By Stephen Shankland

Ximian has supported the open source GNOME desktop software project for Linux computers for some time; indeed, Ximian cofounder Miguel de Icaza was the founder of GNOME. However, in a new initiative, Ximian has released Evolution 1.0, a clone of Microsoft Outlook that has support for e-mail, contact lists, and calendars.

Ximian is including a bit of secret sauce in the recipe in the form of a proprietary extension, a move that’s increasingly popular as open source companies look for revenue in unforgiving economic times. In this case, Ximian will start selling proprietary software that lets Evolution connect to Microsoft Exchange servers, the company said.

Open source software, unlike proprietary programs, may be changed and redistributed by anyone so that no single company can control it. In the case of the Linux operating system and several other open source projects, formal or informal groups govern the software.

The open source movement, while still a popular way to launch new projects, has seen some of its fanaticism tempered in the business world by a dose of pragmatism. Several start-ups with open source ties are now looking to proprietary software as a way to make money, either by closing open source packages or by layering proprietary software atop an open source foundation.

In the case of Ximian, the proprietary package is Ximian Connector, which costs $69 for one user, $599 for 10 users, or $1,499 for 25 users and comes with 90 days of Web-based installation support. Ximian Connector will be available in January for Exchange 2000, said Jon Perr, vice president of marketing at Ximian. A version for Exchange 2000’s widely used predecessor, Exchange 5.5, will be available in the first half of 2002, the company said.

In Ximian’s revenue plans, Connector will join Red Carpet Express, a $9.95 per-month service that gives Linux priority high-speed downloads to software updates. Red Carpet Express also is expected in January, Perr said.

Ximian also sells Ximian Desktop Standard Edition for $29.95 and Professional Edition for $49.95, software packages that include the GNOME desktop, Evolution, and several other software packages for tasks such as word processing.

The company hopes to reach profitability in 2003, Chief Executive David Patrick said in an earlier interview.

Still committed to open source
Perr said Ximian is still a strong supporter of open source software, contributing about 2 million lines of code to open source projects in general and 750,000 to Evolution itself.

“We’re totally committed to the open source desktop, but we provide products and services above that for corporate customers,” Perr said.

But the proprietary connector technology is different from some previous efforts to let Linux tap into Microsoft networks. For example, the Samba project that lets Linux computers access Windows servers and share files like a Windows server, is an open source project.

Evolution works on several versions of Linux: Red Hat, SuSE, MandrakeSoft, Inc., TurboLinux, and Debian. It also works on Sun Microsystems’ Solaris version of UNIX, Perr said.

However, there is no version for Caldera Systems, Inc.’s version of Linux. “Primarily, it’s customer demand” that determines what versions Ximian supports, Perr said. “We prioritize it according to what we see.”

GNOME is used for many Linux systems but competes with KDE, which has its own set of control panels, configuration utilities, and software “libraries” filled with components such as buttons and pull-down menus used to assemble programs.

GNOME was originally founded to provide an open source alternative to KDE, which used libraries that weren’t covered by an open source license, though KDE eventually changed the license. GNOME is covered by the GNU General Public License (GPL), the license at the heart of the Free Software Foundation, which Richard Stallman founded in 1984 to provide a nonproprietary alternative to UNIX, called GNU’s Not Unix (GNU). Although open source software can be obtained for no cost, Stallman and others often use “free” to refer to software users’ freedoms to change and distribute software.

Stallman ran for election to the GNOME Foundation board but was defeated, according to preliminary results posted last week.

Relations between the GNOME board and the Free Software Foundation aren’t always rosy. According to the minutes of the Oct. 30 GNOME board meeting, the foundation has been working to define the relationship between the two groups.

The conclusion of the discussion: “We have strong links with the free software community, even if we sometimes don’t totally follow the guidelines,” the minutes said. “The very important point is to stay close to the people to avoid strong issues. We consider that GNOME was and should remain part of the free software movement and of the GNU project.”

GNOME, once just a hobby backed by Red Hat, now has corporate influence, as Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard move to use GNOME on their UNIX computers.

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