The 100-plus new features in Open-Xchange Server 5, an open source e-mail/collaboration product, make it more accessible to those using Microsoft Outlook clients and more secure, in general. The new features also show that Open-Xchange Inc. is hip to corporate IT buying trends, according to former IDC senior analyst Dan Kusnetzky.
In this interview, Kusnetzky connects the dots between the Open-Xchange Server updates and corporate IT strategies. A few weeks ago, Kusnetzky joined Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Open-Xchange as executive vice president of marketing. Open-Xchange announced the Server 5 enhancements this week at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco.
What are the primary themes behind corporate IT strategies today?
Dan Kusnetzky: At IDC, I saw that organizations around the world are trying to cut costs at almost any cost. This means in some cases hurting themselves in the short term to come up with a cost-reduction strategy.
People are just not making moves unless there is a short-term benefit. Any IT spending is required to show an almost immediate return on that investment. It used to be possible for people to go to the board and say, 'I'd like you to invest in this. It will take two-to-four years for the positive return to be visible.' And they would be funded. Now, to get funded, a project has to show a return in two-to-four quarters.
Also, organizations increasingly are working in new workspaces. Today's office staff is moving around and increasingly using a great constellation of devices. They need to collaborate with everyone else in the organization in real time, because business is moving very rapidly now.
How do these two trends relate to the commercial open source movement?
Kusnetzky: The desire to cut costs often pushes people to examine open source software (OSS). There is a perception, although not always true, that going an open source way reduces their costs. The costs OSS will reduce are probably software-related costs. Whether OSS cuts staff-related costs depends on if in-house people have any training or expertise in that technology.
Highly automated solutions that integrate well and are customizable and flexible fit the new workplace, and OSS fits that description. Also, collaboration and the need to move data across many devices and many platforms calls for breaking down barriers between applications and platforms. The IT world in which islands of data are acceptable are gone, and that's why the openness of open source is so important.
The benefit of open source projects is that they respond quickly to changes in users' needs. Open-Xchange is an open source project. Quite often the people that are the key users are also contributing ideas and, in some cases code. This service pack is a response to the requests of the current installed base and the community of users and developers.
Are there particular marketplaces that are moving more quickly than others to Linux and open source software like Open-Xchange?
Kusnetzky: We are noticing this really sweet spot for Open-XChange in the SMB [small and midsized business] market. Companies with 500 to 1,000 employees are looking for a fairly simple solution. Companies that are embracing the greater collaboration are finding their way to us. They're attracted to the fact that we are not looking to replace Microsoft Exchange, even though we actually think that we have a better product with more features.
I have a sense that the new improvements are going to make it possible for Open-Xchange to be considered and then selected by a larger community of people who are looking for ways to meet today's cost and mobile workforce issues in a way that does not necessarily require a lot of user or staff retraining.
Enabling collaboration seems to be the theme behind Open-Xchange's big update. Right?
Kusnetzky: Think about a collaborative environment and add on to that people working from many different devices in many different places. Obviously, they may be using Outlook when communicating from their laptops, at kiosks at a show or PDAs.
The people behind Open-Xchange saw that it is necessary to have an Outlook access mechanism, and they're delivering it. The ability to use Open-Xchange from many different types of client systems is going to be very effective for organizations that have staff that are on the move and communicate with one another.
Could you explain some ways Outlook usability has been increased in Open-Xchange?
Kusnetzky: Right now, Open-Xchange has a couple of different ways that a user can access collaborative environments. One approach is the portals that allow access to all the features and functions of the product. Another is Open-Xchange Outlook Extender, which allows the Outlook user to access the features that an Exchange server would offer from Outlook, but what they are really talking to on the other side is Open-Xchange. So, they can get to a shared calendar, task lists, messages and shared folders. Open-Xchange does a lot more than that, but the mail agent Outlook has some limits in what it will support.
Open Xchange makes the Outlook user interface usable, but you can also access it from other e-mail agents, such as the one that comes with Thunderbird. You can also get to it from Safari.
One of the enhancements to Open-Xchange is changing the access mechanism from just polling to adding a push technology that ensures a real-time connection between the Outlook e-mail agent and the user and the server. This could reduce the server load and save them and enable greater collaboration with people who work with PDAs and other palm-based devices.
Open-Xchange also makes it easier to use Outlook with better support of the global address book, user modification options for Outlook's vacation notice and other tasks.