Scalix founder: Linux, Webmail are killer apps

The founder of Scalix believes that e-mail clients are going the way of the dinosaur.

Widespread dissatisfaction with current e-mail systems, particularly Microsoft Exchange and Outlook is spurring platform and e-mail server changes, according to Julie Hanna Farris, an electronic messaging innovator and founder of Scalix Inc., a messaging system vendor.

In this setting, e-mail on Linux is shaping up to become the killer app in the enterprise application stack, said Farris in this interview about current and future e-mail trends. Also, e-mail client software (think Outlook) may be on the way out, pushed aside by Web-based e-mail systems, or Webmail.

Farris has honed her e-mail trend intelligence gathering and prediction skills over 17 years in messaging. Besides Scalix, she was a founding executive for onebox.com, which was acquired by Openwave, and companies whose enterprise portal software was acquired to became Sun JavaMail. She was a marketing executive at IBM/Lotus and began her career at BellSouth.

E-mail has the potential to be the killer app for Linux.
Julie Hanna Farris,
founderScalix Inc.

How is 2005 shaping up for Linux-based e-mail adoption?

Julie Hanna Farris: So far this year, we've seen an increased focus on Linux e-mail from both customers and partners. Customers are further along with Linux infrastructure deployment and are now determining which applications lend themselves to deployment on Linux. E-mail shows up a lot because many organizations are unhappy with the e-mail systems in place today.

The most quantifiable data we've seen on this is a recent Osterman Research survey indicating that 55% of IT organizations plan to deploy or evaluate Linux e-mail in the two years and that one fifth would have preferred Linux e-mail if they were starting with a clean slate.

Our partners, both small regional VARs as well as large partners like IBM Global Services, have reported increased interest and demand in Linux e-mail from their customers, as well.

What has spurred this greater interest in e-mail on Linux?

Farris: The increased interest in Linux e-mail is due to two trends. The first trend is that organizations have moved up the stack from a focus from Linux infrastructure to applications running on Linux. The second trend is that many organizations are unhappy with their current systems and evaluating alternatives solutions. The problems customers are trying to solve around e-mail play to the strengths of Linux.

E-mail on Linux holds the promise of addressing some of the top issues customers grapple with today. There is a growing desire for an open systems alternative to today's proprietary e-mail systems that lock customers in from both a technology and licensing standpoint. Secondly, customers that have deployed Linux successfully in other areas are now looking to extend the benefits of Linux to e-mail to reduce cost and complexity. Lastly, with e-mail security vulnerabilities on the rise, Linux becomes an appealing alternative, because of its track record as a more secure operating environment. There's a growing realization that Linux provides a strong foundation for addressing all of these issues as they relate to e-mail.

E-mail has the potential to be the killer app for Linux, in the same way that e-mail has driven the broad adoption of new platforms in the past. This dates back to the days of IBM Profs and DEC All-In-1 in the 80s and the role that LAN mail played in helping drive the broad deployment of LANs in the 90s.

Who's already in the Linux messaging camp?

Farris: Our focus is on customers that have already adopted Linux. Those in the Linux messaging camp are the early Linux adopters. These include the SMB market, midsized commercial enterprises, higher education and public sector.

Half of Scalix's customers have migrated from Microsoft Exchange and the other half are coming from Novell GroupWise and various 'basic e-mail' POP/IMAP e-mail systems like Sendmail and SunOne. The 'basic e-mail' crowd is looking for advanced e-mail functionality and integrated calendaring and scheduling and often running on UNIX. Migrating to Linux for richer functionality becomes an obvious choice.

Geographically speaking, half of our customers are in the U.S. and half are in Europe.

What other trends do you think will change the e-mail landscape in 2005?

Farris: Web-based messaging. Web-based mail is the notion of using the browser and going over HTTP or HTTPS to access mail. This is attractive to IT organizations because there's no client software that has to be deployed or supported. For end users, this is attractive because they get secure anytime, anywhere convenience of accessing their e-mail from any system on the Internet.

The lack of functionality and the clunkiness of HTML page-based interfaces has been the major drawback in broader use of web-based e-mail within organizations. Now that new generation e-mail clients have pioneered a desktop-grade mail interface, web-based e-mail becomes a viable alternative for some organizations.

Webmail has been a consumer application. What's bringing it into the corporate world?

Farris: Webmail adoption has been successful in the consumer market. In the enterprise market, it has been adopted as a secondary means of e-mail access because it offers the convenience of secure anywhere, anytime access.

Is there an advantage to have Webmail running on a particular browser?

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Farris: We see an increasing number of customers moving from Internet Explorer to Firefox for security reasons. Another advantage of Firefox is it's platform independence. Firefox runs on Windows, Mac, UNIX and Linux. We have supported Firefox since it's initial release because of customer demand and the tremendous potential it has as a new generation, open development platform.

I've talked to some IT pros about Webmail, and their feeling is that having e-mail residing on the Web is less secure than the e-mail client on desktops. Do you concur?

Farris: Actually, I would say the opposite. There are several security advantages that Webmail has over desktop e-mail clients, like Outlook. Because all e-mail data and the e-mail application are on the server, the desktop is no longer a point of vulnerability when it comes to e-mail.

An example is a stolen laptop. From a network access standpoint, HTTPS provides a convenient and ubiquitous secure channel from the desktop to the server. For a roaming worker scenario, it is incredibly secure. This, of course, assumes that a Webmail application is designed properly and that it cleans up the bits out of the browser, once a user has ended their session.

What types of organizations are best-suited for Webmail?

Farris: Webmail is good alternative for anyone who is not a 'power user', so it really comes down to functionality. For example, Webmail is not a good option for those who need to use their e-mail in offline mode, i.e. when they're not connected to the network. Webmail is great for kiosks or organizations where the work force is geographically distributed, or where there's a labor workforce that does not work at desktops. Manufacturing and retail are two sectors where this is common.

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