October 22, 2002 2:41 PM PDT

Lotus founder preps Outlook alternative

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Open source: Rebels at the gate

October 14, 2002
Can a fledgling nonprofit organization with half a dozen employees challenge the largest software company in the world?

Mitch Kapor, co-founder of Lotus Development and a pioneer of personal computer software, thinks so. He is heading up a project to build a free, open-source equivalent of Microsoft Outlook, the set of e-mail, calendar and contacts applications that comes with Microsoft's pervasive Office suite.

The organization's "personal information manager" software will have many of the same features as Microsoft Outlook, with an emphasis on tools that allow people to work collaboratively in groups and share information, said Kapor, who is funding the project with $5 million from his own pocket. The software will incorporate Jabber, an open-source instant messaging system, as well as an easy-to-use e-mail encryption system that Kapor's organization is developing, he said.

Kapor is credited with designing Lotus 1-2-3, a spreadsheet program that helped drive the personal computer revolution in the 1980s. IBM purchased Lotus in 1995.

He hopes that his nonprofit organization--the San Francisco-based Open Source Application Foundation (OSAF), which he founded last year--will eventually raise funds by licensing its code base to companies seeking to build commercial applications on top of the software, such as a version for larger companies. Kapor is coordinating the development of the software through OSAF.

An early version of the software, which will run on the Windows, Mac OS X and Linux operating systems, will be available by the end of the year, with a first release due near the end of next year, Kapor said.

Kapor said the application should appeal to individuals and small businesses who can't afford the license and maintenance costs of complex products like Microsoft Exchange, the server software required for the information-sharing features of Outlook, including e-mail.

Trying to replace Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes, IBM's e-mail suite, in companies with thousands of employees is not in the plan, Kapor said.

"It's not a business threat to Microsoft," Kapor said. "On the other hand it's an alternative to lots and lots of users. This project has a positive motivation--to provide people with more options and great free software. It's not motivated by the wish to do something that harms Microsoft."

Kapor said he also has no plans to seek venture capital and has no visions of an initial public offering for his venture.

Kapor envisions the software that comes out of OSAF developing a grassroots following similar to Linux, the open-source operating system that now rivals Microsoft Windows. Open-source developers make their software code available to the public to encourage improvement and development by outside programmers.

OSAF is actively enlisting volunteers to help develop the product. Andy Hertzfeld, who was part of the team that designed the original Apple Macintosh operating system, is volunteering full-time at OSAF. The group is also accepting donations of equipment or cash via Pay Pal.

OSAF is among several other groups that develop open-source desktop applications as alternatives to Microsoft Office and Outlook, including KDE and Ximian.

Some technology buyers have said they are investigating open-source and low-cost alternatives to Microsoft's products to cut costs.

 

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