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Server software maker goes open source

Germany's diminutive Netline hopes to come out of the shadow cast by business partner Novell.

Netline Internet Service, a small German company whose server software was an important part of SuSE Linux's product line, has made its products open source.

Netline's software, which handles e-mail, calendars, document storage and contact lists, has been used for years as part of SuSE Linux Openexchange Server (SLOX). The Java-based software will be released under the General Public License (GPL), which covers Linux and many other open-source projects, said Chief Executive Frank Hoberg.

The software, called Open-Xchange Server, will be released by the end of August on a company Web site, the company said in conjunction with the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo this week in San Francisco.

Open-source software, the best known example being the Linux operating system, can be freely seen, modified and redistributed by anyone--a stark contrast to the secrecy that governs proprietary software such as Microsoft's Windows or IBM's DB2 database.

Hogberg expects that releasing Open-Xchange to the open-source community will increase programmer enthusiasm for the software, spread it more widely and reduce Netline's testing and debugging chores.

However, Netline will keep some of the software proprietary. The open-source version lets computer users tap into its functions with Web browsers, but those wanting to use Microsoft Outlook or Novell Evolution will have to buy a separate module from Netline. "If you want to use Outlook as your preferred client, you need an add-on from our site which is not open-source," Hoberg said.

SuSE signed a deal in 2002 to use the software along with its Linux operating system to better compete with Microsoft's Exchange. However, the importance of the software diminished once Novell acquired SuSE in January: Novell already had a broad suite of comparable software.

Novell endorsed the open-source move, and Hoberg said it will continue to sell SLOX. Novell has stated on several occasions it believes in a hybrid strategy with open-source and proprietary software.

Netline is pursuing new sales channels as well, Hoberg said.

And in the next six to 12 months, Netline plans to add an interface to the server software so outside developers can add their own modules, Hoberg said.