Wednesday 16 February 2005

At LinuxWorld, Novell's NIMS lives again as "Hula"

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Remember NIMS, Novell Internet Mail System, later reborn as NetMail? The technology is about to get it's third outing, as the core of Hula, "a new community project to create an open source collaboration server." This illustrates several interesting trends...

A highly scalable mail server, with a reputation for robustness, NIMS quietly withered on the Novell marketing vine. It managed to pick up a claimed 4 million seats, despite very little effort from Novell, including an ill-concieved attempt to create a Hotmail competitor.

Initial goals for Hula are explicitely modest: to provide email, calendaring, and a rich "Gmail-style" web access. It's interesting to see the email market subdivide itself into full-featured messaging/collaboration platforms like Notes/Domino or Novell Groupwise, and the newer, "streamlined" technologies like IBM's Workplace Service Express or Hula.

It's also interesting to see Novell grasp the "open source community" nettle. In many ways, it's got nothing to lose, as the NIMS codebase isn't worth much to Novell as a piece of IP.

Richer web access is also a significant trend: existing mail clients such as the Scalix web client and Google's Gmail give a hint of what's possible with modern browsers. Google has also given Hula inspiration with their new Google Maps beta. Clearly, we should no longer be satisfied with slow web interfaces and heavy reliance on server round-trips. What users are coming to expect is a level of interactivity from web applications approaching that of regular desktop clients such as Outlook.

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