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Consultant's Corner: It's an Open Source World

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By Gregg Hinchman

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Posted: 2 May 2006
 

"Don't try to run, I can keep up with you. Nothing can stop me from trying . . ." I was reading the Bangkok Times not too long ago and was surprised to come across several articles on Open Source. It seems the country of Thailand is very focused on open standards and - wouldn't you know it - IBM will be there at an Open Standards regional conference (May 2006) touting open standards for an "enlightened government." The quote from Stephen Braim, IBM's vice president for governmental affairs in Asia-Pacfic was:

"The enlightened government should insist on open standards and interoperability in public procurements. This means they need a government policy framework that is understood by all agencies."
(Bangkok Post, Database Section, Wednesday April 19, 2006)
"How to know if you've got an 'enlightened' government" - story by Don Sambandaraksa

Noted in the same article, IBM was also there pushing the Open Document Format (ODF) specifically to governments:

"There is a risk, as technology moves forward, that a government's digitized records cannot be read if the vendor collapses, is taken over or just simply does not have the investment to maintain their software. In one hundred years, [without ODF], you may end up locking out a major chunk of your country's intellectual property, government records or library from being accessed."

On the same page, interestingly enough, was Microsoft Thailand Marketing Director Derek Brown, stating:

"... it is categorically wrong to assume that Microsoft is all proprietary and not about open standards."
Bangkok Post, Database Section, Wednesday April 19, 2006
"No Open and Shut Case" story by Don Sambandaraksa

Further into the article, Brown was asked about the Campaign for Open Standards in Thailand (which every major IT company is participating in except Microsoft). Brown hedged that Microsoft would only talk about government-wide standards to the NecTec (National Electronics and Computer Technology Center - http://www.nectec.or.th/ ) director. (My thought: Sounds to me like they want to keep things proprietary. Or, they just want to define their own sandbox to play in, instead of sharing with others.)

Recovering Old E-Mails

So why do I bring this to your attention, and what does it have to do with GroupWise? Good questions. It started my mind down a path that hopefully your organizations are considering as well. What do we do with our e-mail that is 100 years old' Will we as an organization still be able to recover it from backup tape? Let's face it: have you tried to restore e-mail from tapes that are 6 years old? (You need to keep the tapes, yes.) But you also have to keep the software and the hardware it runs on, an investment that most businesses are not prepared to undertake. And why should they?

So what is the answer? Open Source, of course, and the ODF - maybe. While that helps us going forward, it does not help us today (and with past e-mails). There are many defined standards today that can be used to store "vital e-mails" in perpetuity, such as POP, IMAP, and XML. But how do we get GroupWise e-mail, which is proprietary and encrypted, into a "long-term recoverable/storable standards format?" Well, the answer is an archiving solution or export solution; something that will pull these vital emails from the GroupWise system, store them in a standards format and be able to recover them with little to no hardware investment.

There are several archiving solutions on the market for GroupWise; some use IMAP, some use XML. Consider this: if you export GroupWise email in IMAP format, does the IMAP format preserve - within the IMAP standard itself - the meta-data such as tracking information? With XML you can preserve the meta-data, but XML can be manipulated as well. This is where a write-once, read-many device comes into play for preserving the integrity of the GroupWise mail and meta-data.

Opening GroupWise

This leads me to my second thought/question. (Please indulge my dreaming here just a bit - I do love GroupWise and would like to see it grow.) Why doesn't Novell take this moment in the life of GroupWise to open it up? Novell has something like $600+ million in cash and no debt, and GroupWise has been a huge cash cow for them for many years. Why not reinvest in opening up GroupWise to a standards-based format and then wrap it in a standards-based encryption? This would allow companies to build out long-term recovery/storage plans for vital e-mails, easing the pain of future restores. It would also increase the ease of writing third-party applications and integrating software with GroupWise. Keep in mind, the backend databases for GroupWise are 10+ years old, and for the most part not much change has come to them over the years.

This leads me to another article that discussed Microsoft's Vista Operating System, and how it was over 50 million lines of code that has just been a "pile on" design of programming for Microsoft. That is, they continue to build into the code, piling on more and more features, backwards compatibility, and such. Think of it like your garage. When you first bought your garage, you parked your car in it. Then as time went on, you purchased more and more stuff and soon your garage became a storage facility for all your possessions, some of which you have forgotten you own, and some you will never use again. This is Microsoft's Vista. It will be bigger, heavier, take more disk space, require more RAM and faster processors - and still run slower than previous OS versions.

The article author went on to explain how Apple can, with just 350 or so programmers, build their OS and several versions in several years, because they use more of a modular-based programming style. Meanwhile, Microsoft requires thousands of programmers and testers to get one new version out every 4-6 years or so. Interesting and amazing, when you consider that Novell has a small development team for GroupWise and over the years has just heaped on the features and functions. Yet GroupWise is still faster and more efficient than its competition.

To answer my own question: it's much cheaper to write a software product such as Instant Messenger or NetMail (open source name: Hula) from the ground up than to re-engineer an already written product. That's the main reason Novell does not rewrite GroupWise, and I am sure a second reason is the community. Would we really want to 'relearn' everything we know about GroupWise just so it can be open? Would you pay for an "Open GroupWise?"

Open Source in Thailand

My third thought/question goes to the heart of Western civilization. Why is a country such as Thailand, which has a modern side in Bangkok but third-world charm in the majority of the country, on the cutting-edge of open source in business and at the government level? For this I have no answer, except to say that their infrastructure (and investment in it) is newer and being built with modern technology. Maybe the Thai people are just more progressive, or maybe it's because they cooperate more and compete less (a Buddhist trait).

Sunrise over the modern city of Bankok

A simple home in the countryside of Thailand

You would think the United States would be at the forefront of open source, considering we 'created' the IT industry. And with government spending at such an all-time high it seems even a simple switch to Open Office 2.0 and away from Microsoft Office would save us taxpayers millions. My answer here: government and businesses are slowly looking to open source, but it will take time. On the other hand, Novell is running Linux on the desktop and Linux servers to host their business. So we as a community and fellow Novell lovers are on the bleeding edge of open source, right next to Thailand.

Summary

To summarize, it seems to me we need to start seriously considering and acting upon how we will retrieve/store data so that it's standards-based, specifically when it comes to GroupWise. And of course it would be nice if Novell would make it easier for us in the GroupWise community to do so. Lastly, open source is here, open standards are a reality, and the longer businesses and governments stick to proprietary solutions the more 'at risk' their long-term intellectual property, business continuance and security will become. Maybe you can "Open your heart" to the open source world and help your organization.

P.S. - Here is a little gift for you. If you are tired of the Windows Task Manager, check out: http://dimio.altervista.org/eng/ for a little 121KB program called 'Dtaskman'. It runs without an annoying install or regedit, and it will kill processes that Windows Task Manager will not. Oh, and my favorite feature - it opens up your system ports when connected to a network and tells you what is running on those ports. Very handy - enjoy.


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