Montreal firm takes over Novell’s NetMail, Hula project

Novell has turned to one of its Canadian partners to take on its NetMail e-mail and calendaring system as well as the stewardship of a project to create an open source collaboration server. 

Montreal-based Messaging Architects said it has acquired Novell’s NetMail, which is primarily used in the education market, for an undisclosed sum. Messaging Architects, which has been a Novell ISV since 1999, specializes in developing security and compliance software for the firm’s GroupWise and eDirectory products.

Under the terms of the Agreement, Messaging Architects will release a new version of NetMail in September that incorporates features from its own M+Guardian product including application level clustering, eDirectory-based fail-over and load balancing. Messaging Architects will also become the copyright holder of the Hula project, an open source initiative launched by Novell in 2005 to create a collaboration server based on NetMail code.

Messaging Architects chief executive Pierre Chamberland said there are approximately three million NetMail users, though the actual number of licences is hard to estimate. That’s because NetMail has often been sold as part of an academic bundle, he said, though he estimated in excess of 10 million NetMail licences have been shipped.

“We had been tring to license NetMail on an OEM basis from Novell. When they told they were making an open source project out of it, we said ‘Yee-ha!’” Chamberland said. 

Messaging Architects was dealing with many schools, for example, who were using GroupWise for their staff and NetMail for their students, and they were complaining about the absence of a significant upgrade for NetMail in the last year and a half. Novell, meanwhile, was moving much of its NetMail and Hula engineering staff from its Provo, Utah, headquarters to Cambridge, Mass., but Messaging Architects, which was using the platform as a foundation for its next generation e-mail firewall, hired many of those engineers on and approached the company about taking over the product line.

Novell Canada CIO/CTO Ross Chevalier said the decision was based on the level of engineering talent it was willing to invest in both Hula and NetMail, given that its core focus is on the more lucrative GroupWise product.

“When you look at what happens in terms of the pace of developing in the commercial space versus open source, we were probably going to try to extend ourselves too far to do both,” he said.

Chamberland said the Hula project was split into two groups: one working on an AJAX-based user interface and the one Messaging Architects was participating in, which was focused on the scalability and security of the platform.

“We’re interested in having this extreme high-performance engine that would do content filtering and encryption,” he said. “What we were doing was more plumbing – it was not as glamorous — but it was what customers really wanted.” Both groups will continue their efforts as the Hula project moves forward, he said.

Chevalier said the transaction should not be interpreted as Novell abandoning NetMail or the Hula project.

“This doesn’t mean that Novell engineers aren’t free to contribute to that project,” he said. “There’s always going to be an ongoing bit of dialogue.” 

Like NetMail, the Hula server will be built on open Internet standards including SMTP, IMAP, iCalendar and the emerging CalDAV calendar access protocol.

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