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Novell puts weight behind Windows email client

Hopes to bring another open-source alternative app to the mainstream

Novell has thrown its weight behind a fledgling effort to develop a Windows version of the Evolution groupware client. The software company hopes the move will give Windows desktop users an open-source alternative to Microsoft Outlook.

Evolution, like Outlook, is a suite including email, calendaring and address book software. A version for Linux desktops is already available, and work is now under way on porting it to Windows.

A small group of Evolution developers began work on the project several months ago, but Novell is now backing the effort and has hired an engineer to begin work on the project. Novell is already a major backer of the Linux version of Evolution.

So far, Novell's commitment to the Windows project has been minimal. On 1 January, the company hired open-source developer Tor Lillqvist to do software development and help build a community of Windows Evolution developers, but the company has no plans to provide technical support for the Windows port once it is released.

Though many of the specifics of the new project have yet to be worked out, developers hope to have code that will work on the Windows NT and Windows XP operating systems trickling out before long.

Novell's strategy behind the port is to ultimately drive sales of its set of Linux client software, a spokesperson said.

Other pieces of open-source software, most notably the Firefox browser and OpenOffice productivity suite, have now gained some acceptance among Windows users. By giving people another piece of open-source software to run on their desktops, Novell hopes to make the move to a full-blown Linux client more palatable, he said. "This is all a part of the effort to move people off of a Microsoft Windows environment and to a Linux environment," the spokesperson said.

Evolution, Firefox and OpenOffice are already included in Novell's Linux Desktop 9, which the company began shipping in November.

The idea of an open-source desktop application displacing Microsoft's software has gained credibility thanks to the recent success of the Firefox project, said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC. "The only real successful challenger to Microsoft on the desktop is open source," he said. "Microsoft really has to do something to regain the momentum they had in the late 1990s," he said.

Microsoft has seen its share of the browser market drop by 5 percentage points since June 2004, according to web analytics company WebSideStory. In that same time, the percentage of users running Netscape and Mozilla-based browsers such as Firefox has jumped from 3.53 percent to 7.59 percent. Microsoft now runs on 90.28 percent of clients using the Web, WebSideStory says.

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