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Netline/Novell collaboration provides Open-Xchange of Linux ideas

A collaborative effort between German vendor Netline and Linux-friendly Novell may have the pull necessary to dislodge users from the fading Microsoft NT and into the world of Linux.

News this week about their existing partnership could be good news for Novell Inc. and Germany's Netline Internet Service, and shows support for the open source movement, say observers.

As part of the deal, Netline's Open-Xchange, open sourced in August, will integrate into Novell's development, partnership and sales processes. In return, Novell will provide maintenance and support for Open-Xchange.

The move is a positive one for those who support the open source community, as it represents a major vendor's attempt to bring Linux-based services and features to older Microsoft customers.

Open-Xchange Server, the engine behind Novell's SuSE Linux Openexchange Server, is a modular, standards-based communications tool that provides businesses with groupware functions, including e-mail, calendar, contacts, tasks and real-time document storage. Open-Xchange Server will replace the former brand of SuSE Linux Openexchange Server, said Netline CEO Frank Hoberg.

At the end of the day, the Netline/Novell deal could allow such customers to have their Outlook cake with a tasty layer of Linux frosting.
Charles King
Principal AnalystPund-IT Research

"We will receive the third part support from Novell to support their costs, and we are becoming a part of their developer network that helps integrate products into the Novell infrastructure," Hoberg said.

David Patrick, general manager of Linux, open source and platform services for Novell, was equally optimistic about the new level of partnership between the two companies.

"We have received a significant amount of interest in Open-Xchange, and we believe that this agreement ensures continuity and support of the product," he said.

The interest from customers has arrived in pieces, with some customers preferring Microsoft Outlook for certain tasks and open source alternatives like the MozillaOrganization's Sunbird.

"What we have heard from customers is that 50% want to go with Outlook, but wish to run it in a mixed environment," Hoberg said.

Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT Research, said that because Open-Xchange is browser based, users can use it to access their Outlook calendars and contact data, as well as documents and tasks stored in Open-Xchange. They can also use the application for functions like e-mail and real-time document storage access.

King also said the Netline/SuSE connection bodes well for the two products, which can now be marketed to IT departments that may have become engrained with fading proprietary operating systems like Microsoft NT.

"Given the connection, there are some obvious synergies between these two," King said. "I think what this focuses on practically is how vendors are bringing Linux-based services and features to older MS customers."

King added that many of the "hardcore" NT users do not want to go through the trouble or expense of upgrading to new Microsoft applications.

"At the end of the day, the Netline/Novell deal could allow such customers to have their Outlook cake with a tasty layer of Linux frosting," King said.

King said users and vendors should also remember their role in the Microsoft ecosystem has been a significant one and they will lend significant weight to the equation.

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp., agreed with King. According to IDC data, customers have asked for Linux to support electronic messaging and collaborative software.

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As a further part of the agreement, Hoberg explained Novell will contribute SuSE Linux Openexchange code to the Open-Xchange community and Netline will be fully integrated into Novell's DeveloperNet program. This move will enable Netline to integrate Open-Xchange with existing Novell technology like Evolution, Novell Linux Desktop and ZENworks. Novell will also provide global sales, training, maintenance and first- and second-level support for Open-Xchange -- Netline will supply third-level support.

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