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Novell drops its Hula challenger to Microsoft

Open source has its limits

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Novell has abandoned an open source project hyped as challenging Microsoft Outlook and Exchange by becoming the "Apache" of email and collaboration software.

The company has pulled full-time engineers off project Hula following lacklustre demand. Engineers are "moving to other roles", according to the Hula mailing list.

Novell announced Hula amid a fanfare at LinuxWorld, Boston, in February 2005 by donating 200,000 lines of code from its NetMail collaboration server to the community. Novell's then chief executive Jack Messman predicted Hula would "become for collaboration what Apache is to servers". Apache is the internet's number one web server.

Hula drew strong support from the Mozilla Foundation, Open Source Applications Foundation, Open Source Development Labs, and O'Reilly Media's father of Web 2.0 Tim O'Reilly. Branding Hula as a "project to watch", O'Reilly called Hula "a great opportunity for open source to leapfrog commercial software applications rather than just playing catch up".

The market disagreed. Novell's Peter Teichman wrote: "As a team we have spent a lot of time looking at where the Hula project is and the opportunities in the market and in the end we had to conclude that we couldn't justify investing at the same level in Hula."

The Hula server featured SMTP, IMAP, and support for the CalDAV calendar access protocol. According to Teichman though, that amounts to just another mail server. "Every organisation we've talked to already has mail infrastructure. Bringing Hula in for the web mail means duplicating their SMTP, IMAP, and POP set up."

Hula will go down as yet another failed effort by Novell to challenge Microsoft on the desktop and in collaboration at a time when Google is re-inventing the medium with hosted services like Gmail and Apps for your Domain.

Hula will also be remembered as an example of IT vendors interpreting open source and community to mean dumping code into open source for street cred, and how such efforts will fail unless a clearly identifiable market has been identified. ®

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