog 1.2 and 2.0, LinuxPPC
2000, and Solaris 8. More versions will be supported in the near
future, with Mandrake 8.1 coming as early as two weeks.
As you go over the feature list for Evolution, it becomes clear that it
is intended to become the Outlook/Outlook Express for Linux and Unix.
Except in regard to security, of course. Although I've asked Friedman
the question before, with the BADTRANS worm circulating the wild world
of Windows recently, I asked again if Evolution would be as vulnerable
to such things as Outlook and Outlook Express are. The answer was no. He
explained that "we do not provide the facility for executing code that
you receive in the mail." Friedman added that Ximian "treats all the
data that comes off the network as hostile, and we audit the code which
is network facing."
Turning to the subject of Ximian Connector, I asked if Ximian expected
flamage from the community for selling a proprietary software package.
He replied, "We expect less than we would have expected awhile ago. I
think that people understand that businesses have to survive. And the
people know that the bloody carcasses of Open Source companies line the
horizon right now."
Selling proprietary software is a major step for Ximian, and Friedman
explained it is not a decision lightly made. Then he gave four reasons
why they decided on this course:
- It doesn't hurt the Open Source community.
- Evolution, the core product, is completely open and GPLed.
- Ximian has contributed more than 2 million lines of Open Source code.
- The only customers who will buy Ximian Connector have already
decided on a proprietary environment.
But the bottom line came when I asked if it had to be proprietary
because of the inclusion of proprietary Microsoft protocols or API. He said
no. Instead, Friedman said, "It is proprietary is because they (Ximian)
intend to make money from it." He added that "it is an opportunity for
us to make money. This is business activity which will support us." He
projects that sales of Ximian Connector will completely underwrite the
Open Source development of Evolution.
Although Friedman says Ximian does expect some criticism and debate over
the plan, he is completely comfortable with the model. He told me that
"I really like the model of having this core enormous piece of software
which is totally free, and then filling out little pieces on the side
for corporations." And he has a question ready for all those who react
ideologically against it: Would they rather Evolution not exist at all?
Ximian Connector will sell for $69 a seat. Its value proposition is
that it can replace an entire Windows machine. In many large
corporations, there might be 50,000 Windows users and 5,000 Linux/Unix users.
But corporate standards might dictate the use of Microsoft Exchange for
mail and calendaring. Where that's the case, a second PC has to be put
on the desk of the Linux/Unix users simply to comply. Ximian
Connector, Friedman says, "solves the two desktop problem" because now all the
needs can be met on a single Linux or Unix box.