Open-Xchange goes Express, sheds its Suse roots

Open-Xchange is releasing an easy to use, SMB-focused version of its e-mail/collaboration software. What's particularly interesting is that it's built on Ubuntu, despite the founders' history with Suse.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

I go away for the weekend to Lake Powell and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and I come back to some highly intriguing news from Open-Xchange: the release of the company's Express Edition. First there was the standard server product, then the hosting solution, and now Express.

Express is cool on a number of different levels. First, unlike proprietary e-mail systems, Open-Xchange doesn't foist on the IT administrator a range of hidden costs. You get the full-fledged e-mail and collaboration server without paying a nickel extra for the operating system, directory service, etc. You pay for the product, and nothing more. (This seems like it should be the norm, but it's not.)

This is especially good to know given the market at which Express Edition is targeted: the small to medium-size business. SMBs don't have huge pockets filled with cash to buy ancillary software, hire an expensive administrator, etc. They just want it to work, and Open-Xchange's Express Edition seems to fill this need particularly well. (I'm downloading it to try it out, and will let you know if it lives up to its billing.)

Second, and extremely interesting to me, Express Edition runs on Ubuntu. Why does this matter? Well, for one thing it shows Ubuntu's stablity and performance. But on an even more interesting note, take a look at Open-Xchange's management team, and in particular its CTO, Jürgen Geck. You might remember that he was the CTO at Suse....Or check out Open-Xchange's co-founder and EVP of engineering, Martin Kauss. Yep, he was a Suse guy before, too. The list goes on....

Here's the team that built Suse, and yet when given the opportunity to build a product they opt for...Ubuntu. I'm not an engineer--there may be very good reasons for this engineering decision. But I find it fascinating, regardless. In the FAQ, the company cites the cost of alternative Linux distributions but this says nothing about why it wouldn't have chosen Fedora or OpenSuse. There's a story in there....

Third, the team has clearly learned from Red Hat's licensing model, and has actually extended it a bit for the Web-enabled world. From the FAQ:

Can I...get Open-Xchange Express Edition for free from your community site?

No. Open-Xchange does publish its source code on the community website and with this code it can be possible to put together a product that is very similar to Open-Xchange Express Edition, but remember the source code is often further ahead of the product that is released and usually in an untested state. Also there is no maintenance; support, operating system updates or technical support offered with the code as well as the OXtender for Microsoft Outlook is available with a valid subscription only. Open-Xchange Express Edition is a fully self contained out-of-the-box smart collaboration solution, what is available on the community site is source code to build a collaboration tool.

In other words, you get 100 percent of the source. But if you want our product, you must pay. Smart. There is no free lunch--just free source code. And while the core product is GPL (blessing customers while inhibiting competitors), the Web Access Add-on is under a Creative Commons license (CC:by-nc-sa). Sophisticated and fit-for-purpose.

An interesting product with an interesting history, no doubt. I'm particularly struck by how Open-Xchange has managed to deliver the benefits of a rock-solid Linux platform without any of the complexity that used to come with Linux. (PostPath does much the same, which bodes well for the future of open source if we can continue to make it easier and easier to use.) Great release, Jürgen and team. I'll be taking a closer look.